President Barack Obama today announced a package of gun-control measures aimed at stopping violence of the kind that took place last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The only problem? The president’s proposed list of reforms would not have stopped the tragedy, even if it had been in place last month.
There are some worthwhile things in the president’s package, items that don’t implicate the Second Amendment’s right to own firearms. For example, the president wants to extend background checks to all gun sales, including those that take place at gun shows. (I wrote recently that such a plan could pass Congress, and likely win support of reasonable gun-rights supporters.)
But there are some objectionable things, too: A ban on “military-style assault weapons” of the type used in the Sandy Hook shooting. (The weapon used to kill 26 people was a Bushmaster-made AR-15 style rifle modeled on the U.S. military’s M-16. But unlike the M-16, which is fully automatic, the AR-15 is semi-automatic. Possession of fully automatic weapons — which fire rounds as long as the trigger is depressed — is highly regulated.)
The president’s plan also calls for banning ammunition magazines that contain more than 10 rounds, presumably for all weapons, including handguns.
Assault-weapons bans have mostly been challenged in state courts, which leaves open the question of whether federal courts would uphold the concept. A recent piece in Politico quotes an expert saying the laws would be upheld, based on remarks included in previous rulings. Handgun bans were struck down because the weapons were in “common use,” the court said, which is not the case with other kinds weapons.
But the fact is, semi-automatic rifles are in common use — they’re one of the most popular weapons in America today. And the standard set in the seminal 1939 U.S. v. Miller case was to question whether weapons were in common use in the armed forces. Under that standard, civilians should be allowed to possess fully automatic M-16 and M-4 rifles, among other goodies.
The bottom line, however, is this: The weapons used in the Sandy Hook massacre were purchased legally, their magazines were purchased legally and the ammunition used was purchased legally. A ban on weapons now would not have prevented the shooting, just as it will not prevent the abuse of any of the millions of semi-automatic riles that are already in private hands. The law may make it marginally more difficult to obtain such a weapon, and it will undoubtedly increase the black market for them.
But ending gun violence? That’s just not something we can do with a law.
Finally, a word about this video produced by the NRA:
Why would the president’s kids need protection from armed guards while regular kids wouldn’t? Well, for one thing, most schoolchildren are not in danger of being kidnapped in order to force their father to call the prime minister of Israel to spring some Hamas no-goodniks from jail. So, there’s that…