Obama’s Sound and Fury On Guns

President Obama unveiled his executive orders and legislative proposals on guns today; the transcript is here. For as little as his measures amount to, he need hardly have bothered. At one point, Obama cried, perhaps out of frustration at not being able to come up with better ideas.

The speech was vintage Obama. Early on, he said this:

[M]y goal here is to bring good people on both sides of this issue together for an open discussion. 

I’m not on the ballot again.  I’m not looking to score some points.  I think we can disagree without impugning other people’s motives or without being disagreeable.

Then, toward the end:

So all of us need to demand a Congress brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies.

That’s our president, bringing good people together on both sides of the issue! No impugning motives or being disagreeable!

It is hard to understand why Obama’s speech got such a big windup, when he had so little to say. The White House’s “fact sheet” on Obama’s proposals begins boldly: “1. Keep guns out of the wrong hands through background checks.” But how, exactly? The background check system works well for criminals, so they don’t buy guns from dealers. It barely works at all for the deranged, because they are never on the list. Running more checks against a bad list is an exercise in futility.

This is the number one item on the White House’s fact sheet:

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is making clear that it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business—from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet: If you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks.

This is nothing but a statement of existing law. There is no “gun show loophole” or “internet loophole”: if you are a firearms dealer, as defined by federal law, you have to run a background check.

The administration seems to suggest that it will define down the concept of a firearms dealer by requiring even people who sell only a gun or two to register as dealers and conduct background checks:

There is no specific threshold number of firearms purchased or sold that triggers the licensure requirement. But it is important to note that even a few transactions, when combined with other evidence, can be sufficient to establish that a person is “engaged in the business.” For example, courts have upheld convictions for dealing without a license when as few as two firearms were sold or when only one or two transactions took place, when other factors also were present.

I would have to see those cases to comment on them, but the definition of “engaged in the business” in the statute, 18 U.S.C. § 921, is admirably specific:

(21) The term “engaged in the business” means –
(C) as applied to a dealer in firearms, as defined in section 921(a)(11)(A), a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms, but such term shall not include a person who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms;

That definition can’t be changed by rule or executive order, and it is not going to permit an occasional seller of guns from his own collection–which is basically what we are talking about here–to be prosecuted as an unlicensed dealer.

Part of the president’s program is more aggressive enforcement of our existing gun laws, which are plentiful:

In order to improve public safety, we need to do more to ensure smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws and make sure that criminals and other prohibited persons cannot get their hands on lost or stolen weapons.

Of course, Obama didn’t mention that his administration has been unforgivably lax with respect to prosecuting gun crime; convictions for gun crimes are down 35% since their peak in the George W. Bush administration.

Obama loves to cite bogus statistics, and when it comes to gun control, “studies” that produce convenient numbers are a cottage industry. Obama cited a couple of them today:

In fact, we know that background checks make a difference. After Connecticut passed a law requiring background checks and gun safety courses, gun deaths decreased by 40 percent — 40 percent. (Applause.) Meanwhile, since Missouri repealed a law requiring comprehensive background checks and purchase permits, gun deaths have increased to almost 50 percent higher than the national average.

Connecticut passed the law in question in 1994. Since then, the national gun homicide rate is down 50%. Missouri repealed the law Obama referred to in 2007. In 2007, Missouri’s homicide rate was .000065. By 2014, Missouri’s homicide rate had soared to .000066.

One could go on and on, but it isn’t worth the trouble. President Obama’s mishmash of proposals, exhortations and orders are the ultimate in small ball. It is hard to see them as much more than another Democratic Party fundraising effort.

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