Congress is moving towards its first gun law vote since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December. In that time, over 2,500 Americans have been killed with guns, including 45 children and 127 teenagers. So why has it taken this long? Does this bill have a chance of becoming law? Most importantly, will it actually change anything about our violent culture?
The Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-7 to strengthen penalties against illegal firearms purchases, pushing for the first congressional legislation on the matter since Sandy Hook. Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is demanding more bans on military-style assault weapons — a cause she has championed for years. She traces mass shootings in America’s history to the Austin 1966 clock tower. But the killer in that incident actually used a sniper rifle — a weapon not among the kinds being discussed. Other states have started moving on their own legislation, like South Dakota’s law allowing guns in classrooms. Obama’s deft political maneuverings, as covered by Politico, showed that he chose to include a lot of key gun groups in this debate ... on the strict condition they would be silent and supportive when it came time to announce the legislation. So whether effective or not, we shouldn't hear too much noise from the opposition.
That leaves the only meaningful question: will this have any actual effect on gun death rates in America?
Liberal views will be that this is a superficial bandage on a wound that still requires tougher medicine. Conservatives will say it’s an encroachment on a constitutional right, and that gun feature laws or vague "assault" labels will make most guns illegal. The pragmatic political perspective will claim that change comes in steps — some are disappointingly small, some are overambitious or too broad ... but it doesn't matter, just as long as we’re still moving forward!
But the real, ugly, and factual reality is that we can’t do anything about mass killings. Psychological testing wouldn't necessarily catch those who see no flaw in themselves. Weapons bans won’t affect someone determined to slaughter en masse. Even a full blown police state won’t stop sociopathic anomalies. But we’re not wrong to keep debating and trying ideas — because that’s how you ensure these incidents remain anomalies.
Studies do conclude that states with the most gun laws have fewest gun deaths. We've always addressed a rise in danger and violence with legislation — just look at anti-smoking laws or harsh penalties for DUI. But for a problem as prolific as our gun death rate, we should be trying far more avenues than one gun-specific legal sweep.
Most gun owners are sane and sensible people — they don’t deserve to have a hobby and constitutional right completely taken away from them. The NRA doesn't even represent the true interests of its members; it just lobbies for gun manufacturers and pushes whatever legislation will keep sales up. That’s why Wayne LaPierre supported universal background checks when they were never going to happen, but is now adamantly against them.
The truth is, Democrats only hurt their cause when they try to ban the guns that seem scary, because sales for those exact rifles skyrocket. The NRA even makes posters like this as part of that cycle:
By using bogus stats and scary stories the Democrats try to take on the role of championing helpless victims against violent lunatics. But instead of trying to pass legislation that will just infuriate conservatives and increase partisanship, why not follow through on the agenda linked to the Democratic platform?
Why not strengthen the inexplicably weakened A.T.F.? Choose an agency leader that will give the department teeth to take on the small groups dealing in illegal weapons. Why not focus on the true victims of gun violence? The highest numbers don't come from freak mass killing anomalies — they originate from violence in low income, economically and educationally neglected communities. The gun debate seems to only surge in the political arena when the victim draws unique attention from the public, or whenever Democrats can paint themselves as fighting the heartless opposition. But sensible drug policy reform would go a lot further in bettering the lives of the day-to-day victim. Police departments could be given better resources and mandates than simply arresting drug users. Education programs and smart social welfare reform could foster a stronger sense of community. Encouraging investment in afflicted metropolitan areas would incentivize businesses and police to keep the area safe.
If we are truly to claim that we want afflicted children to have better choices in life than selling drugs and avoiding getting shot, we have to start removing the reasons most people shoot each other in the first place.