Today, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords begged lawmakers at an emotional hearing to act quickly to curb firearms because “Americans are counting on you.”
At the same hearing, a top official of the National Rifle Association NRA rejected proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and said requiring background checks for all gun purchases would be ineffective because the Obama administration isn’t doing enough to enforce the law as it is.
Which is true, especially since the NRA has been working hard to make sure that enforcement of such background checks and similar restrictions is almost impossible to do.
But that is a different discussion. Or is it?
The hearing kicked off a year in which President Barack Obama and members of Congress are promising to make gun restrictions a top priority. Obama has already proposed requiring background checks for all gun sales and reviving both an assault weapons ban and a 10-round limit on the size of ammunition magazines, and several Democrats have introduced bills addressing those and other limitations.
Under persistent questioning from Sen. Patrick Leahy from Vermont, NRA’s Wayne LaPierre conceded that in a reversal, his organization no longer supports universal background checks for gun purchasers. According to a 2012 poll conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, 74 percent of NRA members support mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, a position that the NRA has stridently opposed. So who is the NRA representing?
Let’s say that they indeed make conducting universal background checks into law.
That won’t change anything with respect to gun violence. Remember that neither Lanza nor his mother nor the Colorado shooter nor most any of these recent perpetrators had a criminal background. Lanza himself wasn’t even officially owning a gun – his mother was who – had she in fact undergone a background check – would have come out clean.
So this fight over something that is going to be ineffective anyway, such as background checks, does not really only address the issue, it is a waste of time. Sure, it cannot harm and in this case addresses the low hanging fruit, namely those with criminal backgrounds that surely will not be getting a gun (which is a good thing but common sense) but it will not do anything with respect to those who don’t fall under that particular category.
The same is true with a database for the mentally ill – as if mental illness wasn’t already a stigma; now we are going to make sure we have a database of such already marginalized people that could lead to a serious reluctance by those people to seek help, out of concern that they end up on some national database for anyone, including employers, to access.
Furthermore, such rounding up of the mentally ill, if you so will, misses a few key points:
1) Not all mentally ill people are dangerous; a majority of them are not and, in fact, a lot of them are more likely to be the victims of gun violence, or violence and abuse, than its perpetrator;
2) Not all criminals are mentally ill in the sense that they can be rehabilitated. It is unclear whether the drive to kill, a lack of empathy and the desire to harm others is a mental illness or just evil without any diagnosable and thus treatable cause. This brings us to the next point which is that…
3) …If someone were dangerously disease minded, they would not self identify, walking into a shrink’s office stating “Hey Doc, I’m a sociopath“.
The debate of today and opposition by the NRA to background checks and the proposition to now go after the mentally ill is window dressing and a waste of time because it is by far the least important and effective part of gun control. Most importantly, it is a distraction from the real issue behind all the gun violence and gun deaths: guns. Too many fucking guns.
The number of guns in civilian hands need to be reduced in this country, if not completely abolished, while the rest is being licensed and regulated. The more of that stuff lies around, just numbers wise, the more likely someone with bad intentions is going to pick one up and do bad things with it.
Background checks, or lack thereof, will not truly and effectively address the issue.
The NRA doesn’t give a shit about constitutionality, freedom and the rights of the people they preach about wanting to uphold; they are the lobbying arm of the gun merchants, exploiting the Second Amendment to make sure said gun merchants can unload their merchandise onto the public, unhindered. They aren’t even representing their own members, the 74 percent, who are for background checks.
Note that firearms are the only consumer product not regulated by a federal agency for health and safety. This unique exemption has been exploited by the gun industry as it has moved to embrace increased lethality as the foundation of its design, manufacturing, and marketing efforts in the wake of the long-term decline in household gun ownership.
The NRA actually got a program passed to help people whose gun purchasing rights were revoked to petition for them to be restored.
“Felons Finding It Easy to Regain Gun Rights,” was a chilling New York Times report in November of 2011 exposing the NRA’s hard work to insure that our criminals and mass murderers remain the best equipped criminals and mass murderers in the world. After all, why should someone’s Second Amendment rights be abridged just because they’re a violent criminal? Or because twnety children were massacred in their class rooms? Or because some 30,000 people die of gun violence each year in this country?
It is clear the NRA is working not for the safety of its constituents, and much less of that of America, but for the free flow of firearms form their closest companions, the $12-billion-a-year gun industry. Background checks will change nothing about that. And as long this very issue is not addressed, deaths from guns will continue to remain a notable feature of the American landscape.