Jacob Sullum
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Perhaps fear of confiscation seems paranoid to you. But consider what would happen if the federal government merely enforced existing law through expanded background checks and improved records -- another step nearly everyone seems to think is self-evidently sensible. Such a crackdown would reveal the folly of current restrictions, which prohibit gun ownership by several absurdly broad categories of people under the threat of a five-year prison term.

One disqualifier is a felony record, whether or not the offense involved violence or even a victim. It is doubtful that check-kiters, marijuana growers or unauthorized farm workers (another banned category) are substantially more likely to go on a shooting rampage than the average person.

Federal law also bars "an unlawful user of ... any controlled substance" from owning a gun. Think about that for a minute. If you smoke pot or use a relative's Vicodin or Xanax, you have no right to keep and bear arms. Survey data indicate that nearly 40 million Americans have used "illicit drugs" in the last year, and the true number is probably higher, since people may be reluctant to admit illegal behavior even when their answers are confidential.

One of Obama's "common-sense steps" to reduce gun violence is better sharing of data by federal agencies, including lists of employees or job applicants who have failed drug tests. Seeking such information from state agencies and private employers seems equally logical.

This is one of those situations where "better" could be worse. Although better enforcement of existing restrictions on gun ownership sounds unobjectionable, it would unjustly deny millions of people the right to armed self-defense.

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Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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