After some relatively quiet years, the national gun debate locked and loaded for another round last week after President Obama hinted his desire to reform the current background check system. Plenty has happened in the past few years with both sides entrenched in deep partisan arguments. To prepare readers for the onslaught of over-exaggerated political rhetoric, ambitious policies and former victims crying before the camera, The Daily Caller is launching a multi-part guide for readers not entirely up to snuff.
So much for a new non-partisan discussion
On Sunday March 13, President Obama took his first tiny steps into reigniting the debate over America’s oldest pastime: firearms.
He pleaded that we “find a sensible way to make the United States of America a safer, stronger place.” Avoiding the word “debate” in all but one instance (“… we can get beyond … stale political debates”), President Obama called for a “common sense” discussion.
That lasted less than 72 hours.
On Tuesday March 15, some of the staunchest liberals in Congress appeared with New York Mayor Michael “No Labels” Bloomberg in front of the Capitol to call for a “common sense” debate that just happens to include a whole host of new gun-control proposals. The centerpiece to this common sense discussion are two bills in the House and Senate that would be the first major reforms of national gun laws since the 1993 Brady Bill.
Nary a Republican has commented on the issue. The NRA has essentially refused to join in on the “discussion” aside from responding to Obama’s plea with a strong ‘yeah-thanks-but-no-thanks’ letter.
So, for those curious about the firearms debate but unsure what to think without conservative leadership, here’s the idiot’s guide to the 2011 “common sense” discussion.
Gun-rights advocates have come a long way, particularly in recent years. Two Supreme Court rulings, Heller v. the District of Columbia (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010), have affirmed that the right to keep and bear arms does indeed apply to individuals and not just the neighborhood ticker-tape militia. What’s more, gun-control advocates who thought they might have had another pistol-whipping ally in Obama have been sorely disappointed. Even since he was candidate Obama, he has extensively praised the 2nd Amendment.
Apart from offering plenty of lip service to gun-rights advocates, Democratic leaders and the Obama administration have also tried not to anger the NRA or a bread-and-butter base that enjoys its 2nd Amendment rights. The gun-shy Democrats saw what happened when a pro-gun-control candidate ran for the nation’s highest office. That former-candidate had a cooling-off period before beginning to advocate for an issue with more international appeal — global warming.
Despite dire warnings from gun-control advocates, the liberalization of gun laws hasn’t resulted in the bullet-ridden corpse of America. The rates of violent crimes and school violence have both decreased as legislation and court decisions continue to favor 2nd Amendment enthusiasts.
This isn’t to suggest the gun-control advocates and lawmakers have given up. They do get politically riled up, but it happens, more often, immediately following a tragic event.
As of this writing, 12 pieces of legislation dealing specifically with stricter gun-control have been introduced to Congress in the two months since the Tucson shooting. During a similar period after the Virginia Tech massacre, that number was seven. A whopping 40 acts, bills and amendments were introduced after Columbine.
How does that compare to quieter years? In the same time period, after Obama’s victory in 2008, the 111th Congress proposed two gun-control acts. In President George W. Bush’s first couple of months after Democrats took control of the House in the aftermath of the 2006 midterm elections, that number was three. No such legislation was introduced in 1995 after the Republican Revolution.
Since politicians on both sides are guilty of taking Rahm Emanuel’s aphorism to heart, a better reflection of gun-rights advocates’ gains can be seen in the opportunities they took in the months immediately following a crisis. After Columbine, no politician would be caught dead introducing legislation favorable to gun-rights advocates. Following Virginia Tech, however, two gun-rights bills were introduced. The current Congress has penciled in six pieces related to expanding gun-rights.
The big guns in the upcoming debate
The types of legislation, usually sponsored by Democrats, introduced after an infrequent tragedy run the gamut of really bad idea to probably a bad idea. Republicans, however, have a monopoly on just-plain-laughable legislation — like the proposal to enclose the House visitors’ gallery with Plexiglas as well as creating firearm-free-zones wherever an elected federal official may be meandering at the moment.
Most of the gun-control bills won’t get very far, either for that first reason, that second reason or a whole host of other reasons. Democratic Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee introduced a bill in January that would ban the use of guns for everyone under the age of 21 (unless you’re going to war). Republican Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns has a history of introducing a bill that would set a national standard for allowing “nonresidents of a State [to] carry concealed firearms.”
These particular pieces of legislation have as much chance of passing as successfully using an antique gun (which, incidentally, are the subject of a couple acts themselves). That said, there are a few proposals that will hold most of the country hostage in the coming months.
Gun-controllers have generally focused their attention on two areas that really stick in their craw — and 2011 will be no exception. The first is background checks for all firearms purchases made in the United States. The second is banning the sale and use of high-capacity magazines by civilians (while gun clips and gun magazines aren’t the same, TheDC will use the word “clips,” lest anyone think Congress is trying to ban publications promoting particularly potent weed).
The biggest-name proposal comes from Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, whose bill expanding the National Instant Criminal Background Check system will be replicated in the House by New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy. The representative is also on a crusade to ban high-capacity clips and several bills specifically targeting those have been introduced in both chambers of Congress.
Coming up — Part II: The ‘common sense’ winners in the large-capacity ammo and background check debate