In December, President Obama called for a national conversation on assault weapons. Today, he signed 23 executive orders and sent a list of proposed legislation to Congress to deeply regulate our access to guns.
Apparently, in his world, a conversation is more monologue than dialogue.
His justification for this infringement of the Second Amendment?
“…while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”
Sounds very noble, but there’s just one problem. The centerpiece of his plan is something that was tried before, the Assault Weapons Ban. As I pointed out in this post, the US Justice Department found that the previous Assault weapons ban had no effect on the rate or severity of gun violence. And when the ban ended in 2004, there was no surge in gun violence. In essense, the Assault weapons ban had no effect at all on the rate of gun violence.
And the reason is clear.
According to the FBI, in 2011, rifles of all types, not just assault rifles, were used in 323 murders. In the same year, total homicides due to firearms were 8583.
Assault weapons simply aren’t used enough in violent crime to make removing them either attractive or effective, yet President Obama has made that the centerpiece of his plan.
Why would you repeat a tactic that failed before, addresses a small fraction of the problem, and will have no discernible effect on violence? It makes no sense.
The next part of President Obama’s strategy is to require background checks for all gun sales, whether through a dealer or a private transaction.
The first problem with this is that enforcement will require a huge invasion of privacy. Think about it for a moment. There’s no way for the government to compel every person buying/selling a gun to go through a dealer and get a background check. It’s simply impossible. When was the last time you paid sales tax at a garage sale? Or if you held a garage sale, did you give the state its cut? Private transactions are just too numerous for the government to even hope to enforce. Heck, they can’t even police sales tax on internet transactions, and that’s about as open as you can get.
During his meeting with the NRA, Joe Biden admitted that the government doesn’t have the time to investigate/prosecute fraudulent background check information as it is now. How much worse will the problem be when the number of background checks increases dramatically?
There’s simply no way for the government to effectively monitor all private gun transactions. They don’t have the resources.
Even worse from an enforcement perspective, once the transaction is concluded, there’s no way for the government to know if you went through a dealer or not. After a NICS check is performed, the request form is destroyed. Additionally, the legislation that set up the NICS system specified that the NICS may not be used to generate a national database of firearms so by law, the information may not be retained.
Logically, if the government cannot monitor every transaction, and the NICS system does not retain background check requests, then the government has no way to vertify after the fact that a weapon was obtained through a valid background check. The only way to get around this difficulty is through creating a national database of gun owners, accessible to all law enforcement agents, that will contain the make/model/serial number of the gun purchased, and the name of the seller and buyer.
The second problem is that it won’t work. It is illegal to sell certain drugs and simply having them in your possession is a crime, yet criminals appear to be winning the drug war without too much effort. Guns, like drugs, are small, portable, and concealable. While most law abiding citizens will comply with the law, criminals won’t, which means this requirement will place a burden on lawful gun owners without inconveniencing a criminal one bit.
Given the impossibility of enforcing the background check policy, as demonstrated above, it is clear that Obama has promulgated a policy which will have little or no effect on crime, violence, or criminal access to firearms, but which will make it more difficult for the law abiding citizen.
The third part of President Obama’s plan is to ban magazines with a capacity over 10 rounds. First of all, where did the number 10 come from? Is it okay to shoot 10 people, but at 11, we say, “Hey, wait a minute…that’s too much!” Of course not. 10 is just an arbitrary number, picked almost at random. To date, nobody from the Clinton Administration, which authored the first Assault Weapons Ban, not the Obama Administration has puplicly explained where the limit came from or how it was justified. Google searches come up empty of official sources.
Second, with a little practice, changing magazines takes less than 2 seconds. While it is true that somebody might be able to tackle the shooter in those two seconds, it is telling that in the Sandy Hook massacre, the shooter changed magazines frequently, reportedly before they were empty in some cases, yet nobody managed to end his spree.
An AR-15 magazine holding only 10 rounds would be small, light, and easy to carry. So instead of carrying 3 30 round magazines, a shooter could carry 9 smaller magazines. Same amount of firepower, and only a marginal change in effective rate of fire.
Many modern pistols come standard with a magazine over 10 rounds. The 9mm Glock, one of the more famous pistols, comes in 4 models, three of which have standard magazine capacities greater than 10. The 9mm Springfield XD(M) line carries 19 rounds. I have a little Bersa .380 that is under 10, but my wife’s pistol and my main pistol both carry over 10 rounds. My little Ruger 10/22 rifle has a 25 round magazine in addition to the factory standard 10 round magazines. That does not make it a mass killing machine.
This limit will have zero effect on gun crime and will do nothing to prevent another Sandy Hill.
The next part of the plan involves putting more armed guards into our schools. Oops, I mean, school resource officers. Putting armed guards into schools is just NRA foolishness…
And the final step is to improve mental health services to better screen the population for those at risk from mental health issues. The only problem here is if we expand the definition of mental illness to capture more people who need help, and we tie the diagnosis to a restriction of their rights, there must be some mechanism to restore those rights once the illness has been resolved. Consider a child treated for ADHD, or diagnosed with Asberger’s. Or an adult treated on an outpatient basis for situational depression. During their treatment, they may have their right to own a firearm restricted. But what happens when they are released from treatment? There should be some mechanism, some sort of review that gives them an avenue to restore their rights. Not automatically, but with careful review. Unfortunately, that piece is absent from the President’s proposal.
To sum things up, the President’s proposals consist of things that don’t make a difference, things that can’t make a difference, things suggested first by the NRA, and more federal health care, with a side order of unenforceable invasions of your privacy, all in an effort that even he admits will not solve the problem of mass shootings in schools.
Surely we can do better than this.
UPDATE: Here’s a related story from the Wall Street Journal written by former DC prosecutor Jeffrey Scott Shapiro.
As a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who enforced firearms and ammunition cases while a severe local gun ban was still in effect, I am skeptical of the benefits that many imagine will result from additional gun-control efforts. I dislike guns, but I believe that a nationwide firearms crackdown would place an undue burden on law enforcement and endanger civil liberties while potentially increasing crime.
Read the rest for a different point of view than that you’ll get from most sources.
UPDATE 2: At the request of my editor, this article has been significantly expanded to make some of the conclusions more clear and to add more source materials.