By Charles C. W. Cooke
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
The FBI has published a brief report on the shooting in Alexandria. It is devastating to the idea that the gun-control measures presently coveted by the Democratic party would have done something to prevent the attack.
Over the past two decades, Democrats have focused on three major proposals for reform. They are: 1) That all private transfers should be contingent upon a federal background check; 2) That firearms that look a certain way should be classed as “assault weapons” and prohibited from sale; and 3) That civilians should be forbidden from buying magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. None of these proposals intersect with what happened in Alexandria.
First, the FBI confirms that Hodgkinson moved to Virginia in March of 2017:
In March 2017, Hodgkinson, of Belleville, Illinois, told a family member that he was traveling to Washington D.C., but he did not provide any additional information on his travel. FBI analysis of Hodgkinson’s computers showed a Google search of truck stops, maps, and toll-free routes to the Northern Virginia area. Prior to his travel, local law enforcement in Belleville had been called to Hodgkinson’s residence due to complaints of target practice he was conducting on his property. Local law enforcement requested he keep the noise down but determined Hodgkinson was not in violation of any local laws. Hodgkinson’s prior criminal record includes a charge of domestic battery in 2006.
Evidence collected thus far indicates Hodgkinson had been in the Alexandria area since March 2017.
It then confirms where — and how — he obtained his weapons:
The investigation thus far determined that Hodgkinson purchased his SKS 7.62mm caliber rifle in March 2003 and 9mm handgun in November 2016 legally through federal firearms licensees. The investigation has determined that there were cartridges found to be chambered in the SKS rifle and the FBI’s Evidence Response Team found 9mm and 7.62mm shell casings on scene. The SKS rifle was modified to accept a detachable magazine and the original stock was replaced with a folding stock.
This means that Hodgkinson bought the guns in Illinois, where he was resident.
Why does this matter? Well, because before they knew anything about the case, many in the press had reflexively tried to use the incident as an argument for stricter gun control. The Atlantic’s David Frum, for example, immediately went on an error-laden tear about Virginia’s laws, which he considers to be too lax, and then took to proposing the sort of “common sense” reforms that the Democratic party has been so impotently trying to sell. But, as the FBI confirms, this reaction was an ignorant one. For a start, the guns weren’t bought in Virginia; they were bought in Illinois, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. And they weren’t purchased privately, illegally, or without attendant background checks, but “legally through federal firearms licensees” that are obliged under federal law to run checks. Moreover, Hodgkinson only got the weapons after he obtained an additional possession-and-purchase license (FOID) of the sort that more extreme gun-control advocates want to see made mandatory in all states.
Or, put another way: Illinois has stricter rules than even Barack Obama endorsed — it quite literally licenses all gun-owners in the state — and those rules made no difference to this case.
Alas, the errors don’t end there. Frum and co. also berated Virginia for being among the 40+ states to permit open carry. But Alexandria, where the shooting took place, doesn’t permit open carry, a fact that prompted one of the most hilariously convoluted arguments I have seen in my life. Others talked about both “assault weapons” and “high-capacity” magazines. But as the FBI notes, the firearm used was an SKS in 7.62mm, which has never been classed as an “assault weapon,” and which wasn’t included in the ban that obtained from 1994-2004. Further, when he bought it, Hodgkinson’s SKS was unable to take “high-capacity” magazines at all; rather, it came with an internal 10-round box magazine. Per the report, Hodgkinson seems to have modified it to take external magazines after the purchase, a change that raises the fair question of how effective any at-sale restrictions can really be in stopping the determined. Either way, even after he modified it there is no evidence that Hodgkinson introduced a larger than 10-round external magazine (that’s the standard for the modified SKS), or that, if he did, it had any effect on the outcome.
Finally, I am seeing it said that Hodgkinson should not have had his weapons — and shouldn’t have been permitted to buy his handgun in 2016 — because he was a “domestic abuser.” But that’s not true either. The FBI report confirms that “Hodgkinson’s prior criminal record includes a charge of domestic battery in 2006.” Note the key word: “charge.” Charge, not “conviction.” I understand that this is an emotive issue, but we presumably do not want to start taking away people’s rights on the basis of accusations alone? There are a lot of terrible men out there — men who do unspeakable things to women. Perhaps Hodgkinson was one of them; perhaps he was not. Either way, unless a person has been convicted of a crime he remains innocent under the law, and he must be treated as such by the state. Due process matters, and I hope that our self-described “liberals” are not going to abandon their commitment to it simply because they dislike the Second Amendment.
Now, there will be be voters out there who say, “Fine, but I don’t want these sorts of minor changes, I want to get rid of all the guns.” And that’s fair enough, if extraordinary naive. But we need to separate out that argument from the ones we actually hear. Repeatedly, conservatives such as myself are told that “confiscation” and “outright banning” are red herrings and straw men and “NRA lies,” and that what is being proposed is merely ”common sense” gun control. Specifically, we are pitched on the ideas I mentioned above — and they are sold as the means by which incidents such as this one will be prevented. Well, those ideas didn’t have anything to do with this incident, and those who are honestly limiting their ambitions to them need to stop for a moment and acknowledge that. And if they’re really talking about something else . . . well, they should acknowledge that, too.