President Obama’s vow Wednesday to include gun control in his State of the Union address marks the first time in more than a decade a president will highlight the issue in his agenda-setting speech…
“I will be talking about them in my State of the Union, and we will be working with interested members of Congress to try to get something done,” he said at a press conference Wednesday.
The State of the Union is usually one of the president’s most important speeches of the year, in which he lays out his priorities and policy agenda.
Sunday night, President Obama said he would use whatever powers his office holds to address this violence. He should begin immediately by sending a legislative package to Capitol Hill that the new Congress can consider and vote on as its first order of business when it convenes in January. The package should have three main elements:
First, it should prohibit the manufacture and sale of the military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips that have been used in too many mass shootings, including in Newtown. The previous ban on assault weapons expired in 2004. While President George W. Bush supported reinstating it, Congress never acted. The time has plainly come. Banning these weapons and ammunition does not mean there will never be another mass shooting. But these weapons were designed for mass killing, not hunting or self-defense. They do not belong in our communities.
Second, the president’s legislative package should fix the broken background check system. Currently, nearly half of all gun sales in the U.S. are conducted without a background check. Criminals, the mentally ill, minors and domestic abusers are all prohibited from purchasing guns, but they all can do so as easily as attending a gun show or going online. The check takes only a few seconds, and it doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights. That’s why polls show that more than 80% of gun owners support a change in law to require background checks for all gun sales…
Third, the president’s legislative package should make gun trafficking a felony. Gun rights advocates agree that penalties for illegal use and possession of guns should be stiffened — and so should penalties on those who are engaged in gun trafficking.
The data in social science are rarely this clear. They strongly suggest that we have so much more gun violence than other countries because we have far more permissive laws than others regarding the sale and possession of guns. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has 50 percent of the guns.
There is clear evidence that tightening laws — even in highly individualistic countries with long traditions of gun ownership — can reduce gun violence. In Australia, after a 1996 ban on all automatic and semiautomatic weapons — a real ban, not like the one we enacted in 1994 with 600-plus exceptions — gun-related homicides dropped 59 percent over the next decade. The rate of suicide by firearm plummeted 65 percent. (Almost 20,000 Americans die each year using guns to commit suicide — a method that is much more successful than other forms of suicide.)
There will always be evil or disturbed people. And they might be influenced by popular culture. But how is government going to identify the darkest thoughts in people’s minds before they have taken any action? Certainly those who urge that government be modest in its reach would not want government to monitor thoughts, curb free expression, and ban the sale of information and entertainment.
Instead, why not have government do something much simpler and that has proven successful: limit access to guns. And not another toothless ban, riddled with exceptions, which the gun lobby would use to “prove” that such bans don’t reduce violence.
Was the Ban Effective at Reducing Gun Violence In General?
That is unclear. According to a 2004 study from the University of Pennsylvania, the number of people killed in mass shootings did go down generally during the years that the ban was in effect. The exception was 1999, the year that the shooting at Columbine High School happened.
The number of mass shootings per year has doubled since the ban expired, but the researchers say it’s difficult to discern whether there was a cause-and-effect relationship.
The study found that gun crimes involving assault weapons declined by as much as 72 percent in the localities examined after the ban went into effect. However, the authors note that these types of weapons were only used in 2 to 8 percent of the gun crimes committed prior to the ban, so the larger impact on gun violence was minimal.
Indeed, the federal assault-weapons ban was allowed to expire in 2004 in part because it didn’t accomplish the goal the anti-gun lobby was pursuing, which — and I put this only slightly uncharitably — was to ban the sale of scary-looking guns. Despite the fact that rifles simpliciter were used in only 3 percent of homicides last year, not only did the law take the bizarre tack of banning specific model names such as the “Mac 10” — the equivalent of making marijuana illegal only if it’s referred to as “sweet Ganja” — but, in addition, many of the features such laws ban do not straightforwardly increase lethality. Many writers have noted that even high-capacity magazines are a mixed bag for would-be mass murderers. They make reloading less frequently necessary, but they are also more likely to jam — as James Holmes’s did in the theater in Aurora.
The fixation on the expiration of the ban as the source of our ills fits into the broader pathology with which liberals talk about gun control — namely, as if there weren’t any of it. Connecticut has robust gun-control laws, as does, for instance, Chicago, whose recent rash of gun murders must have Al Capone resting peacefully in his grave. Constructing new restrictions that would (a) have prevented Newtown and (b) be consistent with the Second Amendment is not nearly as easy as many on the left seem to assume. Indeed, few seem to understand, or admit, that the kind of gun-control legislation that could put a serious dent in gun violence would look a lot like the Volstead Act. How’d that work out?
Of course, it isn’t just the assault-weapons talk that catches liberals in leave of the facts. You’ll have also seen non sequiturs about the “gun-show loophole” or the scourge of handguns used in violent crimes, or ignorance of or elision of the meaning of words like “semi-automatic” and “machine gun,” none of which are straightforwardly related to the facts as we know them in Newtown. Which brings us to the third liberal virtue the current debate is wanting.
Others are suggesting a de-facto ban, accomplished either through a huge tax, or a ban on ammunition. Oh, I’ve also seen calls to limit the amount of ammunition people can buy, but I don’t think those people have thought this through. For starters, the number of bullets used by a typical rampage shooter is about what a target shooter or hunter might go through in an afternoon or two of range practice. And most gun homicides are not rampage shootings; they have one or two victims, and a correspondingly small number of cartridges expended. Moreover, even a very strict per-purchase limit would permit people to accumulate ammunition over time.
No, the people who want to tax guns at 17,000%, or ban ammunition, or make cartridges cost $2,000 apiece, are the only ones hinting at something that might make a real dent in America’s unusually high rate of gun homicide. Except for one thing: you can’t do an end-run around an enumerated right with some sort of semantic game. Chief Justice John Roberts is not Rumplestiltskin; he is not bound by the universe to disappear if you can only find the correct secret word.
You cannot accomplish back-door censorship by taxing at 100% all profits of any news corporation named after a “carnivorous mammal of the dog family with a pointed muzzle and bushy tail, proverbial for its cunning.” You cannot curtail the right to protest by requiring instant background checks and a 90-day waiting period on anyone who wants to assemble with 500 of their friends in a public area. Nor can you restrict the supply of ink used to print Korans. If you pass a law like that, the Supreme Court will say “nice try, guys” and void all the painstakingly constructed verbal origami that was supposed to make civil liberties infringement look like an innocent exercise of the taxing power.
Goldberg cites evidence from Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, that concealed-carry permit holders actually commit crimes at a lower rate than the general population.
The General Accountability Office recently found that the number of concealed weapon permits in America has surged to approximately 8 million.
According to anti-gun advocates, such an increase in guns would cause a cause a corresponding increase in gun-related violence or crime. In fact, the opposite is true. The FBI reported this year that violent crime rates in the U.S. are reaching historic lows.
This comes in spite of the fact that the federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004. Supporters of the ban (not including anti-gun groups who thought it didn’t go far enough in the first place) claimed that gun crime would skyrocket when the ban was lifted. That wasn’t true at all.
Only one public policy has ever been shown to reduce the death rate from such crimes: concealed-carry laws…
Someone planning to commit a single murder in a concealed-carry state only has to weigh the odds of one person being armed. But a criminal planning to commit murder in a public place has to worry that anyone in the entire area might have a gun.
You will notice that most multiple-victim shootings occur in “gun-free zones” — even within states that have concealed-carry laws: public schools, churches, Sikh temples, post offices, the movie theater where James Holmes committed mass murder, and the Portland, Ore., mall where a nut starting gunning down shoppers a few weeks ago.
Guns were banned in all these places. Mass killers may be crazy, but they’re not stupid.
“I haven’t heard anything actually from the Republican Party, and you just wonder this long after a mass killing like that—little six- and seven-year- olds—that there’s not a single Republican in America in elected office that’s not going to step up and say something. I think it’s time to talk guys, women. One way or the other: where do you stand on this issue? Where do you stand on gun safety? Where do you stand on our culture of violence? Where do you stand on mental health? Where do you stand? I want to hear it!”