JED BABBIN: THE UNSERIOUS GUN DEBATE
The fix is in that won’t fix anything.
Vice President Biden’s gun violence task force is reportedly going to give its recommendations to President Obama tomorrow, kicking off the next stage of the gun control debate. President Obama — aided eagerly by his media cohort — will try to convince people that this is an immediate crisis with his characteristic insistence that “we can’t wait” for Congress to pass a new “assault weapons” ban.
As the Washington Post wrote in a Saturday editorial,“The opportunity to do something serious about gun violence must not be lost.” The definition of what is “serious” — what would actually help prevent another Newtown-like school massacre — is being shaped by the left to exclude anything other than gun controls. So far, there’ no competing idea from the gun advocacy groups or Republicans who will have to fight Obama’s ideas on the floor of the House and Senate.
While Obama and the rest are busy convincing people that only they are “serious,” gun control opponents are cornering themselves by limiting their opposition to a debate over whether we have more or fewer guns in private hands and in or around schools. That’s bad politics and a strategy that will ensure defeat. They have to do better.
To limit the debate to “more versus fewer guns” produces absurdities such as the one adopted last week by the Montpelier, Ohio Exempted Village Schools Board of Education. They voted to allow janitors to carry guns in school to defend the students against crazed murderers such as Adam Lanza of Newtown infamy.
Armed janitors? We can’t have a member of SEAL Team 6 in every school in America, but we have to do a lot better than the idiotic ideas of arming janitors or teachers.
When Obama announced the Biden task force in December, he told us the conclusions he wanted: a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, elimination of the exemption from background checks for private sales at gun shows, and something —anything — to spend more on mental health treatment.
Biden, who tipped his report last week, will recommend what Obama told him to last month. After Biden reports, and Obama endorses his recommendations, the congressional gun controllers will add their own ideas. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) wants owners of “assault weapons” to have to register them on a federal database. Her definition of “assault weapons” includes semi-automatic pistols capable of holding magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wants background checks on the sale of ammunition. Others may propose prohibitive taxation on the sale of weapons and ammunition.
Meanwhile, there are no counter-proposals from gun control opponents.
This sets up a replay of the Obamacare debate. Republicans were accused daily of failing to offer a counterproposal (though some did) and the debate proceeded on Obamacare as an all or nothing choice for Congress. The media ensured that. Without a counterproposal actively advocated by conservatives, the gun control debate will proceed on the same lines. Opponents of Obama’s and Feinstein’s proposals will be isolated and demonized.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, there are serious solutions that would likely prevent mass murders such as the Newtown massacre. First and foremost is to get the dangerous mentally ill off the streets. For the past forty years or so we’ve been so busy protecting the civil rights of the insane that we now have state systems that make it almost impossible to involuntarily commit the dangerously insane. These people, as forensic psychiatrists agree, can be identified before they act because they fit a fairly clear profile. It’s time for the states to take decisive action by changing their laws and spending the money that’s required to take these people out of circulation and house (and treat) them in adequately secure facilities.
And there’s more the states have to do, such as implementing the plan authored by former SEAL Dale McClellan that I described in December. It will cost a lot of money, but it will be effective and it won’t infringe on the Second Amendment. Those are serious proposals that should be at the center of the case gun control opponents make.
Gun control opponents aren’t opposed to background checks, because we believe that the dangerous mentally ill, criminals, and illegal aliens shouldn’t be able to buy guns. If the gun show exemption is to be changed it should be replaced by a quick and cheap system that sellers and buyers can use at gun shows. But that’s not what the liberals want.
People such as Sen. Blumenthal want background checks to be slow, burdensome, and expensive. It’s a backdoor to another“waiting period” requirement that will delay gun purchases for hours, days, or weeks. The last time I purchased a weapon the background check took about five minutes. That’s reasonable, and that speed has to be preserved in any expansion of the requirement.
That can and should be done but the states need to do better in reporting the dangerous mentally ill so that they can be barred from purchasing firearms. Seung-hui Cho, the man who committed the mass murder at Virginia Tech in 2007, had been diagnosed with severe mental illness, but his condition wasn’t reported to the right people, so he bought his guns despite the background check.
The “assault weapons” ban Obama and Feinstein want is another unserious solution to the mass murder problem. So is Feinstein’s idea that “assault weapons,” including most semi-automatic pistols, should be registered with the federal government. Newtown murderer Adam Lanza — already diagnosed with severe mental illness — stole the weapons he used from his mother, who had obeyed Connecticut’s stringent gun control laws and registered them. People such as Lanza, Holmes, and Cho will always be able to steal weapons from others if they can’t get them legally. This is why, when Feinstein initially proposed her new “assault weapons ban,” she included the idea that eventually possession of them would be illegal.
The only way to stop the use of “assault weapons” in these mass murders is to confiscate them, an unconstitutional infringement on our Second Amendment rights as Justice Scalia wrote in the DC v. Heller decision. A ban on their sale is also unconstitutional. As Scalia wrote:
It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment’s ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty. It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.
Scalia also wrote that the prohibition of carrying firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, and other reasonable restrictions, are constitutional. His decision is serious, and any gun-oriented solutions to mass murders have to be consistent with it.
There is a need for serious action, but it’s not a question of more or fewer guns in the hands of Americans. The serious action needed urgently is to get the dangerous mentally ill off the streets and make schools a harder target. Nothing else — certainly not the demands Obama will make — will do anything to prevent another Newtown-like massacre.
About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. You can follow him on Twitter @jedbabbin.
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