Sex Offender Ban Added to Pro-Gun Bill in House: Let the Rationalizations Begin!

The 'guns for all' mentality embraced--and repeatedly acted upon--by the U.S. House may have hit a snag earlier this month. It seems that Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) may have finally identified the one segment of gun owners that even the National Rifle Association and its Congressional supporters are unwilling to fight for--at least not publicly. At a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee on an NRA-backed bill to restrict the release of crime gun trace data (H.R. 5005), Wasserman Schultz offered an amendment to the pro-gun bill to outlaw gun possession by individuals convicted of misdemeanor sex crimes against minors. What constitutes such a crime varies from state to state, but includes enticing a minor over the Internet, sexual exploitation of a minor, and criminal sexual abuse. Not to mention more serious sex crimes against children that are pleaded down to misdemeanors. Her amendment was quickly accepted by H.R. 5005's sponsor, Lamar Smith (R-TX), with no debate. So for those who ask, "Where do even pro-gun legislators draw the line?," the answer, apparently, is child sex offenders.

Wasserman Schultz's amendment is modeled on the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, a provision added to federal law in 1996 by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) prohibiting gun possession by persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses--currently the only category of misdemeanor that disqualifies an individual from possessing a firearm under federal law. This is despite the fact that according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) handgun buyers with prior misdemeanor convictions are at increased risk for future criminal activity, including violent and firearm crimes. The JAMA study showed that even handgun purchasers with only one prior nonviolent, non-firearm related misdemeanor conviction were nearly five times as likely as those with no criminal history to be charged with new offenses involving violence or firearms.

If history offers any lesson, it's that the gun lobby will do all it can behind the scenes to ensure that those convicted of misdemeanor sex crimes against children will get to keep their guns. Last year the gun lobby quietly killed the sex offender gun ban when it was added by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) to legislation to create a national sex offender registry. In an exercise familiar to anyone who watches the web sites and discussion groups that comprise pro-gun salon society, opponents of the proposal moved quickly to trivialize the issues addressed by Nadler and Wassserman Schultz. The website Gun Law News offered this trenchant analysis of the Nadler amendment: "What comes to mind when we think of sex offenders is some perv cruising the streets grabbing kids as he goes. That kind of person is not what is addressed here. That perv would be up on alot [sic] more than child abuse. Think of things like kidnapping--felonies all. This perv would already be a felon and a prohibitted [sic] person. We fear that this law would be used to go after people who had indiscretions in their teen years. If an offender is truly worthy of loosing [sic] his firearm rights for life, he should have been convicted of a crime that would warrant more than a year in jail and already be a prohibitted [sic] person. Otherwise, no." So bottom line, child abuse ok, kidnapping, not so much.

Similar logic was--and still is--employed by the gun lobby to lament and dismiss the Lautenberg restrictions on gun possession by domestic violence offenders. "This ban has disarmed people for life--for offenses that include pushing, shoving or, in some cases, even yelling at a family member," says Gun Owners of America, the organization at the forefront of efforts to repeal the ban. When one loses the "right" to push and shove your wife, can totalitarianism be far behind?

The gun lobby pays lip service to the notion of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. The catch is that they want to define what constitutes criminal behavior from their own perspective. And when the crime is one they themselves may have committed? Well, let the rationalizations begin!