Commentary Magazine


Topic: background checks

Latest Gun-Control Push Explains Why It Will Fail

The tragedy in Isla Vista, California last week is leading to new calls for more gun-control legislation. The actions of Elliot Rodger, the disturbed person who murdered six people (three by stabbing and three by shooting) at the University of California at Santa Barbara is seen by some as yet another reason for Congress to act to make it more difficult to purchase weapons or to ban them. The anguished demand of Richard Martinez, a parent of one of the victims, “When will this insanity stop?” rapidly went viral and his accusation that his son’s death was the fault of “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA” is being taken up by those who are still wondering why the national outrage at the shooting of 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut didn’t result in the enactment of more gun laws.

But this time even liberals are conceding that Martinez’s demands won’t be heeded. As Chris Cilizza writes today in the Washington Post, resistance to more draconian restrictions has stiffened since Newtown and more states have loosened gun laws than tightened them. Though some on the left, like the Los Angeles Times’s Steve Lopez, are doubling down on the anger about guns that such incidents provoke, the main reaction from liberals is to lament the fact that the emotional surge after a shooting has never provided the tipping point on the issue they desire. Though polls have always shown public sympathy for proposals for more background checks, as Cillizza notes, support for more gun control in general has actually dwindled in the last two decades, including in the last year since Newtown.

Why? There are two reasons. One has to do with the fact that the public rightly believes that such laws won’t prevent mass killings by madmen. The other has to do with a belief that such calls are not about “common sense gun control” but abrogation of constitutional gun rights. Indeed, the anger of gun-control advocates after these tragedies has the perverse effect of heightening suspicions about their true intent.

Read More

The tragedy in Isla Vista, California last week is leading to new calls for more gun-control legislation. The actions of Elliot Rodger, the disturbed person who murdered six people (three by stabbing and three by shooting) at the University of California at Santa Barbara is seen by some as yet another reason for Congress to act to make it more difficult to purchase weapons or to ban them. The anguished demand of Richard Martinez, a parent of one of the victims, “When will this insanity stop?” rapidly went viral and his accusation that his son’s death was the fault of “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA” is being taken up by those who are still wondering why the national outrage at the shooting of 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut didn’t result in the enactment of more gun laws.

But this time even liberals are conceding that Martinez’s demands won’t be heeded. As Chris Cilizza writes today in the Washington Post, resistance to more draconian restrictions has stiffened since Newtown and more states have loosened gun laws than tightened them. Though some on the left, like the Los Angeles Times’s Steve Lopez, are doubling down on the anger about guns that such incidents provoke, the main reaction from liberals is to lament the fact that the emotional surge after a shooting has never provided the tipping point on the issue they desire. Though polls have always shown public sympathy for proposals for more background checks, as Cillizza notes, support for more gun control in general has actually dwindled in the last two decades, including in the last year since Newtown.

Why? There are two reasons. One has to do with the fact that the public rightly believes that such laws won’t prevent mass killings by madmen. The other has to do with a belief that such calls are not about “common sense gun control” but abrogation of constitutional gun rights. Indeed, the anger of gun-control advocates after these tragedies has the perverse effect of heightening suspicions about their true intent.

The lack of any real connection between most gun-control proposals, including the most anodyne involving background checks such as last year’s bill sponsored by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, and the actual chain of events leading to crimes such as the ones at Newtown or Isla Vista undermines the argument that these laws would save lives. Most of those who commit gun violence would never fall under the category of those whom the checks would prevent from purchasing a gun. Moreover, those who would be stopped can almost certainly obtain them by extralegal means.

Even more frustrating is the possibility that even an emphasis on mental health—which is the underlying cause of almost all mass shootings—wouldn’t do much to prevent these incidents from occurring. As clinical psychiatrist Richard Friedman explains today in a New York Times op-ed:

As a psychiatrist, I welcome calls from our politicians to improve our mental health care system. But even the best mental health care is unlikely to prevent these tragedies.

If we can’t reliably identify people who are at risk of committing violent acts, then how can we possibly prevent guns from falling into the hands of those who are likely to kill? Mr. Rodger had no problem legally buying guns because he had neither been institutionalized nor involuntarily hospitalized, both of which are generally factors that would have prevented him from purchasing firearms.

Would lowering the threshold for involuntary psychiatric treatment, as some argue, be effective in preventing mass killings or homicide in general? It’s doubtful.

Friedman concludes that the idea that improving our mental health system might prevent such horrors is a myth. While that shouldn’t preclude us from efforts in that direction, the sobering truth is that these shocking yet rare incidents can’t be legislated out of existence. This is a piece of wisdom that increasingly large numbers of Americans seem to have figured out for themselves without benefit of a degree in psychiatry.

Just as important in explaining the failure of more gun control is the fact that most gun owners and others who support Second Amendment rights don’t believe the assurances they hear from liberals about not wanting to take away their guns. Indeed, the more they hear from those advocating more restrictions, the less they trust them. In particular, this latest incident in which Rodger shot three of the victims with a handgun makes the case for such laws even more difficult. Gun-control advocates seized on the assault weapon used in Newtown as an example of the sort of gun that ought not be legal. Though the distinction between that sort of rifle and others was largely cosmetic, it made sense to a lot of Americans. But there is a broad judicial consensus that the right to possess a handgun is not in question. If, in response to Martinez’s heartfelt pleas, liberals think they can leverage the Santa Barbara incident into another legislative push, the effort may backfire.

The nation should grieve with Mr. Martinez and the other families who have suffered as a result of Isla Vista murders. But blaming the crime on politicians and the NRA tells us more about the need to vent about a senseless atrocity than it does about reasonable policy options. If calls for more gun control have been rejected, it is not because our politicians are too corrupt or the NRA too powerful. It is because most Americans rightly believe more such laws would do no good and possibly abridge their constitutional rights.

Read Less

Bloomberg’s Plan Is Good News for NRA

Michael Bloomberg is no political novice. Though the verdict on his 12 years as New York City’s mayor is, at best, mixed, there is no doubt that his political skills are as keen as his instinct for making money. As Fred Siegel and Sol Stern pointed out in a COMMENTARY article explaining why Bloomberg finally wore out his welcome at City Hall, the mayor deployed his immense fortune to not only buy votes with record campaign expenditures but also to buy political peace by bribing protest groups that might have otherwise been in the streets making his life miserable. That tactic, along with weak Democratic opponents, kept him in power even if it’s a model that no future mayor who is not also a billionaire will be able to use. But it also seems to have reinforced Bloomberg’s blind faith in the ability of money to transform a political debate. It is in this context that we should view his announcement that he will spend $50 million to build a nationwide network of groups calling for gun control.

The purpose of the effort is to copy the success of Bloomberg’s nemesis: the National Rifle Association, a group that has successfully fought off measures seeking to limit or make owning a gun more difficult. What Bloomberg wants is to inspire fear in politicians, even among liberal Democrats who otherwise agree with most of his positions on the issues, but who may stray from the party line about guns. As the New York Times reports, the former mayor thinks his money will help mobilize women to prioritize the gun issue in the same way Mothers Against Drunk Driving made it possible to pass tough laws against drunk drivers. The $50 million expenditure will not only dwarf the estimated $20 million spent by the NRA but will seek to target politicians in red and swing states who have crossed party lines to oppose both sweeping gun-control laws or more limited background check legislation.

But the NRA isn’t shaking in its boots. Gun-rights activists are used to being outspent in key legislative races, as they were last fall when Colorado legislators who voted for new gun laws were successfully recalled. But Bloomberg’s mistake isn’t only in overestimating the impact that money can have on this debate. It’s that he doesn’t understand that the NRA’s success hasn’t been so much a function of fear as it is in the passion of its supporters and the broad support their position commands among the public.

Read More

Michael Bloomberg is no political novice. Though the verdict on his 12 years as New York City’s mayor is, at best, mixed, there is no doubt that his political skills are as keen as his instinct for making money. As Fred Siegel and Sol Stern pointed out in a COMMENTARY article explaining why Bloomberg finally wore out his welcome at City Hall, the mayor deployed his immense fortune to not only buy votes with record campaign expenditures but also to buy political peace by bribing protest groups that might have otherwise been in the streets making his life miserable. That tactic, along with weak Democratic opponents, kept him in power even if it’s a model that no future mayor who is not also a billionaire will be able to use. But it also seems to have reinforced Bloomberg’s blind faith in the ability of money to transform a political debate. It is in this context that we should view his announcement that he will spend $50 million to build a nationwide network of groups calling for gun control.

The purpose of the effort is to copy the success of Bloomberg’s nemesis: the National Rifle Association, a group that has successfully fought off measures seeking to limit or make owning a gun more difficult. What Bloomberg wants is to inspire fear in politicians, even among liberal Democrats who otherwise agree with most of his positions on the issues, but who may stray from the party line about guns. As the New York Times reports, the former mayor thinks his money will help mobilize women to prioritize the gun issue in the same way Mothers Against Drunk Driving made it possible to pass tough laws against drunk drivers. The $50 million expenditure will not only dwarf the estimated $20 million spent by the NRA but will seek to target politicians in red and swing states who have crossed party lines to oppose both sweeping gun-control laws or more limited background check legislation.

But the NRA isn’t shaking in its boots. Gun-rights activists are used to being outspent in key legislative races, as they were last fall when Colorado legislators who voted for new gun laws were successfully recalled. But Bloomberg’s mistake isn’t only in overestimating the impact that money can have on this debate. It’s that he doesn’t understand that the NRA’s success hasn’t been so much a function of fear as it is in the passion of its supporters and the broad support their position commands among the public.

The first and perhaps greatest problem with Bloomberg’s plan is that most Americans don’t want the former mayor of New York telling them what to do or which of their constitutional rights need to be impinged upon. Though he talks about wanting to organize the “grass roots,” what he is discussing is a classic top-down operation in which a coastal elite seeks to manipulate voters in flyover country. Bloomberg’s cash was enough to co-opt various minority power brokers in New York as well as to overwhelm unimpressive ballot opponents. But it can’t convince people who support gun rights to shut up. Nor can it manufacture an equally passionate body of gun opponents where none exists.

It is true that polls often show support for some of the measures the NRA opposes. Bloomberg and other liberals believe this is proof that NRA victories in Congress are the result of a shell game in which a small minority manipulates politicians to thwart the will of the majority. But the reason why the NRA has clout on Capitol Hill is not so much the result of the intimidation that Bloomberg says he wishes to emulate as it is in the broad popularity of gun rights. As the aftermath of the December 2012 Newtown massacre showed, the national media’s efforts to demonize the NRA merely increased the number of its contributors and convinced members of the House and Senate that the NRA was actually closer to the national mood than those seeking to come up with new gun laws.

Moreover, Bloomberg’s signal that his efforts will be at the margins of the gun issue rather than on new restrictions such as revived attempt to ban assault weapons won’t fool anybody. One of the chief reasons the NRA has succeeded is because gun-rights supporters rightly believe that the ultimate goal of all gun control is to ban guns, not to merely increase the number of background checks. The fact that New York City’s laws make it onerous if not impossible for an individual to legally possess a gun only emphasizes this point.

The NRA isn’t politically bullet proof and, as it showed in its initial ham-handed responses to Newtown, it can sometimes do more damage to itself than its foes can. But as long as it is matched up against the likes of Bloomberg, it has nothing to fear.

Read Less

Why Newtown Didn’t Lead to Gun Control

Today’s release of the 9-1-1 tapes from the Newtown massacre has caused America to relive the horror of the awful day on which a mad gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. This has prompted a spirited debate in the media about the wisdom of broadcasting these tapes and news organizations have differed in their decisions. Count me as being on the side of those who chose not to expose the public to the tapes since they add little if anything to our understanding of the event and only serve as a form of crime porn to titillate viewers. But the main question members of the liberal mainstream media are asking today is the same one they will be posing in 10 days when we get to the first anniversary: why didn’t the disgust Americans felt at this atrocity lead to the enactment of stricter gun-control laws? But while they wonder how it is possible that the liberal media offensive didn’t buffalo politicians last winter, they’re even more perplexed as to why Newtown didn’t change public opinion on the issue. Indeed, as a new CNN/ORC poll reveals, a majority of Americans today oppose stricter gun-control laws.

The CNN poll shows that last January, at the height of the media offensive—and after President Obama decided to make the issue the centerpiece of his second-term legislative agenda—on behalf of gun control, 55 percent of the public backed tougher gun-control laws. The new poll shows that number down to 49 percent. This has to shock liberal pundits and journalists who have been operating under the assumption since Newtown that only a crazed minority of gun nuts and NRA members were opposed to the president’s gun agenda.

But the answer to their question isn’t much of a mystery. The majority of Americans understand not only that more legislation won’t stop lunatics from shooting people with legal or illegal guns, but they also don’t trust the government to enforce stricter laws fairly or to respect the constitutional rights of gun owners.

Read More

Today’s release of the 9-1-1 tapes from the Newtown massacre has caused America to relive the horror of the awful day on which a mad gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. This has prompted a spirited debate in the media about the wisdom of broadcasting these tapes and news organizations have differed in their decisions. Count me as being on the side of those who chose not to expose the public to the tapes since they add little if anything to our understanding of the event and only serve as a form of crime porn to titillate viewers. But the main question members of the liberal mainstream media are asking today is the same one they will be posing in 10 days when we get to the first anniversary: why didn’t the disgust Americans felt at this atrocity lead to the enactment of stricter gun-control laws? But while they wonder how it is possible that the liberal media offensive didn’t buffalo politicians last winter, they’re even more perplexed as to why Newtown didn’t change public opinion on the issue. Indeed, as a new CNN/ORC poll reveals, a majority of Americans today oppose stricter gun-control laws.

The CNN poll shows that last January, at the height of the media offensive—and after President Obama decided to make the issue the centerpiece of his second-term legislative agenda—on behalf of gun control, 55 percent of the public backed tougher gun-control laws. The new poll shows that number down to 49 percent. This has to shock liberal pundits and journalists who have been operating under the assumption since Newtown that only a crazed minority of gun nuts and NRA members were opposed to the president’s gun agenda.

But the answer to their question isn’t much of a mystery. The majority of Americans understand not only that more legislation won’t stop lunatics from shooting people with legal or illegal guns, but they also don’t trust the government to enforce stricter laws fairly or to respect the constitutional rights of gun owners.

Liberals counted on a wave of emotion in the wake of Newtown to help bulldoze both Congress and the public into adopting their long-cherished dream to restrict gun ownership and make it more difficult to legally purchase weapons. In the first weeks after the massacre, they seemed to be right and polls reflected a surge in support for more gun laws. But after the nation started to look at the facts, the numbers changed. As CNN writes on their website:

The survey indicates that the intensity of opinion on the issue of gun control, once an advantage for gun control advocates, no longer benefits either side. In January 37% of all Americans strongly favored stricter gun laws, with 27% strongly opposed to them. Now that 10-point difference has completely disappeared, with the number who strongly oppose and strongly favor stricter gun control at essentially the same level.

Though the president and many in the media did their best to exploit the bloodshed, once it became apparent that the remedies proposed by the president had nothing to do with the crime, their momentum was stalled. No amount of rhetorical excess from President Obama or the pundits could cover up the fact that even if every item on his gun-control laundry list had been passed prior to the shooting, none of them would have prevented Adam Lanza from stealing weapons from his mother before killing her and then heading to the school where he committied senseless slaughter.

It is true that support for some measures like increased background checks and closing gun show sales loopholes do have strong support. But even there, resistance to those laws is fed by a sense that the liberals who claim they have no interest in taking anyone’s guns away aren’t telling the truth. As a Rasmussen poll conducted in September showed, 62 percent of those polled don’t think government can be trusted to enforce the laws fairly and 71 percent said it wasn’t possible for new laws to stop future Newtowns from occurring. A subsequent Rasmussen poll showed even more support for enforcing existing laws rather than trying new ones. The focus on so-called assault weapons was also quickly revealed to be more about cosmetics than firepower, further reducing the credibility of gun-control advocates.

The bottom line is that contrary to the expectations of liberals, the American people aren’t stupid. They understand that ideas like resurrecting assault-weapon bans and even more reasonable measures like background checks are items on the liberal legislative wish list, not an authentic response to a problem. While gun crimes are abhorrent, there is little reason to believe the liberal gun project will prevent them. All they will accomplish is to make it harder for law-abiding citizens to own guns. That’s why support for such laws is far lower today than it was 20 years ago when the Brady Bill passed.

More mental health initiatives may do something to stop the Adam Lanzas of the world from killing innocents, but the sense prevails that the push for gun control has more to do with a long-term war on the Second Amendment. That is why although Americans remain scarred by their memories of Newtown, they are even less likely to back liberal gun-control efforts than they were in the aftermath of the crime. Once emotion subsided, reason prevailed.

Read Less

The “Next Tamerlan” Doesn’t Care About Background Checks

Riding a wave of media-driven indignation and fueled by polls that showed broad popular support for background checks, gun control advocates are claiming they won’t wait until after the next election to try again to pass another version of the Manchin-Toomey amendment. It’s an open question as to whether their arguments will resonate with the red state Democrats who crossed the aisle to vote with the majority of Republicans against any gun bill, or whether they can persuade some in the GOP caucus to flip. But exploiting the Boston Marathon bombing the same way they’ve relentlessly waved the bloody shirt of the Newtown massacre won’t do the trick.

Guns did play a role in the Tsarnaev brothers’ crimes. And since Tamerlan Tsarnaev had already been placed in the database of the FBI, theoretically a background check on a prospective weapons purchase by him might have triggered an intervention by law enforcement authorities before the tragedy occurred. That’s what motivated Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York to take to the floor of the House on Friday to argue that Boston gives us another reason to pass a background checks law with the inflammatory style we’ve come to expect from the anti-gun crowd:

The pro-gun lobby insists that the next terrorist should still be able to buy all the assault weapons they want and all the 100-round magazines they need, no problem, no background check necessary. And the next terrorist and the next Tamerlan thinks they’re absolutely right.

The problem with Representative Maloney’s argument isn’t just that it’s despicable of her to accuse groups like the National Rifle Association of supporting terror (though that’s a line that probably went down well with most of her Upper East Side constituency), it’s that the facts of the case flatly contradict the pro-gun control narrative. As I wrote last week, the guns the Tsarnaevs used to kill one police officer and wound another did not have legal permits. Neither did their pressure cooker bombs.

Read More

Riding a wave of media-driven indignation and fueled by polls that showed broad popular support for background checks, gun control advocates are claiming they won’t wait until after the next election to try again to pass another version of the Manchin-Toomey amendment. It’s an open question as to whether their arguments will resonate with the red state Democrats who crossed the aisle to vote with the majority of Republicans against any gun bill, or whether they can persuade some in the GOP caucus to flip. But exploiting the Boston Marathon bombing the same way they’ve relentlessly waved the bloody shirt of the Newtown massacre won’t do the trick.

Guns did play a role in the Tsarnaev brothers’ crimes. And since Tamerlan Tsarnaev had already been placed in the database of the FBI, theoretically a background check on a prospective weapons purchase by him might have triggered an intervention by law enforcement authorities before the tragedy occurred. That’s what motivated Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York to take to the floor of the House on Friday to argue that Boston gives us another reason to pass a background checks law with the inflammatory style we’ve come to expect from the anti-gun crowd:

The pro-gun lobby insists that the next terrorist should still be able to buy all the assault weapons they want and all the 100-round magazines they need, no problem, no background check necessary. And the next terrorist and the next Tamerlan thinks they’re absolutely right.

The problem with Representative Maloney’s argument isn’t just that it’s despicable of her to accuse groups like the National Rifle Association of supporting terror (though that’s a line that probably went down well with most of her Upper East Side constituency), it’s that the facts of the case flatly contradict the pro-gun control narrative. As I wrote last week, the guns the Tsarnaevs used to kill one police officer and wound another did not have legal permits. Neither did their pressure cooker bombs.

I happen to think the Manchin-Toomey background check legislation was a reasonable suggestion that would not infringe on Second Amendment rights. If its advocates could have argued that it would prevent another Newtown, it might have passed. But it is also true that it wouldn’t prevent another Boston.

The Marathon bombing is yet another example that proves that criminals generally aren’t prepared to jump through the hoops that a law-abiding citizen is willing to endure. They prefer to either use legal weapons that were procured by those who would not be prevented from purchasing them or illegal guns that no background check or assault weapons ban can prevent from being sold.

The point here is not so much whether background checks are a good idea in principle. It is that claims they will prevent crimes are utterly bogus. Representative Maloney can Mau-Mau the NRA all she likes, but nothing in Manchin-Toomey or even the more stringent versions of the bills Democrats have drafted on guns in the wake of Newtown could have stopped the Tsarnaevs from amassing the arsenal of illegal weapons they used to shoot it out with Boston-area cops. The “next Tamerlan” won’t care about background check laws because—like his predecessor—he will not try to buy a legal gun that can be traced back to him.

Since scoring points aimed at a right-wing piñata with a sound byte that made it onto a local news broadcast (and repeated this morning on MSNBC) was the objective of Maloney’s speech, I’m sure the inaccuracy of her pitch doesn’t bother her much. But what she—and others who share her gun legislation goal—should understand is that the more they flood the airwaves with misleading rhetoric and false arguments the less likely it is that any background check law will ever be passed.

Read Less

Pat Toomey and the Zero Sum Gun Game

The Washington Post has an interesting background piece detailing the process by which a hard-core conservative Republican like Pennsylvania’s Senator Pat Toomey became a co-sponsor of a gun legislation compromise. According to the Post, the keys to Toomey’s decision were the relationship he developed with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and the input of a new lobbying group backed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Toomey appears to have done an intense study of the issues surrounding the push for gun control after the Newtown massacre with the intent of finding a legislative idea that could be seen as a response to the incident that would also protect the rights of gun owners and the Second Amendment. The result was the proposed amendment to the gun bill being proposed by Democrats that will expand background checks for purchases while also limiting the ability of the government to interfere in legitimate exchanges and sales, as well as providing other provisions that would benefit gun owners.

But that hasn’t protected Toomey from a storm of abuse from pro-gun groups as well as some Republicans who have come to see the tussle over guns as one more zero-sum game between the two parties in which the only possible outcome is that one side wins and the other loses. Seen from that perspective, any compromise on guns, no matter how anodyne in nature or insignificant in terms of its impact on Second Amendment rights, must be resisted not just because it might be the first step on a slippery slope toward abolition of gun rights but because it could be considered a victory for President Obama.

I sympathize with those who see the liberal exploitation of Newtown as unscrupulous and agree with their conclusion that none of the possible legislative options on guns—up to and including the ones that Toomey opposes, which seek to ban certain types of rifles or ammunition magazines—will do much to prevent another such atrocity. But the willingness of some partisans to treat even ideas about background checks that polls show have the support of approximately nine of out of 10 Americans as something that must be rejected simply because the president and his liberal backers want it is neither good policy nor good politics.

Read More

The Washington Post has an interesting background piece detailing the process by which a hard-core conservative Republican like Pennsylvania’s Senator Pat Toomey became a co-sponsor of a gun legislation compromise. According to the Post, the keys to Toomey’s decision were the relationship he developed with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and the input of a new lobbying group backed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Toomey appears to have done an intense study of the issues surrounding the push for gun control after the Newtown massacre with the intent of finding a legislative idea that could be seen as a response to the incident that would also protect the rights of gun owners and the Second Amendment. The result was the proposed amendment to the gun bill being proposed by Democrats that will expand background checks for purchases while also limiting the ability of the government to interfere in legitimate exchanges and sales, as well as providing other provisions that would benefit gun owners.

But that hasn’t protected Toomey from a storm of abuse from pro-gun groups as well as some Republicans who have come to see the tussle over guns as one more zero-sum game between the two parties in which the only possible outcome is that one side wins and the other loses. Seen from that perspective, any compromise on guns, no matter how anodyne in nature or insignificant in terms of its impact on Second Amendment rights, must be resisted not just because it might be the first step on a slippery slope toward abolition of gun rights but because it could be considered a victory for President Obama.

I sympathize with those who see the liberal exploitation of Newtown as unscrupulous and agree with their conclusion that none of the possible legislative options on guns—up to and including the ones that Toomey opposes, which seek to ban certain types of rifles or ammunition magazines—will do much to prevent another such atrocity. But the willingness of some partisans to treat even ideas about background checks that polls show have the support of approximately nine of out of 10 Americans as something that must be rejected simply because the president and his liberal backers want it is neither good policy nor good politics.

It may well be that the entire discussion about guns in the wake of Newtown can be put down as merely another attempt by politicians to look as if they are doing something about problems that are basically beyond their capacity to address. Events such as Newtown are more the product of mental illness and inadequate security than our gun laws. But there is no denying that after such events the public wants politicians to act as if they are concerned. That usually leads to legislative mischief, and many of the Democratic proposals pushed by the president and Vice President Biden fall into that category as well as not doing much, if anything, to reduce gun violence.

Yet even if we concede that much, the only way one could categorize the Manchin-Toomey proposal as an attack on the Second Amendment is by putting it in a context in which any legislation must be stopped simply because the president and liberals want to pass something. While one can understand the partisan impulse behind such thinking, acting on it isn’t a theory of responsible government. Legislators are justified in trying to stop proposals that undermine liberties even if they are popular. But what Toomey is proposing is merely an attempt to provide a rational response to a national furor that is both constitutional and consistent with the principle of limited government.

It may well be that if Manchin-Toomey is passed—something that is by no means certain even in the Senate, let alone the House of Representatives—that liberals will seek in the future to ban more weapons and ammunition and chip away at the Second Amendment in ways that those who back this proposal will oppose. But the idea that all legislation about guns must be opposed in the same dogged manner that pro-abortion groups fight parental consent or bans on infanticide-like partial birth procedures simply because they fear it will lead to a complete ban on abortion is neither rational nor a path to gaining more support.

When Toomey says he doesn’t think requiring a background check to prevent criminals or the mentally ill from obtaining legal weapons is gun control, he’s right. It’s not. If pro-gun groups can live with existing background checks on purchases in stores, then there’s no reason why they should see similar procedures at gun shows or on the Internet as a threat to their rights. Nor should they be under the impression that opposing such relatively inoffensive measures will expand the ranks of Second Amendment supporters.

Toomey’s conduct in this matter has been consistent with his scrupulous approach to attempts to expand government power. Whether or not his compromise becomes law, Toomey hasn’t done himself any political harm or undermined support for gun rights. But those who think gun rights can be best defended by seeking to spike Toomey-Manchin may discover that stands that are not reasonable and so distant from mainstream opinion aren’t going to help their cause. 

Read Less

Will Liberals Torpedo the Background Check Compromise?

Has common sense prevailed on gun legislation in Washington? That’s one way to look at the compromise proposal on background checks on gun purchases that is being announced today by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. The pair, a moderate conservative Democrat and a hard-line fiscal and social conservative Republican, bridge the gap between the two parties and have probably arrived at the only gun measure that has a prayer of passage. Whatever else it will achieve, the plan will almost certainly end any hope of a filibuster of gun legislation in the Senate that had been threatened by Marco Rubio and a dozen other members of the GOP.

The announcement will leave us with three questions.

The first is whether Manchin and Toomey have come up with an amendment to the gun bill that is reasonable. The second is whether it will pass the House of Representatives. But the third, and more interesting, point is whether this is the end or the beginning of a long campaign of efforts by gun control advocates to restrict Second Amendment rights. It is on the answer to that question that reaction from conservatives will hinge. If, rather than seeing this an effort to conclude a divisive debate with something most people can live with, the House Republican caucus believes the expansion of background checks is the thin edge of the wedge in a long-term liberal plan to ban guns, Manchin and Toomey will have achieved nothing.

Read More

Has common sense prevailed on gun legislation in Washington? That’s one way to look at the compromise proposal on background checks on gun purchases that is being announced today by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. The pair, a moderate conservative Democrat and a hard-line fiscal and social conservative Republican, bridge the gap between the two parties and have probably arrived at the only gun measure that has a prayer of passage. Whatever else it will achieve, the plan will almost certainly end any hope of a filibuster of gun legislation in the Senate that had been threatened by Marco Rubio and a dozen other members of the GOP.

The announcement will leave us with three questions.

The first is whether Manchin and Toomey have come up with an amendment to the gun bill that is reasonable. The second is whether it will pass the House of Representatives. But the third, and more interesting, point is whether this is the end or the beginning of a long campaign of efforts by gun control advocates to restrict Second Amendment rights. It is on the answer to that question that reaction from conservatives will hinge. If, rather than seeing this an effort to conclude a divisive debate with something most people can live with, the House Republican caucus believes the expansion of background checks is the thin edge of the wedge in a long-term liberal plan to ban guns, Manchin and Toomey will have achieved nothing.

As to the nature of the Manchin-Toomey proposal, their agreement to expand background checks to gun shows is bound to strike everyone but the leadership of the National Rifle Association as fairly reasonable. It’s not just that polls show overwhelming support for the idea. If you think existing background checks on the purchasers of firearms in gun stores are a sensible precaution, then having them cover sales at gun shows is only logical. As long as this exempts sales or exchanges of guns between family members, it’s hard to argue that such a measure would be too burdensome or be an infringement of Second Amendment rights.

Can such a measure pass Congress? That’s far from clear. Assuming that the liberals who run the Senate have the sense to embrace the Manchin-Toomey amendment, it should get through the upper body. Having a solid conservative like Toomey be the sponsor will help persuade some in the House GOP caucus to put aside their fears about any gun bill. If even a sizeable minority of House Republicans embrace it, that should be enough to allow its passage with solid Democratic support.

But that will hinge on the answer to the third question.

Some on the right are echoing the NRA in opposing any bill that will mean more record keeping about gun ownership, even if it is aimed at preventing criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining weapons. They do so not because they want such persons to get guns, but because they think any registry of weapons or gun ownership is the first step toward a government ban of all weapons–notwithstanding the incessant disclaimers from President Obama and other liberals about their support for the Second Amendment and their promises about not taking away anyone’s guns.

Those fears may sometimes be expressed in a manner that sounds unreasonable, but anyone who has been listening to liberals talk about guns for the last few decades understands that banning guns is exactly what many if not most of them really would like to do if they could. The fact that almost all of the gun proposals put forward by the administration in the wake of the Newtown massacre would have done nothing to prevent that tragedy only feeds the suspicion that it has been exploited to advance a left-wing agenda that will trash gun rights.

The Manchin-Toomey compromise is good politics for both parties, in that it will allow President Obama to tell his base that he achieved something on guns while giving Republicans the opportunity to pass a bill that could take a liberal talking point out of circulation without actually infringing on the Second Amendment. But if liberals trumpet background checks as the beginning of a new struggle to ban guns rather than an end in itself, it will be extremely difficult to persuade more House Republicans to support it. It remains to be seen whether the left will allow Manchin and Toomey to allay the fears of the right or will instead torpedo it in order to keep waving the bloody shirt of Newtown in 2014.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.