It’s not exactly taking a shot in the dark to predict that the sniping over President Obama’s executive orders on guns will intensify. As the elections draw near, both sides will aim to put the issue directly in their sights and blast away at those who disagree.
But like most important issues, there’s too much rapid-fire rhetoric and not enough common sense, which serves only to move the debate off-target. If the politicians truly care about reducing violence, both sides would holster their weapons and keep their powder dry, and instead hone in on the real problems with sharpshooter precision.
Let’s look at the smoking guns in this latest firestorm:
• Policy: The president, stating he was fed up with a Republican Congress that he saw as doing nothing to tackle gun violence, announced executive orders to increase the scope of background checks for prospective gun buyers, including sales conducted online and at gun shows. Anyone selling firearms would be required to obtain a federal license, and the loophole allowing individuals to buy weapons through a trust or corporation without a background check would be closed.
The GOP, predictably, has been shooting from the hip about how such measures violate Second Amendment freedoms.
One question: How?
How does requiring a criminal background check using the FBI’s database in any way violate one’s rights? Put another way, do these people really believe we shouldn’t have background checks at all? Talk about firing blanks.
Contrary to claims by conspiracy theorists, background checks are not federal gun registries. Neither do they lead to them.
For those who believe that expanding background checks will lead to gun registries, where have they been for the last decade? Background checks aren’t new, so, by definition, if we are simply expanding and modernizing an existing system, then under the critics’ rationale, wouldn’t we already have such a registry? They can’t have it both ways.
Background checks are not a conservative/liberal, Republican/Democrat issue. And since they do not infringe upon a law-abiding citizen’s right to own a firearm, it’s not "gun control." It’s criminal control.
Undeniably, such checks work. There have been 1.8 million denials since 1998. In 2010, half of those denied had felony convictions or indictments, almost 20 percent were fugitives, and 11 percent had violated state laws.
To allow convicted felons or the mentally ill to buy a gun with quasi-legal impunity is crazy, since savvy criminals will choose the no-background-check loophole rather than risk getting caught in an undercover sting. It’s a no-brainer.
But while background checks are useful, they are not a panacea. The FBI database is only as good as the information it receives from states. If criminal and mental health records aren’t routinely sent and/or updated, it won’t be as effective, which is why the administration is boosting its efforts to have states increase their records reporting. It’s also why the president is mandating the FBI upgrade its NICS database system, and providing for additional manpower to staff it. That modernization will greatly reduce the number of gun applicants who, by law, are permitted to take possession of a gun if their background check isn’t completed within three days.
Background checks certainly aren’t perfect, but that’s not a reason to opposes expanding them. Nothing will ever fully prevent lunatics from engaging in a shooting spree, but a background check system is a solid first line of defense.
Political: While idiocy is not illegal, it would behoove some gun-rights people to get a shot of common sense. For example, don’t show up at a gun rally or counter-protest with AK-47s on full display, as some routinely do. And don’t blame the "liberal media" when they post that shot on the front page. Do you want to look cool by touting guns in public, or do you really care about protecting gun rights?
The two never go hand-in-hand. Leave the guns at home, wear something that isn’t camouflage, and articulate a reasonable message with a calm demeanor. You’d be surprised how much more effective you’d be at convincing the Great American Middle – and it is they who will ultimately decide this issue.
Take it to the bank, expanding background checks is a winning political issue.
• Principle: Here’s the problem: President Obama’s executive orders may well get shot down by the courts faster than a speeding bullet – as they should. The Constitution makes it abundantly clear that presidents are elected to implement laws passed by Congress – not do end-runs around the legislative branch.
By no means is that criticism leveled simply at Mr. Obama, since both Republican and Democratic presidents have used executive orders. But wrong is wrong.
The GOP would do well to remind itself of that the next time one of its own occupies the Oval Office, as many will undoubtedly shelve their criticism of executive orders when it happens to be on an issue near and dear to them.
(As an aside, the most egregious executive order of this administration was its agreement with Iran. What is clearly a treaty – which legally should have been subject to ratification by the Senate – was accomplished instead by executive fiat. While the GOP-controlled legislature tried to kill this via legislation, they were unable to muster enough Democratic support to overcome the 60-vote cloture rule in the Senate. Having said that, the question remains why Congress has not filed suit to undue the usurping of its powers.)
• Practicality: Whether executive orders or Congress-passed laws, these measures, while valuable, will simply not stop terrorists and mass killers, and to think otherwise is stunningly naïve. From the San Bernardino terror cell to the Sandy Hook shooter, these people have no regard for laws in the first place, and won’t be deterred by gun restrictions or background checks, especially when they know they won’t live to see another sunrise. All too often, they steal and kill in their quest to obtain weapons.
The answer to stopping these attacks isn’t rooted in limiting magazine size or types of weapons. It’s finding out what we’ve done that has destroyed empathy in many of our young people and fostered a mentality that killing with abandon is somehow a viable option.
Remember that this mass violence didn’t happen in the 1950s – or even the 1980s or most of the ’90s – when access to guns was considerably easier than now. We didn’t bolt school doors a generation ago, we didn’t have lockdowns, we didn’t whitewash everything, we didn’t constantly coddle our kids, and we didn’t get a trophy even when we lost. And we didn’t kill people when something didn’t go our way or we had hurt feelings in a warped but somehow romanticized outlook of going out in a "blaze of glory."
There is no single cause for these mass shootings, and it will take a comprehensive effort to stop such tragedies, from increasing efforts to identify and assist the mentally ill to stemming the entitlement mentality of coddled youth.
A good start would be would be to stop sniping at each other, and instead keep our eye on the real target – the bad guys.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]