Hague: Differing Opinion on permit-to-purchase law


This is in response to Mr. Jeff Haycraft’s Opinion (“Here’s why permit-to-purchase doesn’t threaten democracy”). First, I am compelled to point out that, where Mr. Haycraft says that the phrase “well regulated” means that some level of regulation is permitted, he conveniently picked a couple of words from the phrase. The text is actually, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The “permit-to-purchase” legislation is not a regulation; it is a law. In this case, that is a big difference. While the drafters of the legislation state that one of the goals is to reduce violence, there is no reliable empirical evidence of that in any of the other nine states that have permitting laws. The closest place to look is Maryland, where the permitting law was overturned late last year in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. That law was instituted in 2013. Ask the people of Baltimore how much violence has been reduced. It has actually gone up each year since the law was implemented.

When dealing with a constitutional right, balancing the right with public safety is not permitted. The Heller decision said societal factors and unprecedented societal concerns are not to be considered when deciding whether a law violates the Constitution. Mr. Haycraft also mentions costs. The cost of the permit and the training can be substantial. That may keep many people from going through the process, which, in effect, denies them the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms. A right delayed is a right denied. Mr. Haycraft also stated that costs should not be a factor, “compared to the potential societal costs of unregulated gun ownership.” Firearm ownership is far from unregulated. In fact, the firearm industry is the most heavily regulated industry in the U.S. There are over 26,000 federal, state and local laws, rules and ordinances governing firearms — everything from manufacture to purchase. For many years on a federal level — and at least since 2013 in Delaware — there has been a mandatory background check for purchasers of firearms. Delaware has a very comprehensive background check system, and when the Firearm Transaction Approval Program is implemented, the checks will be even more comprehensive.

Apparently, Mr. Stan Lakey raised concerns about the permit-to-purchase bill negatively impacting constitutional rights and democratic principles (“Are our constitutional rights for sale?”). However, Mr. Haycraft’s attempt to justify that infringement by saying that we must balance individual rights with public safety, is misplaced. I would suppose that, based on Mr. Haycraft’s balancing test, our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure are subject to whether a search without a warrant is OK, if done in the interests of public safety. I don’t agree.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, the way to reduce violence, including violence committed with a firearm, is to deal with the person, not the object. Violent acts are not restricted to those committed with a firearm. In fact, more people in Delaware are injured with feet, hands, knives and other objects each year than with firearms.

Jeff Hague

President and legislative liaison,  Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association


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