Two separate pieces of legislation serve as a reminder of the current state of the gun violence prevention debate, as well as a guide as to just how that battle should be fought.
First, in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill closing the so-called “gun show loophole” in that state. It would also require gun owners to report missing or stolen firearms.
These are simple, common-sense measures that can go a long way in helping to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Though permitted gun vendors have long been required to conduct background checks on potential buyers, there was no such requirement for private sales. This enabled those unable to pass a background check to purchase weapons, so long as they bought them from private sellers. It has been estimated that nearly 40 percent of guns are purchased this way, either at gun shows, via online listings, or on the black market. Though this estimate is dubious, it is still indisputable that many guns are sold without the buyer submitting to a background check, allowing those with violent felony convictions, restraining orders, or mental illnesses to purchase guns they should not legally be allowed to have.
This is a victory for gun-control advocates, though a small one. There is still much work to be done, but laws like these are definitely a step in the right direction.
On the other hand, gun-control folks were handed a defeat in New Jersey, as Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have banned a .50 caliber semi-automatic sniper rifle. This is especially upsetting since Christie himself called for a ban on these weapons earlier this year.
However, though this is a defeat, it is also a small one. While it may be difficult to justify any reason that any non-military citizen would need such a weapon—which is designed to pierce armor from a mile away—it also must be recognized that these weapons are not responsible for any civilian deaths in America. Due to the size and cost of the rifles (as well as the ammunition), these guns are rare, even among gun enthusiasts. And they certainly are not the kind of gun that criminals can easily carry or conceal. Even though there may be no need for these weapons among the general population, it is obvious that they are not contributing in any real way to the plague of gun violence in this country.
So, while this week’s victory was a small one, it is important. And, one can only hope that it is the first of many like it. If other states follow the example of Illinois, much progress can be made in keeping guns from those who should not have them. And, though Christie’s decision is disappointing, these types of losses are acceptable, as they do little to hinder the forward progress of gun safety legislation. It is essential that gun-control advocates focus on the positive steps being taken and accept that there will be bumps in the road. By picking the fights that matter and accepting the losses that don’t, we can continue to gain ground in the battle against gun violence.