Nothing will Prevent All Gun Deaths…but, That’s not the Point

A week into the new year, guns have been getting a lot of press.  Notably, President Obama has been very vocal in his intention to enact executive actions that he believes will help reduce deaths due to gun violence.  But, predictably, there has been an equally vocal backlash in opposition to both the President and his proposals.

Much of the opposition is related to the nature of the president’s proposals.  Because his attempts to enact laws regulating things like background checks and the amount of ammunition that weapons can hold have been blocked by Congress, he has now chosen to act through executive actions.  These are a way to bypass Congressional opposition, but they also do not hold the same power as law, instead serving more as guidelines for the enforcement of laws already on the books.  Still, gun-supporters are outraged by any attempts to regulate firearms, including those intended to keep them out of the hands of dangerous people.  But, Obama’s actions are legally sound, giving opponents little to do but rally behind their talking points and their general dislike of the president.

These attacks on the president have taken two basic forms.  The first is to mock him for his recent show of emotion.  In a speech detailing his executive actions, Obama shed a few tears:

Some have argued that this is a show of weakness by the president, or that his emotion has clouded his judgment.  I would argue the exact opposite.  Obama’s emotion shows that he is thinking quite clearly, and gives a strength to his arguments that dispassion would not.  The fact is that people getting killed by guns should make people sad.  Even more, it should make them angry.  Anything else shows a lack of humanity.  The president has obviously thought deeply about this, and his anger and frustration at being able to do nothing to stop it is showing.  He is also a father of two daughters, and a husband to a wife that he would be devastated to lose.  So, he has empathy towards those who have suffered just this kind of loss due to gun violence.  This empathy has made him even more determined to do something, even if Congress will not support him.  He is committed to act independently–not necessarily because he wants to, but because he has been forced to–and this shows a tremendous amount of strength.

The second way to attack the president is to accuse him of overreach.  Many on the right have compared Obama to a tyrant, dictator, or king, saying that he should do nothing unless he can convince Congress to act with him.  But, he is not writing law.  He is merely acting to make existing laws more effective.  His actions boil down to a few basic guidelines:

  • Increasing the number of dealers who will need a license to sell guns (thereby decreasing the number of sellers who are not required to run background checks on potential buyers)
  • Increasing funding so that more people can be hired to complete background checks within the required three-day timeframe (potentially eliminating the possibility of selling a gun to someone who would have failed a background check had it been completed in time)
  • Eliminating barriers that keep some mental health records from being included in the background check system
  • Enforcing rules requiring the reporting of stolen or lost guns
  • Increasing funding for research to make guns safer

None of these are radical ideas.  They are common-sense attempts to solve a serious problem.  Guns are getting into the hands of people who should not have them, and these people are using them to do terrible things.  We should all want to find a way to stop that from happening.  These actions are what Obama is doing, since he is being prevented from doing anything further.

Even more pervasive than the attacks on Obama are those on the perceived ineffectiveness of the proposed actions, the most common argument being that they would not have prevented any of the recent spate of mass shootings that have plagued the country.  This is partly true.  In most cases, the shooters in these incidents obtained their guns legally.  However, better mental health reporting could have prevented some from passing a background check.  And, the shooter in the South Carolina church would have failed his background check had it been completed in time.  But, because it took longer than the three-day window, he was sold a gun, which he then used to kill nine people.  So, these actions could very well have prevented some of these mass shootings.  But, even if they couldn’t, that isn’t the point.  Mass shootings make for good ratings on the nightly news, but they account for a tiny fraction of all gun deaths.

Using even the broadest definition of mass shooting shows they led to fewer than 500 deaths last year.  And, while every one of those deaths is tragic, they are dwarfed by the estimated 10,000 gun homicides that occur annually, and even further by the additional 20,000 gun suicides.  Many of these homicides are acts committed against an intimate partner or family member by someone with a history of violent behavior.  And many of the suicides are impulsive acts that would not have been successful had the person not had easy access to a gun.  These are the types of incidents that Obama’s actions could help prevent.  And, these tragic and often invisible deaths are just as important as those glorified on the news.

So, I commend the president on his actions.  I only wish he had the power to do even more.  The missing piece of any true gun-violence prevention effort is one that causes the greatest uproar any time it is even mentioned.  There are currently somewhere around 300 million guns in the United States.  But, there is no way to know exactly how many, where they are, or who has them.  The solution to this is simple.  All guns should be registered.

Registration should be part of any gun violence prevention proposal, and it is instead treated as a non-starter.  The only way to truly address gun violence and to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people is to know where guns are and whose hands they are in.  The argument that gun registration will lead to confiscation has no basis in reality, but is somehow accepted as truth.  There is absolutely no evidence that registering guns will lead to taking them away from anyone other than those who have demonstrated that they should not be allowed to possess them in the first place.

Like with all “gun control” proposals, registration would do nothing to change the status quo for those who legally own guns and handle them safely.  But, opposition to regulations is an admission of the dangerous nature of guns.  Law-abiding gun owners have nothing to lose by accepting new safety measures, and should support them.  Even more, they should support greater education regarding guns and crime.  People should know that overall crime rates are declining.  They should know that a gun in the home is far more likely to be used against someone in the home than an intruder.  They should know that owning a gun is an option, but not a necessity.  They should know the pros and cons of gun ownership, and that is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

But, rather than the freedom of choice over whether to own a gun, the gun lobby favors scare-tactics that encourage everyone to own a weapon, with or without the proper training or safety measures.  They know guns are dangerous, as illustrated by their attempts to prohibit doctors from talking about them as a health risk.  This makes their support for universal ownership especially suspect, as the only people who stand to gain are gun manufacturers, not other gun owners.  Yet, they still perpetuate fantasies of “good guys with guns” saving the day against “bad guys with guns” who are allegedly around every corner, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Still, the right to own a gun is protected by the Constitution, and it is not going away, even with the president’s recent executive actions.  But, that has done little to quiet the outcry.  So, one more time, law-abiding gun owners of America, no one is coming for your guns, unless you’ve done something to prove you are not capable of handling the responsibility that comes with gun ownership.  But, you should support any measure that force others to take that responsibility as seriously as you do.


The Dubious Link Between Experience and Legislation

The latest ridiculous chapter in the ongoing effort to make the gun safety debate about anything at all other than actually preventing gun violence involves the controversy over President Obama’s claim that he often goes skeet shooting.

After gun nuts scoffed, Obama’s camp released a photo seemingly backing up his claim:


Yet, in a flashback to the idiocy of the “Birther” saga, documentation was not nearly convincing enough for the skeptics.  They questioned his technique, his wardrobe, and even his apparent pot belly.

Perhaps most ridiculous was the claim that the photo itself was a fake, a position quickly mocked by more rational minds:

But, lost in the conspiracy theories was the deeper implication: that somehow the fact that Obama did not appear to be an expert on handling and shooting a gun disqualified him from proposing legislation on guns.

Let’s take a second to examine that.  On the surface, it makes a little bit of sense.  How can someone legislate something he doesn’t know that much about?  But, a little thought reveals that this logic is ludicrous.  I have never shot a gun (or even held one, for that matter), but I know that people get killed every day by guns.  I can’t tell you what it feels like to pull a trigger, but I have seen the damage that pulling triggers has caused.

But, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that personal experience and intimate knowledge are actually requirements for proposing legislation.  This would virtually destroy the entire conservative platform.

For example:

  • No one could legislate drugs that has not done drugs themselves.  Those relying on propaganda instead of experience would need to recuse themselves from the discussion and leave it to the stoners to determine drug policy.
  • Everyone without a womb would be disqualified from regulating abortion, contraception, or any other aspect of women’s health care.  How could anyone possibly have an opinion on issues like pregnancy if they cannot get pregnant themselves?
  • The same applies to the idiots who voted against the Violence Against Women Act.  If you are not a woman, or even more specifically, a woman who has suffered abuse at the hands of a man, you would no longer allowed to decide if they need protection or not (and, just for the record, they do).
  • Only LGBT people could determine the legality of same-sex marriage.  Unless you plan on getting married to your same-sex partner, and have been subjected to the discrimination that goes along with that, you would get no say.  Sorry.
  • Only scientists would get to establish environmental policy.  If you haven’t done the science that has indisputably proven that climate change exists, and if you continue to believe that weather is controlled by the whims of your fantasy deity, you lose your seat at the table.
  • Likewise, only economists could discuss the deficit, the debt ceiling, taxes, budget cuts, or anything else involving the economy.  If you haven’t been poor, you wouldn’t get to speak on food stamps and public assistance.  If you haven’t had to struggle to pay your bills and feed your family, why should you get to regulate those who do?
  • White people wouldn’t get to make the laws that continue to suppress minorities.  If you don’t know what it’s like to be held down for no reason other than superficialities, you would have to keep your opinions to yourself.

Actually, on second thought, those might be good things.  But, predictably, conservatives only expect knowledge or expertise on the one thing they know a lot about.

Obama Promises to Act on Gun Violence

President Obama presented his plan to help curb America’s rampant gun violence in a speech yesterday.  He signed 23 executive orders that he said would tighten current gun regulations and called for Congress to pass new legislation including a ban on assault-style weapons and extended magazines and, perhaps most importantly, mandatory background checks on all gun purchases.

I wrote a recap of the president’s proposals, which can be read over at CampusProgress.

I believe this is a large step in the right direction, but it is only the first step in a long uphill journey.  As the president said, it is up to the people of this country to keep the pressure on their elected officials to actually pass this legislation.  Campaigns like DemandAPlan, from the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, have done a great job of spreading information and making it easy for people to contact their Senator and/or Representative to voice their support for the presidents plan.  I encourage everyone to do so.

Here is a video of the president’s for anyone who missed it:

We Need a Fighter

In the Washington Post this week, Eugene Robinson wrote an article imploring the President to make a bold statement with his new jobs plan.  His theory is that Obama, who is currently suffering from plummeting approval ratings, can win back public opinion by making a show of strength.  And, I must say, I agree completely.

One of the President’s greatest virtues is that he’s a reasonable man, willing to compromise, believing that getting something is better than getting nothing, even if what he gets falls far short of his original goal.  These are qualities to be respected in a person.  But, Obama is not just a person, he is the President.  He is the elected leader of the people of this country, and they expect him to fight for them.  Concessions look like weakness, and weakness frightens voters.  And, with the current state of the economy, and continued high unemployment, people are already frightened enough.  Compromise is a sign of maturity, but fighting shows strength, and that is what the people need to see.  Robinson puts it well when he says, “We know Obama can be rational, realistic, and eminently reasonable.  Right now, he needs to be anything but.”

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

Is this the face of a fighter?

The GOP does not compromise.  They make ridiculous statements, and they are likely driving this country off a cliff, but they look strong doing it.  They have steadfastly refused to give any ground in any negotiations, no matter what it is that’s at stake.  They fought over the debt ceiling, and Obama caved.  They fought over the Bush tax cuts, and Obama caved.  They fought over health care, and Obama caved (though at least in that case he did manage to get a few of the things he was asking for, though he conceded far more than he should have).  Even today, over something as small as the date that he would address Congress with his plan, Obama caved.  He announced that he would address a joint session on Wednesday, claiming that he had cleared the date with Speaker John Boehner.  But, when Boehner changed his mind, not wanting this address to interfere with the scheduled debate between the potential Republican Presidential nominees, Obama agreed to reschedule.  This may seem like a small concession, but it reflects a greater pattern.  Obama wants to avoid conflict, and the Republicans exploit this again and again to get what they want.  In the case of the debates, even Boehner has admitted that he didn’t watch the first one, showing how little actual importance they hold.  But, he still was able to pull the President’s puppet strings and get him to dance.  But, Obama needs to realize that the people don’t want a dancer, they want a fighter.  And, we would rather see him fight and lose than not fight at all.

So, Robinson says that Obama should ask for more than he thinks he can get.  He “needs to demand what’s right, not what the other side is willing to give.”  He should be “unrealistic and unreasonable.”  He thinks that if Obama stakes a bold position, and then fights for that position, people will respond with their support.  A bold plan will likely be killed immediately by the Republican leadership in the House, but it will also provide a base for Obama to campaign from.  He can be the President with an optimistic plan for the future, and label the GOP as pessimists who spew negativity.

The people of this country are struggling.  They are fighting for survival.  And, they want a leader who is going to fight, too.  He may not win, but at least he will have tried.  He will not have caved again.  He will have stood up for the people of this country in their time of need, and he may even be able to help them get back on their feet.  As Robinson says, “Boldness from the President may or may not get the nation’s mojo working again.  Timidity surely won’t.”