The Ivory Soapbox: America’s newest gun (-friendly) regulations

| Forum Editor

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced the actions he will take with regard to gun control. These consist of 23 executive orders, as well as the submission of legislation to Congress to renew and strengthen the expired assault weapons ban and to impose a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines. Taken together, the real effects of these proposals represent the first serious, positive steps toward reducing gun violence in almost 20 years.

The president’s 23 executive orders do an excellent job of laying the groundwork to prevent gun violence while at the same time avoiding infringing upon Americans’ Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms, and it is difficult to understand opposition from any position other than a dislike of all gun regulation. Many of the executive orders deal with the reliability of criminal background checks—federal law prohibits the vast majority of felons from owning guns, and some state laws are stricter—and, specifically, facilitating the exchange of information among states and federal agencies with regard to criminal records. In short, the goal of these orders is to keep guns out of the hands of those who are already forbidden from possessing them, hardly a controversial proposition.

Other regulations deal with increasing safety at schools. One aids schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher learning in establishing emergency response programs. In a nod to the National Rifle Association and other conservative organizations, another executive order incentivizes the hiring of “school resource officers,” colloquially known as armed guards, by schools. For those opposed to such initiatives, it is worth remembering that many schools already have such systems in place. Washington, D.C. public schools, for example, have metal detectors in addition to armed police officers. My own high school, in the much-better-off D.C. suburb of Bethesda, had its own police officer, and the NRA alleges that the school that the Obama daughters attend, a prestigious D.C. private school called Sidwell Friends, has its own armed guards as well.

The executive order receiving the most flak is number 14, which directs the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to “research the causes and prevention of gun violence,” in direct violation of legislation dating from the 1990s dictating that the CDC could not use federal money to advocate gun control and suspending its investigations into gun violence. However, discussion over the most recent bout of high-profile killings has dealt largely with mental health issues, so there is cause to hope that the CDC will not come to the eye-rollingly obvious conclusion that reducing guns will reduce gun violence, but will rather try to address factors that cause people to commit violent crimes, be they mental or socio-economic. In some distant, optimistic future, the CDC might even find that the war on drugs is in some way contributing to gun violence and recommend its suspension.

Thus, the only really offensive actions the president is taking can be found in the legislation he has introduced to ban assault weapons and limit clip capacities. As Thomas Jefferson eloquently put it, “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” a belief much more difficult to act upon if the only weapons available to an oppressed citizenry are hunting rifles, shotguns and handguns.

As President Obama must be acutely aware, however, there is no chance of such legislation getting anywhere in Congress. It would be shot down in a heartbeat in the Republican-dominated House, and in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has refused to look at anything prior to the March showdown on the debt ceiling and sequestration. Even Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has expressed disinterest in picking up such legislation, which no doubt stems from his hailing from a conservative state and winning recent reelection with the backing of the NRA.

This year saw nationally-publicized shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Connecticut, and despite the national decrease in violent crime in recent decades and the fact the vast majority of past shootings have never taken place in areas like Newtown, public opinion mandated that action be taken. Fortunately, the regulations that will be enacted will do nothing other than keep guns away from those who already shouldn’t own them, and those that won’t are merely a political attempt to build good will.