Gun Rights In Retreat

A triumphant mood has seized gun owners since September 11. Firearms are selling at record rates. Gun-bashing politicians are lying low. Even Geraldo Rivera boasts that he will personally shoot Osama bin Laden, if they cross paths in Afghanistan.

Some pundits have rushed to declare a golden age for gun rights. But their jubilation seems premature.

The fact is, gun rights are in retreat. We submit quietly these days to regulations that would have horrified our parents’ generation.

Instead of gloating, we should be soul-searching, rethinking our basic assumptions about what constitutes a “reasonable” gun law.

Take FBI background checks. Why exactly do we check prospective gun buyers for criminal records?

Ex-felons such as Leona Helmsley and Michael Milken have already paid their debt to society. Why should they be stripped of their right to defend themselves and their families from murderers, prowlers and rapists?

“Except in the case of repeat violent offenders, a convict who has served his time should have his full citizenship restored, including the right to keep and bear arms,” says Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). “One of the most profound illustrations of this is the story of James Byrd.”

Byrd, a black man, was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas in 1998. Syndicated pundit Deroy Murdock suggested in a January 19, 2001 column that, while hate crime laws did nothing for Byrd, a gun might have saved him.

Unfortunately, Murdock’s proposal was impractical. Federal law prohibited Byrd from owning a gun. As a small-time thief and forger, Byrd had done time in prison. He would have failed his background check.

“If Byrd had had a gun, he might have been able to defend himself against these animals who so viciously killed him,” says Innis.

Another widely popular gun-control bromide holds that firearms should be kept from the “mentally ill.”

It sounds reasonable. But how do we implement such a proposal?

Well, the first step is to abolish doctor-patient privacy. Uncle Sam will need full access to the patient records of every American.

That process has already begun.

The Department of Veterans Affairs routinely turns over patient records of veterans to the FBI, to be entered into the National Instant Background Check System (NICS).

In New York City, applicants for a gun permit must sign a waiver releasing any available records of past psychiatric treatment. Pistol permit applicants must further divulge whether they have “ever… used narcotics or tranquilizers” and must provide a written “explanation” of such use, complete with their doctor’s name and contact information.

These are just half measures, though. If we are serious about keeping guns out of the hands of the “mentally ill,” we will need to set up a computerized, national psychiatric database on every living American.

Bill Clinton started this process rolling in the final days of his presidency, when he quietly signed a new medical regulation whose ostensible purpose was to protect patient privacy.

In fact, it did just the opposite. senior editor John Perry discovered the fine print in Clinton’s new medical rule after reading through the entire document — a 1,500-page monstrosity which Perry calls “a masterpiece — of obfuscation, sleight-of-hand, semantic trickery…”

According to Perry, the document requires doctors to turn over patient records to the government on demand — including the private notes of psychiatrists — and lays the groundwork for a national patient database.

At this rate, it won’t be long before your local gun dealer will be able to check your psychiatric history as easily as he now checks your criminal record.

But now comes the hard part. Once we have access to everyone’s files, how do we determine who is “mentally ill” and who isn’t?

Should we disqualify everyone on Prozac? How about diabetics, who are prone to mood-altering insulin reactions? Or women with PMS?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) lists smoking and coffee drinking as mental illnesses.

At a December 14, 1999 press conference, Surgeon General David Satcher announced that 50 million Americans — nearly 20 percent of the population — were mentally ill and in need of treatment.

That’s one in five Americans.

Let’s face it. Just about anyone can be labeled “mentally ill.” Government bureaucrats nosing through our medical files will soon have the power to revoke our constitutional liberties on almost any pretext.

In the name of “gun control,” our country is being transformed into an Orwellian police state. Americans must decide — and decide soon — how much more of this we’re going to take.

Richard Poe is editor of, as well as and His latest book is The Seven Myths of Gun Control. For more on Poe and his work, visit E-mail him here.