Narrow gun bill is better than nothing
All of us are appalled and heartsick at the tragedy in Las Vegas.
New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer recently surmised on the Senate floor, in reference to the shootings, that if the dead could talk, the senator’s words: “Those people who were killed and are now in Heaven, they would say ‘Do something’. They wouldn’t say ‘Let’s wait. President Trump, are you going to wait to hear what the NRA says first?”
Rush Limbaugh’s response to this is: “I would like to address all those ba- bies who’ve been killed by Planned Parenthood, asking them what they would be saying, if they could speak. They would be saying ‘Do something. Shut down Planned Parenthood’. There are over a million abortions a year, dwarfing the number of homicides every year.”
Two completely different conversations on what the dead would say. Both are tragedies but I can’t take Senator Schumer seriously. He has a political agenda and is trying to exploit the shootings. We can all agree the shooter was mentally deranged and determined to commit an evil act. What to do about it? I don’t know. Nor does anyone else. Evil exists and the one who is rejoicing in all this is Satan himself. He loves murder in all forms and could care less about the victims, born or unborn.
LOS ANGELES — After every mass shooting, the nation trudges through the same familiar steps. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims. Don’t politicize a tragedy by trying to stop the next one. OK, propose something, but unless it would have prevented the last incident, we’re not interested. Eventually, the debate dies down — until next time.
Last weekend’s massacre in Las Vegas might be an exception to that pattern. For once, there actually is a proposal that would make it more difficult for the next Stephen Paddock to kill and injure so many people: a ban on “bump stocks” and other devices that enable semiautomatic weapons to fire more rapidly than normal. Without bump stocks, Paddock still could have killed dozens of people with his 23 weapons, but the toll might have been lower.
Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have introduced a bill to impose such a ban. Several Republicans have said the question deserves a serious look.
More proof that it’s a good idea: the National Rifle Association quickly tried to neuter the Democrats’ bill. The NRA said bump stocks should be scrutinized — not by Congress, legislating in the aftermath of tragedy, but by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
That won the NRA undeserved praise for statesmanship. In fact, it was a gambit to make it less likely that tough restrictions will be put in place.
Don’t take my word for that. That’s also the view of the top gun rights champion at the right-wing Breitbart News service, A.W.R. “Rusty” Hawkins. “The NRA is calling on members of Congress to squash talk of more gun control by moving the bump stock discussion back where it began in 2010: with the ATF,” he explained last week.
In 2010, ATF ruled that bump stocks are legal because they don’t physically change semiautomatic weapons to turn them into machine guns. In 2013, ATF said it doesn’t think it has the legal authority to do anything about the devices.
That’s why the problem still requires legislation, Feinstein argued last week.
If anything, the Feinstein bill is vulnerable to the criticism that it’s unambitious. Outlawing bump stocks won’t stop mass shootings or individual homicides _ far from it. And what about all the other causes of death by firearm, including accidents and suicides?
But the impulse to tackle too many problems at once is one of the reasons Congress hasn’t succeeded in passing any major restriction on firearms in more than a decade.
Even after Sandy Hook, when a gunman killed 20 elementary school children in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, nothing changed. Now, with a Republican majority and a president who has promised to “come through” for the NRA, broad gun control is an impossible goal.
Feinstein’s narrow proposal, responding to a single horrifying incident, is a kind of pilot project: an attempt to see if Congress can pass anything over objections from the NRA. And if legislation gets through, there’s a long list of other narrow measures waiting their turn.
One is background checks. Anyone who buys a gun from a federally licensed gun dealer must undergo a background check. In much of the country, however, if you buy your weapons on the internet or from an amateur dealer, no check is required. That’s a boon to criminals and gun traffickers.
Another is the “domestic violence loophole.” Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of domestic violence against a spouse or child from owning a gun. But the ban doesn’t apply to anyone who abuses a parent, a sibling or a short-term partner. It doesn’t apply to convicted stalkers, either.
A third: gun trafficking. Remarkably, there’s no clear federal statute that makes gun trafficking a federal crime. Much of the time, transferring a gun to someone who shouldn’t have it is treated as a paperwork violation. That makes it harder for ATF and other law enforcement agencies to prosecute trafficking rings.
Finally, a mundane problem that should be easy to fix: ATF is underfunded and understaffed. The agency hasn’t grown in a decade, even though the number of guns in private hands has exploded. One of the reasons the current background check system doesn’t work as well as it should is that ATF doesn’t have the resources to answer every query within 72 hours _ after which the buyer automatically gets his gun. (That’s how Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, was able to buy a pistol despite having a criminal record.) And the problem’s about to get worse: President Trump’s budget would cut 14 percent from gun enforcement over the next decade. That’s nuts.
A single law won’t end mass shootings, any more than laws against homicide can prevent all murders. But gun laws can still be improved, and they can be better enforced. Feinstein’s bill is one place to start.
Will Congress step up? That will depend on what it hears from constituents, especially gun owners. The 2nd Amendment guarantees their right to bear arms. Are they willing to get along without bump stocks to spare their fellow citizens from harm?
Doyle McManus is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
WASHINGTON — The banning of gun modification devices called bump stocks may be a small concession, but even the mighty National Rifle Association can see the wisdom of making it in the wake of the Las Vegas horror. With any luck, the next massacre — and there’s bound to be one — won’t be quite so deadly.
After years of doing nothing to combat America’s gun problem, the NRA seems to accept that perhaps enabling citizens to easily change semi-automatic weapons into fully automatics isn’t a good thing. But then again, the association’s duck-and-cover maneuver is coming only in the face of public outrage over the killing of 58 people and the injuring of more than 500 by a maniac spraying bullet after bullet down on a crowd of thousands. He had modified his weapons.
For too long, the NRA has argued violent incidents are best stopped by good guys with guns. But no sidearm-carrying concertgoer could have stopped this shooter.
Yet the best Congress money can buy has for years accepted the NRA’s talking points as fact, and we haven’t had a chief executive who’s truly made guns a top priority.
So those of us concerned with America’s gun violence shouldn’t get too excited thinking something big is finally happening or that the NRA has finally been shocked into doing something responsible. It won’t be long before its lackeys on Capitol Hill renew their push for further gun rights.
Is this too harsh an assessment? I think not, considering that the massacre of 20 elementary school babies in Connecticut in 2012 had no lasting effect on our lawmakers.
Is it too much to think this bump stock ban is simply a con job by weapons manufacturers, who before we know will be back to their usual tricks? The NRA is hardly going to give up the fight for Second Amendment rights after decades of convincing unwitting members that the Founding Fathers’ aim was protecting them from jackbooted government thugs.
Once upon a time, the gun industry, with sales declining as the nation became more urbanized, went about looking for a boost. They spotted the NRA, then a respected but sleepy organization promoting classes on gun safety and hunting. No one, including the courts, talked much about the constitutional rights to owning a canon or a machine gun. Only Dillinger and the rest of the bank robbers employed those.
But then the gun-builders took over the NRA and used the Second Amendment, which even then constitutional scholars considered flawed, as a means of ushering in the greatest expansion of civilian gun ownership in the history of the world. America now has more than 300 million guns. Never mind that the amendment was poorly written and that not even the most perceptive of the Constitution’s authors could have envisioned automatic weapons or their place in an urban America.
Then, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a gun enthusiast, led a majority in changing the longtime view that the amendment’s thrust was collective, or militia-related. Instead, they argued, the right to bear arms is an individual one. That change in perception led to an all-out assault on firearms sensibility. And now we’ve experienced Las Vegas. Will it change at all what happens in the hallowed halls of Capitol Hill? Will banning bump stocks be the only concession?
By all means, we’ll take it. But we’ll view it with a jaundiced eye.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: email@example.com.
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