Lean vs. Orr: Schumer's Gun Control Bill Is Right on Target

Though I occasionally wade into the waters of domestic political debates, I’m much more comfortable with matters of global affairs and foreign policy. Even so, from time to time a hot-button issue arises that prompts me to joust with a colleague whose opinion, in my estimation, is off the mark. Such is the case with my esteemed PolicyMic partner Jason Orr, whose recent column on proposed gun control legislation took aim at Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) but misfired terribly, assaulting instead, reason.

Orr’s piece began with the typical rhetoric of Second Amendment activists, labeling Schumer’s bill “an affront to the most basic principles of our justice system” and a “threat” to “the freedom of responsible citizens” who would use firearms to defend themselves. Underneath this lofty remonstration, though, lies the crux of his argument, his main point of contention: the bill seeks to “clarify the definition of drug abusers or addicts who cannot own a firearm under the current law.”

Indeed, the bill does seek to clarify which drug offenses should result in the inability to purchase guns. They include: persons convicted of (or arrested for) controlled substance abuse within the past 5 years; persons arrested for the possession of drug paraphernalia within the past 5 years if that paraphernalia contained traces of a controlled substance; persons who have used a controlled substance unlawfully and failed a drug test; and persons who have admitted to using or possessing a controlled substance within the past five years.

Are these people the “responsible citizens” whose rights Orr claims are being attacked by this bill? It’s difficult to tell given his assertion that “casual pot smokers and recreational drug users” should slip through the cracks of the background check system, undeterred in their quest to reload at their local gun show. “The law prevents certain segments of the population from owning dangerous weapons because they are deemed to be threats,” he writes, obviously suggesting that this is a bad thing. Later, he asserts that it is “unwise” to prevent non-violent drug users from owning guns, failing to consider that these allegedly stable, recreational drugs users may not be so reasonable and stable with their Glock after snorting a few lines.

For intelligent, respectful citizens, owning a gun is no problem — this bill does not infringe on his rights or the rights of those who play by the rules. Instead, it imposes tough penalties on states who fail to turn over records of those citizens who are prohibited from owning guns — felons, people with mental illnesses, domestic violence convicts, and yes, drug users.

As it stands, states that fail to report 50 percent or more of the records of those who are prohibited from buying guns to the NICS database will face a 3 percent cut in their Justice Assistance Grant funding. Schumer proposes an increase in state reporting to 75 percent by 2013 and 90 percent by 2018, with penalties increasing to 15 and 25 percent, respectively. The bill also addresses the gun show loophole, requiring private sellers to verify through law enforcement that those who purchase firearms from them are not on the national do-not-sell list.

I ask Orr, is that a bad thing?

recent investigation launched by Michael Bloomberg found that buying a pistol at an Arizona
gun show is “as easy as buying a hamburger and fries at McDonalds.” “I like the concealability, it's the best part," one buyer said, admitting that he would surely not pass a background check required by licensed dealers.

It is time that we emphasize reason over right and recognize that gun control is not an assault on the liberties of the law-abiding. Chuck Schumer’s “Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011” is right on target.

Photo CreditWikimedia Commons

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Nathan Lean

Nathan Lean is the Research Director at Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. His three books include, most recently, The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (Pluto 2012). Nathan's writing has been featured in the New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, CNN, Salon, The New Republic, and others. His newest book, The Changing Middle East, will be released by Rowman and Littlefield in 2015.

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