Jaffe: Stop the war on guns …

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Edward Jaffe, a serial entrepreneur and the founder of a number of technology companies and a Vermont Registered Investment Advisor entity. He has addressed the Vermont House Ways and Means Committee on economic metrics, monetary theory and various economic observations. He lives in Bennington.

… before it becomes like the “War on Drugs.”

America’s brutality is not its gun violence — it is its incarceration madness. The incarceration rate in the United States of America is the highest in the world. The typical mandatory sentence for a first-time drug offense in federal court is five or 10 years, compared to other developed countries around the world where a first-time offense would warrant at most six months in jail. (Wikipedia).

In a civilized society, a felony conviction and a harsh sentence would require criminal intent. In criminal law the concept of criminal intent has been called mens rea, which refers to a criminal or wrongful purpose. If a person innocently causes harm, then she or he lacks mens rea and, under this concept, should not be criminally prosecuted. (Legal Dictionary).

When laws revolve around simple possession of Item X then the simple existence of Item X in your home or car is complete proof of guilt – and there is no effective defense that revolves around Item X not belonging to you – or Item X being legal for 200 years, or your lack of criminal intent, or the vagueness of the arcane law you violated.

Additionally, mandatory minimums destroy the ability of innocent people to request a trial by jury – because losing could mean 10 times the mandatory minimum – and you can’t count on “telling your story” to the jury – because it is not relevant to the issue of possession. The judge (co-prosecutor) will tell the jury, “If the defendant has Item X in his home – you must find him guilty.” The jury does not understand that they can send you home for any reason they wish – unless they are members of the Fully Informed Jury Association. (fija.org).

The evolving War on Guns is being built on the War on Drugs chassis, running gear and steering components. Offenses are primarily felonies carrying mandatory minimum jail sentences – and simple possession being the basic context-dropping framework for being charged and convicted.

How can anyone negotiate or compromise about “reasonable” gun laws with people who want to apply firearms legislation to BB guns?

Like the War on Drugs, new gun laws are not aimed at criminals; they are brutal attempts to change the longstanding behaviors of currently law-abiding or otherwise law-abiding citizens. Soon people will be in deep trouble with the law, because they did not register a perfectly ordinary rifle that had a threaded barrel or a thumb-hole stock. New York insisted on seven-round magazines for pistols – even though there is no such thing – and then decided to make anyone who puts 10 rounds in a 10 round (legal) magazine a criminal.

A new law being drafted in Rhode Island has a definition of “firearms” that includes air rifles and BB guns! Toy guns! How can anyone negotiate or compromise about “reasonable” gun laws with people who want to apply firearms legislation to BB guns? Not surprisingly, some of the weapons violations in Rhode Island S.0859 have 10-year minimum sentences – without any violent crime taking place – nor even possessing a complete gun.

“Assault rifle” is a political invention – you can tell by the tortured language. Once defined by many simultaneous features, we are down to perhaps only one or two. One could register all their “assault rifles” (and toy guns) – and now they are on a list. What do authorities think of the people on this list? If the police or FBI can consider peace activists and Quakers as worth watching as possible “terrorists,” what about the guy who registers 10 “assault rifles”? Guess you’ll find out at the airport.

Let’s make an analogy to a very successful public health initiative: auto safety. Tens of thousands of people were being killed every year in car accidents. The government implemented regulation – not criminal law – and changed what features automobiles had, such as seat belts, safety glass, etc.

Oddly, older cars that did not meet these regulations were not confiscated, registered or forcibly retrofitted. All told, not one person spent one day in jail making the automobile safer. If in fact some sort of firearm should be banned – why not just stop manufacture and importation? Why try to grab all the ones that are already released into the atmosphere?

The most uncomfortable question of all is why would your publicly elected reps produce such draconian legislation? Why would a representative from a small New England state want to see a state resident serve years in prison for not understanding a complex, vague, bizarre law? Where does that viciousness come from? I guess the culture wars have gone kinetic.

People can argue over the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but here in Vermont, we are heirs to the first constitution in the new world (1777) to outlaw slavery (New York 50 years later) and we still have the following (current Vermont Constitution):

Article 16 — That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the State — and as standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the military should be kept under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power.

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37 Comments on "Jaffe: Stop the war on guns …"

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Craig Kneeland
3 years 9 days ago
It seems that Article 16 of our Vermont Constitution, as referenced above, is exactly right. Standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty! Armed gangs and organized armed groups, like the NRA, are a threat to the liberty of ordinary citizens. Because of armed groups we feel unsafe in our schools and on our streets. They should be banned, or at least taxed and regulated. In the Military arms are assigned to individuals who are responsible for their use. At a minimum gun registration should be used to allow guns to be registered to ONLY those individuals who… Read more »
Bob Donald
2 years 10 months ago
You seem to be unable to comprehend the definition of standing army. You apparently believe that the definition of standing army equals any sort of group of people that are armed. Your apparent definition is completely incorrect, since the founders abhorred standing armies yet believed in arming and organizing citizens to protect from both foreign and domestic governments. If you were to do a simple Dictionary.com search of the word “Standing Army” you would find the definition as, “a permanent army of paid soldiers maintained by a nation”. There for your sad attempt at a clever twist of words is… Read more »
sandra bettis
3 years 9 days ago

yes, gun owners are reasonable people – until something happens. it has been proven that a gun in the house increases the chance of a murder or a suicide. you can’t argue with that.

Edward Jaffe
3 years 8 days ago
There is a tremendous amount of data out there — I am slogging through it for a future article — and pulling sweeping conclusions from the fire-hose of data is not so simple — if one wants to be intellectually honest. A good place to start is here: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/05/07/gun-homicide-rate-down-49-since-1993-peak-public-unaware/ The VERY mainstream PEW organization. As to the dangers of a gun in a house — that would depend on the house. I don’t have children — or loaded guns here. I don’t drink or take drugs — sure we can peg everything to the lowest common denominator — but that… Read more »
sandra bettis
3 years 8 days ago

i have noticed that we are the most lax state (tied with az – something to brag about) and i also have noticed (and so have the law enforcement officials) that is the reason that criminals come here to buy their guns. we have been lucky so far but we are an accident waiting to happen. and, if you think there have not been any gun tragedies here, think again – we just haven’t (yet) had one to equal newtown – are we waiting for that??

Joseph Crawford
1 year 1 day ago
I am a bit confused here. You’re stating that firearm owners are fine until they are not… Then you state that having a firearm in the house increased the chances of murder or suicide. Have you read the news at all over the years? Should we take cars from people next because they can be used as a weapon? Just take a look at these 3 articles I found really quick (less than 5 minutes) with a google search. http://www.myfoxdc.com/story/26773438/md-woman-killed-after-being-run-over-multiple-times-by-car http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/NJ-Man-Runs-Over-Kills-Wife-in-Church-Parking-Lot-Police-285876331.html http://patch.com/illinois/plainfield/man-runs-over-wife-stomps-her-face-in-front-of-parame90f17c540f You seem to think that even if you were to take all of the firearms from citizens (if… Read more »
sandra bettis
3 years 9 days ago

well, you can but you won’t get anywhere.

Tom Whittaker
3 years 8 days ago

1st poster: reread the first line of article 16. Also the NRA isn’t a standing army by any definition. Please educate ypurself before making ridiculous statements.
2nd poster: Not much to say to that, seeing as the numbers likely came straight from Bloombergs mouth and is therefore gospel. If you guys don’t like the Vermont way of life, go back to MA or wherever you came from. We’d do better without you.

sandra bettis
3 years 8 days ago

i am not a guy but i am a vermonter.

Bonnie MacBrien
3 years 8 days ago
Not sure where commenter #3 comes up with the inanae comment “go back to MA or wherever you came from” in reponse to commenter #2. I know commenter #2 and can tell you that she not only was born in Vermont, but so were her ancestors going way back. There are many born and bred Vermonters who feel the same way about guns as she does. He is certainly entitled to his opinion, but it’s not helpful and absolutely irrelevant to the discussion to make such a ridiculous statement about the birthplace any other commenter. Is there some problem with… Read more »
Ann Braden
3 years 5 days ago

Agreed!

Tom Haviland
3 years 8 days ago

So given the automotive analogy, would you support new safety requirements analogous to seatbelts, such as biometrics that only allow a firearm to be operated by its owner?

We have to register a car. Would you be ok with a firearm registration?

We have to have auto insurance. Would you be ok with a requirement for liability insurance if you own a firearm?

Edward Jaffe
3 years 8 days ago
The point of the automotive analogy was that NO criminal law was involved. I don’t know of any gun legislation that only has civil penalties. Want to have gun legislation like hunting legislation? Where there is only a fine? BE MY GUEST. As to: Biometrics; that would imply we have a problem with unsolved murders committed by previously law-abiding citizens. Firearm registration: the issue is TRUST. Have you read the NY, CT, CA and RI laws and drafts? I am up against citizen disarmament — not calls for “regulation”. That is my whole point — the policy makers are not… Read more »
Ann Braden
3 years 5 days ago
“As to: Biometrics; that would imply we have a problem with unsolved murders committed by previously law-abiding citizens.” But we DO have a high suicide rate (12th highest in the country), and a good number of those suicides are by people who are using someone else’s gun. Biometrics would also complicate things for criminals who want to steal guns and resell them (as is happening in our growing guns-for-drugs trade). Biometrics would also make me more comfortable to have a gun in my home, because I would worry less about an intruder (or someone else) finding a way to get… Read more »
Edward Jaffe
3 years 4 days ago
Aside from the issue of a person having a right to commit suicide — might I suggest some connection between suicide and SSRI deployment. We have about 300 million guns in the US and few people would willingly pay for the biometric feature — so it becomes compulsory — and then the effort starts to mop-up the non-biometric weapons, etc. I think what is ultimately behind putting technology in guns — is a method to turn them OFF. As I believe the most important reason to have armed citizens is as a bulwark against Fascism and a Police State —… Read more »
Edward Jaffe
3 years 1 day ago

US rates #33 for suicide — far behind many GUN FREE countries. See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

sandra bettis
3 years 1 day ago

ask the families of those who committed suicide how they feel about guns in the house…it’s been proven that a gun in the house increases the chance of a murder or suicide…

Ann Braden
3 years 1 day ago

I would argue that when you’re looking at a list of 108 countries, ranking 34th is pretty high, especially when you’re one of the most successful countries on the list.

But more importantly, I want to be clear: I am NOT advocating for a gun free country. Guns have their place, but so do appropriate regulations — just like you pointed out with your automobile analogy.

Craig Kneeland
3 years 8 days ago
Re: Subordination of Militia Vermont: That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the State — and as standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the military should be kept under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power. Ch. I, art. 16 (enacted 1777, ch. I, art. 15). The NRA uses the civilian malitia argument in support of owning a gun. My reading of the Vermont Constitution implies that we should abandon standing armies in time of peace. The… Read more »
Jim Busch
3 years 5 days ago
I think do not comprehend the part of article 16 that states “for defense of THEMSELVES and the State.” The SCOVT in 1907 ruled that the individual has that right and is not limited by type. In a 1978 study into firearm ownership done by the House, it was determined that there are no limitations outside of Federal that would limit what an individual may own in VT. It was their conclusion that what is good to defend the state is equally applicable to defending ones self. So if the VSP can have M4 Carbines(Which they do) then a citizen… Read more »
sandra bettis
3 years 5 days ago

jim b: wonderful.

Edward Jaffe
3 years 5 days ago
OK — let’s try this again. A Standing Army does not consist of any civilians — it may even be a bunch of foreign mercenaries. References by the NRA or anyone else to our National Constitution is not what I was talking about — I was ONLY talking about our current VT Constitution — which clearly allows (in addition to common law) citizens to be armed for their own protection. Civilians ARE the civil power and don’t need to be regulated by it — at least not by Constitutional demand. Additionally — my whole point is that laws are not… Read more »
Christian Noll
3 years 8 days ago

Thank you Mr Jaffe.

Thought provoking yet true, mandatory minimums from Ronald Reagan in the early 1980’s began the era of the American mass incarceration build-up.

“Where does that viciousness come from?”

Great question and thank you again for bringing it up.

Something happened somewhere and our fellow citizens just got mean and nasty. “Viciousness” is a a sad yet accurate description of our current local law enforcement.

I particularly like your last sentence under Article 16.

How true.

Edward Jaffe
3 years 1 day ago

THX CN:

I am astonished that not ONE person wrote in and said: “gee EJ I favor this or that gun control measure — but I do not want to send duck hunters to Dannemora”.

Not one peep against draconian, merciless laws.

That says it all….

sandra bettis
3 years 5 days ago

‘The issue present in laws being passed and debated is Citizen Disarmament — and not “regulation” or “reform”.’

it is?? i guess i missed something.

Edward Jaffe
3 years 5 days ago
“Disarmament — and not “regulation” or “reform”.’it is?? i guess I missed something.” What you are missing is: you need to read the NY, CT and proposed RI legislation. And look at the arrests that are starting already — like a NY man with a legal, licensed pistol, legal magazine and legal ammunition. He is charged with a CRIME because he did not REMOVE 2 rounds the day the law passed. There are Vermonters rotting in prison in NY & MA — because they wandered across the border and then perhaps had an accident or a traffic stop – and… Read more »
sandra bettis
3 years 5 days ago

when were we discussing disarmament? who was discussing it? i guess i missed that one. but, now that you mention it….

Edward Jaffe
3 years 4 days ago

Thank you for your honesty.

Walter Carpenter
3 years 5 days ago

“America’s brutality is not its gun violence”

The 30,000 or so gun deaths we as a nation suffer every year is not brutality?

Todd Taylor
3 years 5 days ago

I suggest you start by trying to disarm the gangs first Sandra. Get back to me when that’s accomplished.

Ann Braden
3 years 5 days ago
What measures do you support to make it harder for criminals to get guns? Expanded background checks will not keep any sane, law-abiding citizen from having guns, but it will make it harder for criminals pop by the nearest flea market and pick up what’d they’d like, no questions asked. Do you support that? Vermont is the only state in the nation without a state laws banning felons from possessing weapons, and the federal authorities don’t have the resources to prosecute all of the instances themselves. Do you support bringing state law in line with federal law to help law… Read more »
Sandra Bettis
2 years 8 months ago

are you kidding???? private sales are the #1 way to sell or buy a gun!!!! and there are no regulations!!!!! and private sales go on at flea mkts and gun shows all the time!!!! with no regulations!!!!

2 years 8 months ago
I recently attended the Rutland, VT Gun Show. I saw no gun sellers who were not FFLs. One gun store booth was manned by a VT chief of police. The ATF had a booth and were handing out pamphlets about keeping records of your serial numbers, etc. Non-FFLs sold accessories and antiques. Anyone who thinks that VT is exporting large quantities of firearms to other states — does not grasp the shortage and backlog of firearms and the (very small) scale of VT gun stores. MAIG accuses VT of being some kind of major gun “exporter” — oddly they are… Read more »
Carl Fyrdman
2 years 8 months ago
“A gun in your house increases the chance of a murder or suicide” Like Drano in your house increases the risk of poisoning. Or a car in your driveway increases the risk you will be involved in a motor vehicle accident. Gun-control advocates are entirely correct in that it is true that the Founders could not have imagined the lethality of today’s modern firearms. Likewise, the Founders could not have conceived of the firepower held by modern police forces, Homeland Security, and the US Army. During the Revolution, the greatest weapons imaginable were canons, and sailing vessels equiped with canon.… Read more »
Sandra Bettis
2 years 8 months ago

i guess you’d better get a nuke while you are at it. that would make as much sense.

Sandra Bettis
2 years 8 months ago

i think the key word here is CURRENTLY law abiding – that means til your girlfriend makes the wrong thing for supper – or worse.

Sandra Bettis
2 years 8 months ago

when did i say cheap? can you tell me that you have never purchased a gun in a private sale from one of your gun buddies? i find that hard to believe. there are NO REGULATIONS on guns purchased this way. the only regulations are when you buy from a licensed seller and not much even then. no where near enough – OBVIOUSLY!

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