In the wake of Newtown, the media cheered liberal politicians who thought the moment had come to cut back on the Second Amendment. Liberal reporters gave enormous publicity to Dianne Feinstein’s proposals to ban “assault weapons,” which basically means semiautomatic rifles–by a wide margin, the least popular murder weapon in the U.S.–and standard-capacity magazines. But then a funny thing happened: most Americans didn’t buy it. The air quickly went out of the liberals’ balloon, and instead of gun bans we started hearing about background checks.
Today, no one pretends that any gun control measure has a chance of getting through Congress other than an expansion of the current background check system. But even that relatively modest proposal is in trouble, as the Associated Press reports that “Gun background-check supporters struggle for votes.”
Senate gun control supporters struggled Tuesday to salvage their drive to expand background checks to more buyers, buoyed by a visit from wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords but facing enough potential opponents to derail their endeavor unless they can figure out how to win more votes.
No. 2 Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois, his party’s chief vote counter, left a lunch of Democratic senators saying they would need support from nine or 10 Republicans – a tall order.
President Obama, leading from behind as usual, added his belated voice to the call for more background checks:
President Barack Obama, in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show, urged lawmakers to pay attention to public support for expanding background checks and remember the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“The notion that Congress would defy the overwhelming instinct of the American people after what we saw happen in Newtown, I think is unimaginable,” Obama said in the interview, aired Tuesday.
One basic problem with that: the proposal to expand background checks would have done nothing–zero, nada–to prevent Newtown. Mrs. Lanza was a perfectly legal firearms buyer.
One difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals like to propose new legislation without giving any thought to what laws already exist. Conservatives generally start by asking what the law is currently, and whether the solution to a given problem might be better enforcement. The current gun control debate is a good example: Obama is self-righteous “after what we saw happen in Newtown,” but he was president for four years before Newtown. What is his record with respect to enforcing the myriad of gun laws that have long existed? His record is terrible. The Obama administration has prosecuted 30% to 35% fewer gun cases annually than the Bush administration. Criminals are already violating lots of gun laws, but President Obama never cared, or made it a priority, until he saw an opportunity for political gain.
Another difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals favor legislation based on emotion, i.e., how it makes them feel about themselves. Conservatives–how old-fashioned can you get?–evaluate proposed legislation based on whether it will do any good. Again, the present background check proposal is a case in point. Compared with banning average-sized magazines, which would, overnight, make it illegal to use many millions of firearms–perhaps more than half of all pistols owned by Americans–the expansion of background checks is relatively benign. But it would also be completely ineffective.
The Manchin/Toomey proposal would require background checks when someone buys a firearm over the internet or at a gun show. That isn’t particularly burdensome, although it would raise the cost of firearms so purchased. But would it do any good? No. Criminals steal guns; they buy them from fellow criminals, often gang members; and they send others–usually young women–to buy guns for them. The Manchin/Toomey bill will not inconvenience them in the slightest. How about the mentally ill? The problem here goes to the root of the background check system: the names of dangerously crazy people are not put into the system in the first place, largely due to privacy laws. To cite just one of many examples, Seung-hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter who was as crazy as a bedbug, passed two background checks. So, do liberals now want to change privacy laws so that more potentially dangerous people can be barred from buying guns? Of course not! They don’t want to make an ineffective system effective, they want to keep it ineffective, but extend it, so they can feel better about themselves.
So we have here an entirely symbolic measure that won’t do any good, but won’t impose a huge burden, either. It is easy to predict that most Democrats will vote for futility, and most Republicans will vote against it. Meanwhile, the Obama administration will continue its ineffective law enforcement policies.
So far, of course, we have only been talking about the Senate. Is there any possibility that “anti-gun” legislation, as Harry Reid termed it, will get through House? No one seems to be counting the votes, but I assume the answer is No. So the whole background check effort, which came into being only because the more restrictive gun control measures that liberals really favored were DOA, is apparently going nowhere. Which matters if you are actually trying to get results, but doesn’t matter if politics is all about self-image. And, more cynically, about riling up the Democratic Party’s base.
Meanwhile, the well-informed side of the gun debate, as exemplified by the National Rifle Association, is firing back against the ignorance being propagated by the Left. This NRA video, which deconstructs an ad on which Michael Bloomberg spent a great deal of money, is priceless. It turns out that the “gun owner” in the Bloomberg ad–now, supposedly, an enthusiastic advocate of gun control–has no idea how to handle a firearm and is, in all likelihood, an actor hired from a New York agency:
So the debate goes on, between the well-informed, who want to fight crime and promote firearms safety, and the ill-informed, who want to score meaningless psychic and political victories.