Terry H. Schwadron
April 9, 2021
OK, let’s give Joe Biden props for trying something, anything, about the out-of-control numbers of guns in America and the frequency with which we turn to them to resolve problems.
As a country with more guns than people, we can acknowledge upfront that Biden’s executive actions this week will have little practical effect on the continuing “epidemic,” as he called it, of mass shootings, suicides by gun and other accidental and intentional gun deaths, but at least he was doing something.
Still, we need to conclude that moving for background checks on “ghost guns,” homemade weapons without a serial number that are more difficult to track, proposing model “red flag” legislation for states to help law enforcement keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous individuals and to reclassify semi-automatic pistols modified with stabilizer braces to be subject to the National Firearms Act are movement of some sort.
It’s more than we see from Republicans and the National Rifle Assn. It is more than we see in most states.
Even on the day of these executive orders, there were news reports about how Phillip Adams, a former professional football cornerback, had shot and killed a doctor, the doctor’s wife and their two grandchildren inside their house in Rock Hill, S.C., and an air-conditioning technician working outside the home. It could be any day; there are that many killings, even multiple killings, as well as gun accidents and suicides.
Of course, as gun-defenders noted in pushing back against Biden, there is a “red flag” law in Colorado, last week’s mass shooting site, and the weapon involved had been purchased legally six days earlier with background checks. Once again, we face the argument that it’s not the weapons, but the mental state or criminal intent of the shooter.
Too Many Guns
Biden exaggerated just a bit in his remarks, as fact-checkers at The New York Times and The Washington Post duly noted. While Biden correctly said you can buy a gun from an unlicensed dealer at a gun show with no background check, most dealers are licensed and do file paperwork. But that’s not true so for private sales. Gun manufacturers are not quite as protected from lawsuits as Biden suggested. And Biden’s statistics about correlation between assault style guns and shooting deaths were a bit overstated.
But the general case remains true. There are too many guns out there, and they are too easily used to settle grievances.
Yet, we continue as a country to celebrate the gun as personal weapon as being enshrined in the Constitutional guarantees for national militias.
The House passed two gun control bills last month that are unaddressed in the Senate, where they cannot pass the 60-vote threshold for passing most legislation. Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, is among those calling in a photo-op to show himself shooting a personal AK-47 at a shooting range while he talks about potential violence in the streets coming towards his house.
Columnist Max Boot at The Post captured it this way: “Mass shootings in Boulder, Colo., and Atlanta remind us that, long after covid-19 is gone, the epidemic of gun violence will still be with us because of the equivalent of the anti-maskers — irrational, extremist Republican politicians who oppose nearly all gun regulations. The Republican position is enraging: They want to make voting hard and gun ownership easy.”
A survey of 34 large U.S. cities found a 30 percent increase in homicides last year — and more than 70 percent of homicides in the United States involve a gun, with even more suicides than homicides. The Gun Violence Archive reports that all gun-related deaths in 2020 totaled 43,536.
Breitbart News simply labeled Biden a would-be emperor, and noted that the executive orders would not have stopped the Colorado shootings.
The Heritage Foundation said, “Biden is pushing politically divisive measures that would turn the right to keep and bear arms on its head without meaningfully making the nation any safer.” Heritage, a conservative think tank argues that any ban on so-called “high-capacity” magazines would fail constitutional muster and policy considerations and that governments can do more good by focusing on mental health than guns.
Of course, the same Republicans oppose wider health access policies.
The Tired Arguments
The debate is well-worn, tired, and at this point, stuck. For that reason alone, it was refreshing to hear something from the White House that would at least show action on the edges of addressing the issues. School schoolings, massage parlor shootings, mass killings in Las Vegas all have come and gone without significant action. It’s just politically too difficult to achieve, apparently.
“Nothing I’m about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment,” Biden said in the Rose Garden. “They’re phony arguments suggesting these are Second Amendment rights at stake with what we’re talking about. But no amendment, no amendment to the Constitution is absolute. . . So, the idea is just bizarre to suggest that some of the things we’re recommending are contrary to the Constitution,” he added. “Gun violence in this country is an epidemic. And it’s an international embarrassment.”
The Trump appointments to the Supreme Court have further hardened widespread Second Amendment rights. People now are allowed to carry guns in bars, schools, church; even the ban against carrying guns onto the Capitol floor where these discussions presumably happen is now considered weird by Republican members who object to passing through a metal detector.
In my Harlem neighborhood, the churches are conducting another gun buyback program, but all these public debates about background checks and the necessity to keep high-volume magazines, armor-piercing ammo and automatic firing weapons have little to do with crime, but a lot to do with posturing about cultural divides.
Gun-defenders “have offered plenty of thoughts and prayers. . . but they’ve passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence,” Biden said. “Enough prayers. Time for some action.”
Maybe Democrat Joe Manchin, gun-supporter himself, and Republican Pat Toomey, Republican, can bring about some of their vaunted appeal to bipartisanship in a practical way.