The controversial measures President Barack Obama announced will likely face constitutional challenges in the courts, but it’s already clear they won’t be effective.
The main executive action Obama announced that raises legal questions is about defining who must register as a licensed gun dealer and who does not have to register. The president has some, but not a lot of, leeway in how and to whom he applies the law.
But will the president’s desired goal of “closing gun show loopholes,” by requiring more of those selling guns at such venues to become licensed, do what he claims—namely, decrease the number of crimes committed with guns?
We don’t need a legal debate to answer that last question. There is little evidence that simply expanding background checks will do anything to stop mass shootings or other criminal activities involving guns. Such action would not prevent tragedies like San Bernardino. The problem there was Islamic terrorism, not gun laws.
The problem there was Islamic terrorism, not gun laws.
But the president’s unwillingness to take that issue head-on aside, how exactly would more background checks prevent people intent on doing evil from doing evil things?
Since 1998, background checks for firearms have been run by the FBI through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Two observations:
One: Criminals don’t obey the law—that’s why they are criminals—and they will not be deterred by more background checks from obtaining a gun off the black market, or stealing one, or paying someone with a clean record to purchase the gun for them. They may be criminals, but most aren’t as stupid as proponents of gun control seem to think they are.
Two: Even when the federal government through the background system identifies felons trying to purchase guns, it has a less than stellar record in doing anything about it. And that is under both Republican and Democrat administrations.
According to government reports tabulated in an article by the Washington Post, in 2010, NICS denied the applications of 72,659 people seeking to purchase a firearm. Of those, 48,321 were felons and fugitives. What happened to those folks? Most walked away—only 44 of those denials ended up being prosecuted. And a look at 2006, under the Bush administration, doesn’t look much better. Of the 69,930 denials that year, 29,494 of which were felons and fugitives, only 112 were prosecuted.
What gives? Who better to answer that than Vice President Joe Biden, who said in 2013, “[W]e simply don’t have the time or the manpower to prosecute everybody who lies on a form, that checks a wrong box, that answers a question inaccurately.”
Perhaps Obama thinks adding an additional 200 ATF agents will solve the enforcement problem? This is unlikely, considering that he also wants to add a whole host of new folks to run checks on and investigate. It would seem, then, that this is more show than a tried and true answer.
In his weekly radio address last Friday, the president said he has received “too many letters from parents, and teachers, and kids, to sit around and do nothing” about the issue.
He says he tried three years ago to work with Congress on this issue, but because they wouldn’t act, he must go it alone. For the record, at the time the proposed legislation couldn’t get through the Senate, Democrats controlled that body.
For the record, at the time the proposed legislation couldn’t get through the Senate, Democrats controlled that body.
And the legislation failed not just because the National Rifle Association opposed it. It also failed because it wouldn’t be effective: Had the legislation passed, it would have done nothing to stop what happened in Newtown, Conn., the impetus for the action, and the public apparently wasn’t interested in more laws just for the sake of more laws.
But once again, Obama is back to the “look, look, we’re doing something” strategy as opposed to going back to the drawing board and working with Congress on measures that actually would be effective, such as a real analysis of how our country treats those suffering from mental health issues.
But we’re supposed to feel better because he’s “doing something.”
This piece has been modified.