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. Click here for Part I.
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 centerpieces of this “common sense” discussion are bills that would expand and “strengthen” the current National Instant Background Check System (NICS) and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines. (While gun clips and gun magazines aren’t the same, The Daily Caller will use the word “clips,” lest anyone think Congress is trying to ban publications promoting particularly potent weed).
Where ‘common sense’ favors pro-gun advocates
Since the 10-year Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) expired in 2004, gun-controllers have been gunning for high-capacity clips. Legislation introduced in both the House and Senate would ban any ammunition-fed device that allows more than 10 bullets. Gun-controllers have made repeated references to Tucson shooter Jared Loughner’s 33-round Glock pistol spray, which allowed him to kill six people and wound 19.
Gun-controllers offer the most common sense talking points — not to mention confidence — when it comes to the issue of high-capacity clips.
Illinois Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley, one of the Democrats who appeared at the Tuesday Bloomberg press conference, reminded the public that the recent Supreme Court rulings (Heller v. the District of Columbia and McDonald v. Chicago) don’t mean that there can’t be “reasonable” restrictions on gun access. While both the McDonald and Heller cases found that those “reasonable” restrictions were actually an impediment to basic 2nd Amendment rights, Quigley made clear what high capacity clips are designed for.
“[They] aren’t for protecting your home or hunting deer, they’re for hunting people,” Quigley told TheDC. “The Supreme Court made it crystal clear the 2nd Amendment is not an unlimited right — not everyone has a right to own whatever gun they want, wherever they want — and that includes limiting access to these weapons that serve no purpose other than to cause catastrophic harm.”
Gun-rights advocates say that law-abiding citizens should not be prohibited from using high-capacity clips at gun ranges and competitions, although the NRA dismissed legislation offering such exemptions as “rationing freedoms.”
Perhaps that’s why Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign, says the NRA “has a tough time making a case for why anyone needs to shoot 30 rounds in 15 seconds.” There’s also a whole list of common sense reasons that the head of the country’s most prominent gun-control group feels confident about the passage of the Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act, introduced by Democrats Carolyn McCarthy in the House and Frank Lautenberg in the Senate.
“It’s a shorter bill, it’s easier to understand, it ties directly into the shooting in that [Jared Lee Loughner] had a 30-round clip,” said Helmke, who continued down the list. “It also ties to a law that used to be on the books, so people in the past who voted for the Assault Weapon Ban and are already on record as supporting this.”
The AWB was an amendment to the Senate version of the 1993 Crime Bill, which later became law. Of those 56 Senators who specifically voted for adding the amendment, 18 remain in the Senate. The entire crime bill itself passed with an overwhelming majority in both the House and Senate.
Helmke also noted that conservative luminaries such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol have come out in support of a ban. Even the libertarian Cato Institute has acquiesced to the legal argument for a high-capacity clip ban, despite personal ideological beliefs.
While gun-rightists may argue that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” gun-control advocates are making a strong case that “yeah, but people with more bullets kill more people.” The same, though, can’t be said for gun-control advocates’ biggest push
Where ‘common sense’ favors gun-control advocates
Two nearly-identical bills, one for each chamber of Congress, have been given the star treatment (Deputy Sheriff Joe Biden has just entered the debate). In the Senate, New York’s Chuck Schumer introduced the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011 earlier this month, and New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy is days away from introducing its twin in the House.
The two key provisions of these proposals, which Obama hinted at in his March 13 Arizona Daily Star op-ed that launched the 2011 gun debate, would drastically overhaul the existing national firearms background check system. First is the issue of current exceptions to the required national background checks. The second is the entire background checks system.
Gun-controllers like to call the exception the gun show loophole, which allows individuals not officially in the firearms “business” to sell their combustible wares without processing a background check on the buyer or keeping any real records. Gun-rights advocates hate the “loophole” term. Like selling a car or your dead mother’s gold earrings, they say transactions between individuals should not be that closely regulated by the state.
This exemption has been in gun-controllers’ sights for years. Legislation specifically closing the loophole has been introduced during nearly every congressional session since the Brady Bill passed, including this year. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made limiting this exception a crusade of his. As co-chairman of the gun-controllers group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Bloomberg has been on a tear recently. Apart from serving as guest of honor at Tuesday’s “common sense” press conference, he’s launched the cross-country FixGunChecks.org truck tour and has conducted O’Keefean video stings across the country.
The problem with these objections to individual sales highlights an even greater blind spot in gun-controllers’ push for expanding background checks.
In his op-ed, Obama calls for “enforcing the laws already on the books.” On this point, the NRA totally agrees, although they’re mainly encouraging prosecutors to punish violators more strenuously. Right now, background checks are slow, cumbersome and often records are missing important details. It’s partially the reason gun-rights advocates object to loophole legislation — the system’s broken as is and requiring more people to go through the federal process (which to some is the first step toward a freedom-hating, totalitarian government) won’t solve gun violence.
That’s not where the real “common sense” kicker hits gun-controllers’ talking points the hardest though.
The Democrats and Bloomberg, pushing for the background checks act at Tuesday’s press conference, repeated over and over that the government has a very specific role in the future of firearms control.
“One fact is imminently clear,” said Schumer at the presser,” we need to do a better job of making sure that people who aren’t supposed to get guns don’t get them. Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about restricting a hunters access to get a gun or the ability of law-abiding citizens to get guns.” He was echoing Bloomberg, who had said, “If we’re going to prevent guns from falling into the hands of violent criminals, the mentally unstable and other already-prohibited dangerous persons, we need a comprehensive background check system with no loopholes.”
When TheDC asked Mayor Bloomberg how the expanded checks were supposed to prevent those “already-prohibited dangerous persons” from continuing to be “dangerous persons,” he became a little testy. Others in the crowd turned their head when the question — if 99.9 percent of gun owners are “law-abiding” citizens already following the current legal measures, how will increased measures stop the one percent of bad guys who already engage in illegal activities in the first place? — was asked.
“They don’t,” Bloomberg responded. “But we’re talking about dealers, sellers of guns, having to check so that those people that you just listed would not have guns. The reasons we don’t want them to have guns is, you’re right, they wouldn’t obey the law. Those are dangerous people you don’t want to have guns in their hands.”
Still the question remains: why would criminals hellbent on illegal activities not continue to engage in the illegal purchase of guns? Why would they care one iota about intensified background checks of law-abiding citizens?
A 2001 report from the National Institute of Justice found that 45 percent of those already banned from purchasing a gun — usually because of prior criminal conviction — obtained one through illegal means. Some would get it from family or friends. Others would “get one from off the street, perhaps from a drug dealer or addict.” For the record: drug dealing is an illegal activity. So is most everything “on the street.”
When Obama and the Democrats said that the current background checks need to be streamlined, made “faster and nimbler” and actually enforced, the NRA agreed: for good reason. According to the NIJ’s report, another 12 percent of convicted criminals supposedly banned from obtaining a firearm said that “if they need a gun, they would buy one form a gun shop.”
For those counting at home, 57 percent of criminals obtained firearms either because they don’t care about existing laws or because existing laws are not enforced.
Still, how do you prevent the deaths of innocent people? More immediately important, how do you prevent attacks like those in Tucson, at Virginia Tech or Columbine — the ones that politicians continually use as reasons for expanded gun-control laws? How do you stop those determined to commit violent crimes with firearms in the first place?
“Well there’s little we can do to stop that,” said an aid for one of the Democrats pushing for gun-control legislation. “We can’t stop somebody from selling a gun in an alley out of a paper bag. But the folks at the gun shows, they’re not looking to break the law. They’re just working within the law, and if the law required them to do a background check, we’re sure that they would do it.”
A conversation with an aid of another gun-controlling Democrat went in a similar direction.
“It’s impossible to keep all guns … even this legislation isn’t air tight,” said the aid.
TheDC pressed. How would more legal restrictions on legal gun-owners affect criminals and their illegal possession of firearms?
A moment of silence.
“Did you ask this question [at the press conference]?
Yes, actually. In between the questions from some frantic, half-crazed woman. The aid wasn’t the first political flak to take interest in TheDC after the question was asked; a question that didn’t seem that weird. Did it?
“I just remember the question,” said the aid. “I sort of think it sort of speaks to a larger issue of guns in society. I guess the question is, if legislation affects people who don’t follow the law. I think, ultimately, more guns on the street isn’t the answer.”
But the problem — which Democrats kept hammering home during the press conference — isn’t about guns that kill people. It’s about the people that kill people.
“We have to be clear, we’ve been over and over again, this is not about telling law-abiding citizens that they can’t have a gun,” said Virginia Rep. Jim Moran at the Tuesday Bloomberg press conference. He continued, saying, “It’s about saying that some people in this country should not be anywhere near a gun and we have to close these loopholes.”
The second Democratic aid, still being pressed, said, “I guess the simple answer is, there is no place for them in society. What purpose do they serve?”
At least the aid didn’t say it was a “common sense” answer.