Nar­row gun bill is bet­ter than noth­ing

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

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: thomas­son­

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