Posturing on guns


Using as political props a group of young children who had written him letters about last month’s schoolhouse massacre in a self-defense-free zone in Newtown, Conn., President Barack Obama on Wednesday unveiled a series of legislative and regulatory proposals that he said would reduce gun violence — a category of crime that has already been dropping for years.

Improved efforts to track criminals and the mentally ill are well worth exploring, even if it remains unclear whether constitutional rights can or should be stripped from those who have merely sought psychiatric counseling.

As for pressuring doctors to ask patients on Uncle Sam’s behalf whether they have guns in their homes, that’s an interesting new vision of federalized health care.

But most of Mr. Obama’s proposals involve restricting the self-defense rights of law-abiding Americans, and the first irony noted by observers was that none of the steps he proposed this week would have prevented the murder of 20 schoolchildren and six disarmed teachers in Connecticut last month.

The shooter in Connecticut stole his firearms from his mother — who had purchased them all legally, undergoing required background checks. Furthermore, Connecticut laws are so restrictive that semi-automatic rifles sold in Connecticut today would already meet the requirements of the 1994-2004 federal “assault weapons” ban, even should it be reinstated, as Mr. Obama now proposes.

Smaller magazines? They can be changed in seconds. Furthermore, if rounds are somehow limited, shooters can always switch to heavier, deadlier ammunition.

It’s never been shown that this 10-year ban on bayonet lugs and flash-hiders reduced crime of any kind. Furthermore, the purposely misleading language that identifies mere semi-automatic look-alikes as “military-style assault rifles” continues to do more to fog this debate than clarify it.

Leaving aside the fact that they are precisely the kinds of weapons needed by any effective civilian militia as envisioned by the founders, “military-style assault rifles” including the M-14 and M-16 have selector switches that allow them to fire in full-automatic mode. They are classified as Class 3 machine guns and are subject to a fingerprint requirement and a $200 federal tax.

Such machine guns are scarce as hens’ teeth in civilian hands. No such select-fire assault weapon was possessed or used by the Newtown shooter, by the graduate student who shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., last summer, or by the shooters at Columbine High School in Colorado a decade ago.

Just as confusing to many, though, was what appears to be the president’s most pernicious proposal, “universal criminal background checks” on firearms transfers — a part of the anti-self-defense agenda that long predates Newtown.

To date, the federal government has imposed a background check requirement on handgun sales through their regulatory authority over federally licensed firearms dealers.

But Erich Pratt, spokesman for the Virginia-based civil rights group Gun Owners of America, reports that proposals already sent to Congress indicate the goal now is to require even a widow or daughter trying to sell or give away grandpa’s old hunting rifles to travel with the prospective recipient to a federally licensed firearms store and there pay to have a background check performed on the buyer.

Even leading Democrats have expressed little enthusiasm for starting down the same pointless “gun control” road that led congressional Democrats to a massive electoral defeat in 1994.

So what is the point of the exercise, exactly? In fact, it’s not even clear whether Mr. Obama has correctly identified the cause of crazy young men going on rampages.

“There was less violent crime in this country in the 1950s, before background checks, waiting periods or age limits to buy firearms, and before licensing of gun dealers and the existence of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives,” points out Steve Stanek, research fellow on budget and tax policy at The Heartland Institute in Chicago. “So if easy access to guns is a major cause of violence, why was there less violence in those days?”

A version of this editorial appeared Jan. 18 in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

 

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