Last Thursday, President Obama delivered a forceful and emotion plea to lawmakers to pass gun-control legislation. “Less than 100 days ago [the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut] happened,” Obama said. “And the entire country was shocked. And the entire country pledged that this time would be different and that this time we would do something about it. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten about those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”
The events of December 14, 2012, in which Adam Lanza, wearing black, military-style gear, gunned down 28 people in Newtown, Connecticut, including 20 six- and seven-year-olds, marked a turning point for gun control policy reform. Shortly after Newtown, the Obama administration unveiled the most sweeping and ambitious effort at gun control legislation in a generation. In recognition of the complexity of the problem, the administrations proposal approached gun control from a variety of angles. As the Huffington Post summarized, “the president recommended requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales; reinstating the assault weapons ban; restoring a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines; eliminating armor-piercing bullets; providing mental health services in schools; allocating funds to hire more police officers; and instituting a federal gun trafficking statute, among other policies.”
At least, Newtown seemed to mark a turning point.
Although Newtown revived the gun control debate, the more Newtown recedes in the rearview mirror, the harder it will become to pass meaningful legislation. Gun control opponents are very cognizant of this fact. In early February, a lobbyist for a “chartered organization” of the National Rifle Association implored that “gun rights” opponents need only to wait out the “Connecticut Effect” before passing laws loosening restrictions on guns. And as time has passed, opposition to any legislation perceived as curbing gun rights and infringing upon the Second Amendment has grown more vociferous.
Increasingly, it appears that opponents of gun control are not simply fighting against the more controversial reforms, such as banning the sale of military-style assault weapons, but against any reform whatsoever. Take, for example, their opposition to the push for universal background checks.
Currently, federal law requires only licensed firearm dealers to conduct background checks on gun buyers prior to the sale a weapon. The law, therefore, contains a significant loophole: gun sales not involving licensed dealers, such as those done at gun shows or over the Internet, do not require a criminal background check of the buyer. Proponents of gun control legislation often state that the percentage of all gun sales not requiring a background check is as high as 40 percent. This figure is debatable, and there is very little data to substantiate it. But regardless of whether the actual number is 40 percent, 35 percent, 20 percent, or only 5 percent, the loophole is hardly justifiable when it permits an individual, regardless of their history (be they a suspected terrorist, a fugitive, a domestic abuser, or mentally ill), to purchase a weapon capable of inflicting a massive amount of damage on human beings.
Is this loophole really worth protecting? The American people clearly don’t think so. According to Republican pollster Frank Luntz, close to 90 percent of Americans, including 74 percent of NRA members, support universal background checks on gun purchases. This figure has been corroborated multiple times (see e.g., a CBS News/New York Times poll from January and a Quinnipiac University poll from February). However, many politicians, a large number of whom are Republicans, apparently believe the so-called “gun show loophole” is worth protecting.
Many on the Right are paranoid that gun control is “designed to destroy gun ownership” and that universal background checks are merely a means towards the Obama administration’s more cynical end, that is, the surveillance of law-abiding Americans. Responding to the delusions of their base, Republicans in the Senate have threatened to filibuster any new restrictions on guns, vowing to “protect the Second Amendment.” Indeed, when the universal background check bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, it did so by a 10-8 margin, but without a single Republican vote.
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, for example, argued that expanding federal background checks would be ineffective because “[c]riminals do not comply with existing background check laws, why would anyone think criminals will comply [with] broader background check requirements” and that it would create an “unnecessary burden” on private sales. The argument that background checks would be ineffective is ridiculous on its face. Moreover, the claim that requiring background checks would be unnecessarily burdensome is without merit. Watch the following video of Mark Kelly, husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, filling out the paperwork for a background check. It took Mr. Kelly a grand total of 5 minutes and 36 seconds to complete the process.
Do you still think expanding federal background checks is an “unnecessary burden”? Rather, with the safety of our fellow human beings on the line, it is hard to think of something more necessary.
“I ask every American to find out where your member of Congress stands on these ideas,” Obama said last Thursday. “If they’re not part of that 90 percent who agree that we should make it harder for criminals or somebody with a severe mental illness to buy a gun, then you should ask why not? Why are you part of the 10 percent?”
“We’ve cried enough. We’ve known enough heartbreak. . . . It’s something that if we are serious, we will do,” Obama continued. “Now is the time to turn that heartbreak into something real.”
Those who oppose reasonable gun control legislation do so not because they have forgotten about Newtown. They do so, it increasingly seems, because they do not care. When Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) filibuster Harry Reid’s gun control legislation, they will be hailed by the Right for “protecting the Second Amendment.” But they should be criticized for being unwilling to do the same thing for our children, and all other victims of gun violence. Since Newtown, over 3,000 Americans have been killed by firearms. Standing for the status quo is no longer acceptable.