As we enjoy Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, it’s worth remembering that Dr. King, one of the greatest Americans in our history, and a man who championed nonviolence while under constant death threats, was killed by gun violence a generation ago. Today, the United States has far more gun deaths than any other developed nation.
In response to our recent hysteria over terrorism, I’ve said repeatedly that if you live in America, you are more likely to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist. That’s because toddlers here pick up loaded guns and shoot people with alarming regularity, adding to the tens of thousands of us who are shot in accidents, homicides and suicides annually. We mostly ignore it all, occasionally get worked up about mass shootings, and otherwise shrug off the carnage.
Tired of offering condolences and prayers, frustrated by Congress’ unwillingness to act even after Newtown’s slaughter of a classroom full of kindergartners, President Obama has taken executive action primarily centered on new background check requirements, to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and the mentally ill. It’s remarkable that anyone could oppose this, like the Republican candidates for president unilaterally did in their most recent debate.
President Obama would enhance the effectiveness of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), fund greater education and enforcement efforts of existing laws at the state level, and direct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to require any business that engages in the sale of guns to obtain a federal license, as well as to conduct background checks. His proposal applies to gun stores, sellers of guns at gun shows, and sellers of guns over the Internet; that is, all sellers “engaged in the business” of selling guns. It would not apply to a private citizen selling a gun as a “one-off.”
Enforcement? A failure to obtain a license to sell will carry criminal penalties of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, as well it should. He also proposes more funding for enforcement of existing laws.
Even before their most recent debate, GOP presidential candidates have grossly mischaracterized this mild, common sense proposal. Jeb Bush said Obama’s plan would take away the rights of someone “selling a gun out of their collection, a one-off gun” by requiring that person to perform background checks. Wrong. Such “one-off” private gun sales would be unaffected by Obama’s proposals.
Marco Rubio says Obama’s plan is to “take away our guns.” Nope. No guns would be confiscated under Obama’s plan, and no law-abiding citizen would be denied the ability to purchase a gun.
Donald Trump said Hillary Clinton’s gun plan is “worse than Obama[‘s]” and that “she wants to take everyone’s gun away.” False. Secretary Clinton is not proposing anything close to that.
President Obama has made a decision that it’s more important to try to save some lives than duck the controversy that comes with any gun debate in America. Two-thirds of Americans support President Obama’s background check proposal, a heartening number, including a large number of NRA members and gun owners. Let’s stand with him, and push for more reforms that might have more impact.
With every mass shooting, gun rights advocates say that it’s too soon to talk about gun control. The 30,000 Americans fatally shot last year would likely disagree.