As with a lot of audio books, I “read” (i.e., listened to) Emily Miller’s Emily Gets Her Gun. . . But Obama Wants to Take Yours (Regnery Publishing, 2013) twice.
The first time through, I found it to be an interesting if breezy personal story of Miller trying to legally register a handgun in the District of Columbia, but I didn’t particularly care for the political journalism. My second reading, though, was after I made a trip to DC myself, and so the significance of both the personal story and the political journalism was much more immediate.
The book’s two part title is descriptive of its contents. It tells the story of the process Miller went through to legally register a gun in the District of Columbia in 2011-2012, and it tells the story of the movement during the Obama administration for greater gun control and the implications of that. The first 15 chapters of the book alternate between Miller’s story (the odd chapters – Emily gets her gun) and the broader movement against guns (the even chapters – but Obama wants to take yours).
Miller’s story originally ran as a series in the Washington Times, for whom she is a senior editor working on the opinion page. One of the reasons I didn’t get as much out of the book on the first reading is that it felt like journalism rather than scholarship. It did not have the depth of research or analysis that a book like Adam Winkler’s Gunfight has. Indeed, it was amazing for me as an academic author to read a book published in September 2013 that included references to the NRA annual meeting that took place just months earlier. If only I could get my ideas to press that quickly!
I came to the book with some different questions and experiences the second time, though, and that made all the difference. Traveling to the District of Columbia from the south, the difference in the city’s gun laws compared to North Carolina and Virginia were striking. Being in the city it was easier to imagine both what it was like for Miller to get registered handgun in DC and what it would be like to inadvertently run afoul of those laws. (I wrote about this latter issue already.)
I was also in DC for two nights (October 25th and 26th), and each of the nights I was there someone was killed by gunshots. I can only presume the weapons used were unregistered firearms since I don’t believe there has been a single case of a registered firearm being used in a homicide in DC since 2008 when the city began requiring registration in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which overturned the city’s 30 year old handgun ban. DC’s former gun ban and current gun registration process really has nothing at all to do with violent crime in the city because those responsible for gun-related crimes did not previously observe the ban and do not currently register their guns.
Miller’s story makes clear that the DC government does not want to ensure that only law-abiding citizens have guns. They want to make it as hard as possible to legally own a gun in the District and thereby enact a de facto gun ban in place of their overturned de jure gun ban. Over the course of 15 chapters, Miller tells the story of the four months it took her to complete the 17 step process (listed on p. 59), buried in 22 pages of incomplete information from the DC police, who were less than helpful in clarifying and facilitating things along the way. In the end she paid $435 in fees and missed days of work, as when she had to drive 90 minutes round trip to Maryland to take her mandatory 4 hour gun class.
In terms of the broader commentaries on movements for gun control, the point that stood out the most for me concerned slippery slope arguments. Many are critical of the NRA for taking an absolutist stance against gun control – or “common sense” gun control as its proponents rhetorically spin it. But one of the greatest impediments to passing gun regulations that a majority of the population would support is the fact that so many proponents of gun control are really advocates of gun bans. So, it is in fact the case that many proponents of gun control will not be happy with mere regulation of firearms; in their ideal world they would have bans and confiscation. They would be happy with DC’s old gun laws which outlawed handguns entirely and required long guns to be kept inside the home, unloaded and disassembled.
So, does Obama want to take your guns? He just might. Miller provides, as Appendix A to her book, a Justice Department Memo from January 2013 (post-Sandy Hook) that comments on President Obama’s gun control proposals before they were made public. As Miller writes, “The left tries to make gun owners seem paranoid and delusional for thinking that a registry will lead to the government taking our firearms – but this secret memo showed that among themselves they discuss ‘law enforcement’s ability to retrieve guns from owners’” (p. 278). Recent actions in states like New York, California, Colorado, and Connecticut do nothing to defuse these concerns.