WASHINGTON – It is axiomatic that congressional Republicans will oppose anything smacking of “gun control,” which may as well be read as “Your mama.”
Thus, it comes as no surprise that President Barack Obama’s announcement of executive actions to clarify and enhance federal gun laws prompted reflexive, hyperbolic responses from the right.
Marco Rubio said Obama is “obsessed with undermining the Second Amendment,” while Ted Cruz averred, “We don’t beat the bad guys by taking away our guns; we beat the bad guys by using our guns.”
Spoken like a true, Canadian-born Texan who has been busy burnishing his “outsider” Outdoor Guy image. What’s next? Cruz drinking the warm blood of a freshly slain (unarmed) beast?
House Speaker Paul Ryan criticized the president for a “dangerous level of executive overreach” and for circumventing congressional opposition – as though Congress has been working feverishly to reduce gun violence. Rather, Republicans focus their laser beams on Obama’s and the Democratic Party’s political motivations, shocking to none, and remind us that we already have enough gun laws.
This may well be true, but couldn’t we stand to tweak them a bit? Or, perhaps, enforce them? And, isn’t it possible to reduce the number of guns in the wrong hands without surrendering our Second Amendment rights or invoking the slippery slope of government confiscation?
Of course it is – and we can.
Obama made an artful and poignant counterargument to the usual objections Tuesday during a news conference from the White House. He reminded those gathered, including many who have lost family members to gun violence, that other people also have rights – the right to free assembly or the right to practice their religion without being shot.
In fairness to the gun lobby, which may not deserve such charity, one can understand reservations about limiting access to guns. What is less easily understood is the refusal of Republicans to take the reins of any given issue and do something constructive rather than invariably waiting to be forced into the ignoble position of “no.”
It is one thing to be in the pocket of the National Rifle Association. It is another to do nothing and then assume a superior posture of purposeful neglect, as though do-nothingness were a policy and smug intransigence a philosophy.
The steps Obama is trying to take won’t save every life, but they seem minimally intrusive and could have significant effects. Summarizing briefly, he’s clarifying existing law and more tightly defining “gun dealer” in order to impose broader background checks; upgrading technology for improved information-sharing and safer guns; increasing relevant workforces to speed up background checks; and closing loopholes that have allowed criminals to buy guns online and elsewhere with a separate set of rules. Or no rules.
Giving the FBI more resources to modernize its system will help. So will giving $500 million to mental health services aimed at keeping guns away from people determined to hurt themselves or others.
Requiring shippers to report stolen guns will also be helpful – and investing in smart technology could be a game changer. As Obama said, tearing up at mention of the Sandy Hook shooting that took the lives of 20 first-graders, if we can keep children from opening aspirin bottles, surely we can prevent their pulling the trigger on a gun.
As to expanding background checks, only the criminal or the suicidal object to waiting a day or two before taking home a gun. And, if the government doesn’t complete the process within three days, seller and buyer can proceed, anyway.
What concerns most people, meanwhile, are those weapons, especially semi-automatics with large magazines, whose only purpose is to kill people. Many argue that no current law could have prevented any of the mass shootings in recent years, but is this sufficient justification for doing nothing when doing something (BEG ITAL)could(END ITAL) make a difference we may never know about – the child who didn’t die because new technology prevented him from firing a pistol? The Islamic State-inspired terrorist who didn’t murder holiday revelers because he failed an online background check?
Obama’s actions won’t go unchallenged, needless to say. And much political hay will be threshed, bundled and sold to Republican primary voters in the meantime. But GOP voters should be as skeptical of those ringing the gong of doom as they have been of Obama. In a civilized society, more guns can’t be better than fewer.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.