Last week I interviewed Ladd Everitt, the director of One Pulse for America, a pro-gun control organization founded by actor George Takei in the wake of the mass killing at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
I wanted to ask Ladd a series of questions because I do believe, between the pending Kavanaugh SCOTUS confirmation and the emergence of the downloadable gun, that those seeking to roll back the 2A rights of law-abiding citizens are in deep trouble. I wanted to see if he sensed what I feel, that if judge Kavanaugh does join the bench it’ll indubitably have a crippling effect on the modern gun-control movement.
Let me be clear that this is a Q&A — not a debate. I emailed Ladd all five questions at once and then he responded. There was no back and forth and I did not attempt to dispute his claims. I did this for two reasons. First, for the sake of brevity. As it stands this article is already over 2,700 words. Had I counterpunched (which was incredibly tempting to do, by the way) we’d be well over 3,500 words.
Second, because I want YOU to respond to Ladd in the comments section. Rarely do we get an opportunity to converse with someone on the other side of the gun divide, especially someone who has been at it as long as Ladd has. Before working with One Pulse, Ladd spent years working with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, another group dedicated to agitating for tougher gun laws.
All I ask is that you do not resort to name-calling. Respond to Everitt’s arguments, not his personhood.
S.H. Blannelberry: I wanted to start out by asking you as an advocate for tougher gun laws, where do you draw the line when it comes to regulations on the 2A? At what point do you say, “Okay, that’s good enough”? Is it at a point where the U.S. has adopted European/Australian-style gun laws, i.e. widespread prohibitions on all semiautomatic firearms and heavy ownership restrictions on everything else (gun licensing, rigid safe storage requirements, extensive background checks, etc.)? There’s now talk of banning all handguns in Canada, is that something you’d support? What is your ideal “gun safety” scenario?
Ladd Everitt: I don’t view it as “regulation of the Second Amendment” because of my reading of history. I’ve never bought into the NRA’s ridiculous talking point that our Founders ratified the amendment to guarantee individuals the right to employ a broad range of firepower to deter criminal threats and the U.S. government. The surviving debate and relevant documents prove the amendment was about federalism; the matter of who would control the states’ then-vital Militia forces and arm them. Madison & Co. eventually opted for a compromise—the sharing of that power between our federal government and state governments. The only regulations I could see impinging on the Second Amendment would be ones that prohibit the states from organizing and arming their Militia. I can’t recall ever having seen such attempted regulation.
As for our current federal and state gun laws, they are weak, ridden with loopholes, and in need of comprehensive reform. Here are some things I’d like to see done moving forward:
1) National licensing and registration of firearms/gun owners in the United States. Federal licensing and registration has been a tremendous success story under the National Firearms Act since 1934. Fully-automatic weapons are rarely if ever used in crime because the background investigation involved to obtain one is robust. Licensing & registration systems take the time necessary to accurately verify an applicant’s history of violence (NOT just through an instant computer check, but with that as one element of a larger process).
Civilian owners are 100% accountable for registered firearms. No having your machine gun turn up on a crime scene and telling law enforcement, “Sorry, I lost that one a few months ago.” It’s time for unregulated private transfers to go the way of the dinosaurs.
I have no problem with civilian handgun ownership under a national licensing and registration system (although I do want modern-day technology implemented to make handguns safer).
I don’t really care about the dramatic conspiracy theories that accompany licensing and registration in pro-gun circles. Mentally and emotionally healthy people understand that virtually every other democracy on the planet has national and licensing registration for firearms, their gun death/injury rates are astronomically lower, and no one has been enslaved.
It would be an inconvenience for gun owners, the same way dealing with the DMV is a pain in the ass. But saving lives is a hell of a lot more important than avoiding inconvenience. It always has been.
LBJ wanted national licensing and registration in the 1960s and was deeply disheartened when Congress gave him the weak Gun Control Act. He knew it couldn’t keep guns away from violent people like Lee Harvey Oswald. One day when we enact a national licensing & registration law in this country, President Johnson will be seen as a visionary.
2) The repeal of federal and state laws that treat gun owners like super-citizens, giving them rights that non-gun owners do not enjoy, including the right to kill needlessly in the public space.
3) Bring regulation of the gun industry and storage of gun sales records into the 21st century by using the best technology available, not the worst. It’s time to solve gun crimes in the United States with high-end computers, not microfiche.
4) I would like to see safe storage requirements and/or Child Access Prevention laws in all 50 states and I want to see them ENFORCED. I’d apply those laws to homes containing minors age 18 and under and also possibly to certain homes with individuals at risk of harming self/others (with due process).
5) I want do large-scale national gun buyback programs. Incentivize Americans to give up their guns and assist in a de-proliferation effort that is absolutely necessary. There are WAY too many guns in the U.S. right now—more than 325 million by recent estimates. It’s time to begin reducing that stockpile and making our neighborhoods safer. These programs could seek sources of funding both public and private.
6) Complete review of the outdated and sometimes arbitrary prohibited categories for gun buyers that were largely developed in 1968. It’s senseless to ignore 50 years of peer-reviewed research since that time that better informs who is likely to be violent based on certain past behaviors. For example, there is a great deal of evidence that individuals with violent misdemeanor convictions are more likely to engage in violent crime than average Americans. They should be prohibited from purchasing/owning firearms.
To be fair, however, such a process should also remove some Americans from the prohibited list. For example, there are severely mentally ill individuals who undergo treatment, recover their mental health, and are safe/fit to own firearms. Overall, I want a system that is more accurate and fair in gauging a buyer’s history of violence and making the determination as to whether that person should be prohibited.
Etc., etc. There’s a lot of work to do. But none of it should prohibit individuals without a history of violence from buying/owning firearms (handguns and long guns) in this country. That can be done responsibly, safely and for the betterment of everyone.
S.H. Blannelberry: Let’s talk about modern sporting rifles. Most gun-control advocates support banning them. However, recently, Vice News contributor Krishna Andavolu acknowledged that banning AR-pattern rifles is essentially a futile endeavor for practical as well as political reasons. With at least 8 million in circulation it would be impossible to round them all up, he argues, while also pointing out, as many others have, that “statistically speaking, they don’t account for a large share of these tragedies.” Then there’s, what he calls, the “axiom of prohibition” which basically means the minute you tell people they can’t have something, they immediately start to want it. We saw this during the Obama years; sales of black rifles spiked because Sen. Feinstein and others introduced legislation to reinstate the Clinton-era ban. Do you acknowledge the real-world limitations of attempting to outlaw what has become the best selling rifle in America?
Ladd Everitt: I understand that handguns are portable and easier to use than long guns, so therefore they are more commonly used in the constant gun homicides and suicides we see in this country. That said, it’s also true that semiautomatic-fire battlefield rifles like the AR-15 are more lethal than handguns and that is the reason they long ago became the weapon of choice for mass shooters, cop-killers and insurrectionists. I believe both the American public and the American government have a valid and compelling interest in regulating these weapons to prevent mass-casualty events and harm to our democratic institutions.
I don’t see any “real-world” limitations to properly regulating assault rifles. There are a couple of different ways you can go about it. One way is the strengthened federal legislation to ban assault weapons (moving down to a 1-feature test). But Giffords also has an interesting idea—extending the NFA licensing/registration requirements to owners of semiautomatic battlefield rifles. I’m fine with either approach.
I’ve never heard of Krishna Andavolu but he is apparently isn’t aware of the success that other democracies have had with national gun buyback programs. Given the phenomenon of stockpiling we’ve seen in this country for decades, I’d imagine there are a lot of guys out there who’d be interested in selling some of their semiauto rifles if they could get fair prices. Incentivize these owners and exploit the demand/supply equation. It’s worth doing and something millions of Americans would get behind immediately.
The U.S. put a man on the moon. We do big things right. Now it’s time to invest in peace.
S.H. Blannelberry: Quick follow up to the issue of the futility of a ban. What do you make of Cody Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed, who has ushered in the era of the downloadable gun? It seems now that regardless of what laws are on the books, there will be unfettered access to firearms of all makes and models on the internet henceforth. The genie is outta the bottle, so to speak. Not only that but with 3-D printing and mini CNC mills do-it-yourself gunsmithing has never been easier. I cannot see how this is anything but a huge victory for 2A purists like myself. Your thoughts?
Ladd Everitt: The “victory” achieved by Cody Wilson was exposed when he was charged with sexually assaulting a girl “younger than 17.” Now he’s fled to Taiwan to avoid justice. Cody’s no hero. He’s a profound narcissist who has long advocated for a “right” to violent insurrection against our American government. The breaking news gives us a clearer understanding as to why he was eager to create a process by which guns can be made secretly. There’s nothing glamorous about it.
The “genie out of the bottle” argument is just another weak attempt to forestall gun regulation in a country mobilizing behind it post-Parkland shooting/NRA treason with Russia revelations. For all his endless chest-beating, Cody was licensed by the federal government to manufacture firearms. He was never operating in rogue fashion. The government knew exactly who he was and what he was doing.
It’s true that blueprints for 3D-printed guns will eventually make their way online in some fashion, but there’s nothing in the world that prevents us from regulating future gun printers as effectively as we’ve regulated Cody. We should continue to work with public and private actors to keep the blueprints off the Internet. We should also invest manufacturers of 3D-printers in the process and invite their expertise, their solutions, to prevent the printing of guns. It would be great PR for them and they’d move more product because of it!
If necessary, we can also create new federal and/or state criminal penalties for individuals who make and transfer firearms without serial numbers. The American public is firmly behind regulating the mass-printing of firearms by civilians for public safety. This will be handled post-Trump.
S.H. Blannelberry: Let’s turn to Supreme Court nominee Judge Kavanaugh. While serving on the D.C. Circuit Court, Kavanaugh wrote a dissent that applied the “in common use for lawful purposes” standard, discussed in the landmark Heller Decision, to argue that the District’s ban on modern sporting rifles was unconstitutional. Here’s part of what he penned:
In Heller, the Supreme Court held that handguns — the vast majority of which today are semi-automatic — are constitutionally protected because they have not traditionally been banned and are in common use by law-abiding citizens. There is no meaningful or persuasive constitutional distinction between semi-automatic handguns and semi-automatic rifles. Semi-automatic rifles, like semi-automatic handguns, have not traditionally been banned and are in common use by law-abiding citizens for self-defense in the home, hunting, and other lawful uses. Moreover, semiautomatic handguns are used in connection with violent crimes far more than semi-automatic rifles are. It follows from Heller’s protection of semi-automatic handguns that semi-automatic rifles are also constitutionally protected and that D.C.’s ban on them is unconstitutional.
If confirmed by the Senate, Kavanaugh would be a decisively pro-gun justice. Moreover, if a case challenging the constitutionality of black rifle bans or may-issue concealed carry laws were to make it to the high court sometime in the not so distant future it is hard to see it ending in any other way but a 5-4 decision in favor of gun rights. What say you?
Ladd Everitt: I think your analysis is correct regarding Kavanaugh and future rulings on gun laws. If Kavanaugh cannot be confirmed, it’s also undoubtedly true of anyone Trump might nominate in his wake.
This confirmation process does indeed present an existential threat to efforts to reduce gun violence in this country. That’s how it’s been treated by people in the gun control movement since Justice Kennedy retired. It’s part and parcel of a much larger constitutional crisis created by this treasonous, autocratic administration in the White House and the Congress that serves as its defender.
S.H. Blannelberry: We vehemently disagree on the gun issue. But in terms of crime stats, we both agree that school shooters and terrorists make up less than 3 percent of the nation’s gun homicides. We also agree that violence in urban areas accounts for the majority of the nation’s gun homicides. I’m curious to know your thoughts on promising social programs like Operation Ceasefire, which is predicated on the belief that the vast majority of violent crime is often driven by a very small network of individuals, and that if a community can reach out and provide support, financial and otherwise, to these high-risk individuals, a reduction in violence can be realized. Do you believe that pro-gunners and anti-gunners should invest more time and capital in finding ways to reduce violence that are mutually agreeable? Imagine, for a moment, if Bloomberg and the NRA teamed up to fund a nationwide Operation Ceasefire? The results could be tremendous. Don’t you think? At least one of the cities that have enacted a Ceasefire-style program witnessed unbelievable results. Under its Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) program, Richmond, California has managed since 2007 to reduce firearm-related homicides by 76 percent and firearm-related assaults by 66 percent!
Ladd Everitt: Yes! As a response to gun homicide in urban areas, you’re right—the Ceasefire programs have proven results and are terrific investments for legislators looking to save lives. This work on the ground—to intervene with young men who are at-risk and offer them positive incentives and a path to professional development—is essential.
By moving young men away from crime, the Ceasefire programs dry up demand for illegal firearms in the secondary gun market in urban communities. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t also obstruct the supply of illegal firearms by enacting federal felony penalties for gun traffickers, however. Do both and you will make America’s cities far safer places.
I’m conscious that the pro-gun movement often tries to paint black, urban gun violence as the only gun violence occurring in America. This ignores the epidemic of gun suicide we see in rural communities. I want innovative programs to save those lives as well! The Gun Violence Restraining Order (or whatever one prefers to call it) is one such policy. Like the Ceasefire programs, the GVRO has shown demonstrated results in preventing violence (gun suicide) at the state level.
I lost my grandfather to gun suicide when I was young. I saw how it destroyed my father, who had to physically clean up the scene. He never got to say goodbye to his dad and tell him he loved him. I’m up for any idea that will saves lives and prevent the continued suffering of American families.
End of Interview. What would you say to Everitt?