Gun control deserves more than inane House bills
President Barack Obama’s public declaration that he may use executive orders to heighten gun tracking on a national level in the wake of the Newtown shooting has received backlash from gun supporters nationwide. The debate has stirred emotions on all points on the political spectrum.
In some cases, the response has been more than rhetorical. Missouri House Bill No. 170, sponsored by State Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Mo., and cosponsored by 62 Republicans in the Missouri House of Representatives, would make it illegal to enforce federal restrictions on semi-automatic firearm ownership within state lines. It would also nullify any legislation or order demanding firearm registration in Missouri. Similar bills have been proposed in Texas, Montana and Wyoming.
Whether House Bill No. 170 will actually pass remains to be seen—it is not currently on the calendar, and it would need to pick up 20 more proponents in the House to pass and move on to the Senate, where a similar bill has already been filed. But with a Republican supermajority in both bodies, House Bill No. 170 is hardly a pipe dream.
The left has largely respected their Republican counterparts’ fixation on gun rights. Even after Sandy Hook, discussion about outlawing guns was virtually nonexistent—Democrats have generally accepted that such legislation will never pass in this country. But countering a Democratic push for firmer gun registration laws and a ban on semi-automatic firearms designed to kill, not defend, with legislation like Missouri House Bill No. 170 is merely counterproductive to a country seeking compromise.
Approximately 91 percent of Americans support universal background checks for gun buyers, and 54 percent agree that ammunition magazines with 10 or more rounds should be banned, according to a Gallup poll taken last week. Americans support stricter gun laws, and cosponsoring legislation like House Bill No. 170 impedes the necessary dialogue on how to address that concern without overstepping either the right or left.
Beyond stalling or effectively shutting down bipartisan dialogue to reach an acceptable legislative response to Sandy Hook, Missouri House Bill No. 170 offers a worrisome alternative to federal gun restrictions. If passed, the bill would make it a felony for police officers to enforce federal gun law—potentially demonizing the people we should look to for protection.
Not only is it currently legal for people in Missouri to purchase a rifle, shotgun or handgun without a permit, but it is legal to bear them without license or registration. A permit is required to carry a handgun but not to carry a rifle or shotgun. If passed, the bill would not affect Wash. U.’s own weapons guidelines. Not surprisingly, Wash. U. prohibits firearms of any kind in its dorms, as well as carrying and concealing firearms on campus. However, the issue of student safety extends beyond campus. Crimes involving guns, including an incident last Thursday in which a student was robbed at gunpoint at 11:15 a.m. in an area where many undergraduates live, certainly affect Wash. U. students. Laxer gun laws—even in the name of the Second Amendment—do not just affect law-abiding citizens.
The key is compromise and understanding. If liberals are expected to respect the desire to own firearms—whether for hunting or for personal safety—conservatives should in turn respect the fact that many people on the left lose sleep over the knowledge that their neighbors may legally possess fully automatic firearms under current state law. Possible unconstitutionality aside, Missouri House Bill No. 170 offers exactly the opposite of what the gun control debate could use—a pirouetting attempt to find a middle-ground solution or at least consider one in line with national public opinion.