Should Gun Violence Prevention Rely On Government In The Age Of Trump?


Until around 9 P.M. on November 8th, just about everyone in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community, myself included, thought that we would have a great ally moving into the White House on January 20, 2017. Then some disturbing and unanticipated results came out of Pennsylvania, and in short order Gun-sense Nation went from dreaming about the possibility of reducing gun violence during a Hillary Clinton presidency to figuring out how to keep the issue of gun violence prevention alive during the Age of Trump.

trump5            Let’s begin counting the numbers which don’t look so good.  The Senate is still held by the GOP, even if a pro-gun weasel named Kelly Ayotte got tossed out the door.  And in the House the GOP dropped a net of 6 seats, but a 241-194 majority is still a good score. At the state level there has never been a time when so many Governors or legislative chambers were colored red. In other words, the current political alignment doesn’t bode well for sensible gun reforms.

And here is the basic dilemma facing GVP, namely, that the agenda for reducing gun violence, as sensible and modest as it is, calls for some kind of government intervention for just about every GVP effort likely to emerge.  Expanding background checks to secondary transfers requires a change in the law which established NICS.  Banning hi-capacity magazines and placing limits on the sale of assault rifles also requires action at the federal legislative level, although such initiatives have been implemented in a handful of states.

On the other hand, as the number of gun laws in any locality goes up, the amount of gun violence of all kinds goes down.  And let’s remember that the next election is now less than two years away.  Furthermore, GVP did pretty well last month in state-level ballot initiatives, winning three out of four.  So the fact that national legislation might not go forward doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to skin the proverbial cat.  I live in Massachusetts which was the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2004. Eleven years later the SCOTUS declared gay marriage to be law of the land.  If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.

But no matter which strategy is employed to move the issue of gun violence forward, Gun-sense Nation is still going to have to figure out messaging which can be an effective response to the increasingly strident and extreme rhetoric being produced by the other side, in particular the idea that we all have some kind of God-given ‘right’ to protect ourselves and our communities with personally-owned guns.

The notion of lawful self-protection comes right out of British Common Law and is embodied in the ‘Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness’ clause of the Declaration of Independence.  But nowhere can you find any statute that gives citizens the freedom to make an unhindered decision about how they are going to exercise this ‘right’ to self-defense which, incidentally, isn’t mentioned in the vaunted 2nd Amendment at all.

But here’s the problem.  A majority of Americans, certainly more than a majority of the up-and-coming Millennials, simply don’t trust government and increasingly Americans are being drawn to considering alternatives to the government when it comes to deciding and regulating civic affairs.  You can see this in a recent Harvard poll, in numerous surveys conducted by Pew, and if there was one message that galvanized support for Trump it was the message that government is ‘no good.’

The idea that individuals rather than government should be responsible for protecting themselves has been basic NRA doctrine since the organization made a right turn in the late 1970s to support the gun industry’s industry shift to the sale of self-defense guns.  So if Gun-sense Nation is going to promote ‘sensible’ gun regulations that require government interventions, the wider issue of the role and value of government will have to be addressed. Unless, of course, we take on the much more difficult problem of creating a culture without guns.  Unless…

Dumb or Dumber – Either Way Kelly Ayotte is Clueless About Background Checks

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When the Manchin-Toomey bill went down to defeat, I wondered how certain Senators could say they supported background checks while, at the same time, voting against them.  At least the Senators who voted against the bill because they didn’t like background checks (ex. Rand Paul) were being consistent.  But saying yes on the one hand and no on the other?

English: Official portrait of US Senator Kelly...

English: Official portrait of US Senator Kelly AYotte. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A friend just forwarded to me a copy of the letter that Kelly Ayotte is sending out to people who have taken the trouble to ask her the same question.  And her response is that the NICS system is not working and until it’s fixed, she can’t support extending it to cover additional transactions.  Here’s her first proof that the NICS system is “broken.” She sasy:

“Even if the current background check system was expanded, it’s important to note that a May 2013 Department of Justice report found that less than one percent of state prison inmates who possessed a gun when they committed their offense obtained the firearm at a gun show, and only about 10 percent of state prison inmates obtained their firearm from a licensed firearm dealer. In many cases, criminals find alternate methods to obtain firearms. In fact, 40 percent of state prison inmates who possessed a gun when they committed their offense obtained their firearm from an illegal source such as through a drug deal, theft, or the black market, and that is why we need rigorous prosecution of gun-related crimes.”

Is Senator Ayotte actually saying that if 40% of all guns used in felonies cannot be tracked or controlled through background checks, that we shouldn’t go after the other 60%?  Is a United States Senator saying something quite that stupid? Hold on – it gets better. She also says that the whole NICS is a “broken system that the government is not fully enforcing.”  And she adds: “For example, in 2010, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was referred 76,412 National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) denials, about two-thirds of which were based on the applicant being a felon or fugitive from justice. Of those, charges were brought in only 44 cases – and resulted in just 13 successful prosecutions.”

This business about all the NICS denials that aren’t being prosecuted has been floating around the background checks debate and I’d give anything to find out who said it first. Because I’ve heard it repeated again and again and while it sounds like the system really isn’t working, I wouldn’t assume that there’s any problem at all.  For example, what does the phrase “fugitive from justice” really mean?  In Los Angeles, for example, there are more than one million outstanding bench warrants for such offenses as failing to pay a fine for jay-walking, or smoking, or God knows what else.  The number in New York City is about the same.  None of these warrants will ever be served and every one of these individuals is a “fugitive from justice.”  I’m not saying the system is perfect; there have been NICS denials in my shop and I know at least one instance in which the individual who was denied really shouldn’t have gotten a gun.

The truth is that Kelly Ayotte didn’t want to vote for expanded background checks because for the moment she’s a friend of the NRA.  She can’t come out and admit it, so she cloaks her vote in an appeal for ‘better enforcement’ of existing laws.  Oh well, I guess in politics you get what you vote for.  Maine voted for Kelly and Kelly voted for the NRA.


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