In an Arizona Daily Star op-ed Sunday, President Obama called for “common sense” in re-examining the country’s firearms debate. But between significant players in the firearms debate, there still isn’t much “common” ground in their sense-making.
Common sense says that the co-founder of the Arizona Citizens Defense League, a Grand Canyon State gun-rights group, would react to Obama’s piece with knee-jerk scorn. Not so. While the AACDL was instrumental in pushing open-carry legislation (Arizona Gov. Jane Brewer made it law in 2010), Charles Heller’s first remark to The Daily Caller was one of praise.
“I thought it was absolutely refreshing that the President of the United States acknowledged the individual right to keep and bear arms as affirmed by the courts,” Heller told TheDC. And despite being “as diametrically opposed to everything as a human being could be to him,” Heller said, “I have to acknowledge, so far, [Obama] hasn’t caused us any real damage.”
Actual common sense, then, might also say that the National Rifle Association’s President Wayne LaPierre could appreciate not only the expansion of certain gun rights under the Obama administration, but also Obama’s respectful commentary that said gun-safety advocates “need to accept” legal gun-owners’ generally safe practices. No so.
LaPierre pushed back hard against Obama’s call to “strengthen” existing laws and background checks. Not that LaPierre thinks people don’t kill people, but his common sense argument is that those bad people should be in jail before they have a chance to get guns.
“The dialogue really should be on bad people and bad men because unless we focus on that we’re never going to get to the point,” said LaPierre Monday on Fox News. “We need to be out to be doing everything we can to take bad men and felons and drug dealers off the streets.”
LaPierre said you can pass all the gun laws you want but “unless you get them [criminals] off the street, you’re not going to make them safe.”
While LaPierre said the “dialogue really shouldn’t be about guns,” his own organization has said that it really should be about guns. Not guns in the street, per se. But definitely guns. Just last year, the NRA ran a report that defies conventional common sense. The title, “More Guns, Less Crime,” is fairly self-explanatory. Taking felons off the streets sounds like common sense, too, but apart from the unlawful sale of firearms, felonies also include writing bad checks and possessing stolen merchandise. Not to mention that simply taking all the bad men off the street would leave citizens defenseless against all the bad women.
Common sense, and his previous statements, suggests Heller would agree with either Obama’s keep-guns-away-from-bad-men or LaPierre’s keep-bad-men-away-from-everyone. No so.
Obama framed his appeal for sensible gun reform around one particular bad man’s ability to purchase a gun. While Jared Loughner was “apparently bent on violence,” the man who Obama said was “unfit for service [and] a man one of our colleges deemed too unstable for studies” passed a background check for a reason. Heller said it’s a “common orgasmic fantasy that there is some way of keeping criminals and crazy people from having guns. There is not.”
“There is no background check that will ever stop someone committed to criminal violence or getting the tools to do it. It’s impossible,” said Heller. “In the United States, there are probably about 50 million guns, that’s more than one per person.”
Heller said the only way to stop people like Loughner or “clamp down” on gun deaths in general would be to ban all private sale transactions. But he noted that cars kill far more people than guns every year, and you don’t hear people demanding a ban on the private sale of Ford Broncos. Unless they’re sold to O.J. Simpson.
Both Heller and Obama cited the Centers for Disease Control’s 2007 mortality rates among “young people” in their respective appeals for “common sense” in the gun rights debate. But they had very different takes.
“Nationally, about 130 children are killed by gun accidents. Now, it’s a tragedy. Everyone is a tragedy,” said Heller. “[But] there is an average of 130 children who die from gun-related incidents in the whole United States. This is not an epidemic.” Meanwhile, Obama said that about 2,000 people died due to “gun violence” since the Arizona shootings and that “We lose the same number of young people to guns every day and a half as we did at Columbine, and every four days as we did at Virginia Tech.”
Common sense would suggest that Obama means “young people” are equally prone to violence as adults, particularly when it comes to the much-feared school shootings. The president, however, is careful with his word choice. The average yearly rates of “young people” lost “to guns” used by the president more closely reflects figures that include 683 suicides, 138 accidental deaths, 25 killed by police intervention, and 60 in which the intent was unknown. Meanwhile, actual school violence decreased in the past decade and less than 1 percent of teen shooting deaths occur at school.
Both Heller and LaPierre are strongly suspicious of the president’s actual motives calling for “common sense” in the gun-control debate. That makes perfect sense!
Heller said “that man is very purposeful” and wouldn’t come out with an innocuous-sounding op-ed without having a derringer up his sleeve. LaPierre was more specific. In a Monday night letter to the president, LaPierre said gun-control lobbyists like the prominent Brady Campaign “moved with lightening speed to exploit the [Arizona shooting].” LaPierre also said the president cribbed his op-ed’s “talking points” from gun-control lobbies like Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “Common sense gun control,” it seems, is a popular phrase at the Brady Campaign. Not that that means the Brady Campaign agrees with Obama. For the group, it was common sense that President Obama would be the kind of gun-control advocate they desired when candidate Obama was running for office. No so.
Heller’s common sense regarding young people’s deaths, however, also doesn’t include the roughly 2,161 children and teens killed by actual gun violence every year. Still, he suggests that most of the violent gun deaths in America can be attributed to those already involved in illegal activities. The criminals, then, end up offing each other. And Heller has a way to minimize accident rates, not to mention foster a healthy respect for guns. It’s called education.
“The solution is installing firearms safety programs in every single school in America,” said Heller. “The solution is having gun ranges in every single public school, probably beyond the 5th grade. So the children are acculturated to handle firearms.”
While that might make sense to some, it definitely isn’t common.