Barack Obama followed through on Joe Biden’s promise to take executive action to slow the rate of gun violence, apart from Congress. In a speech yesterday surrounded by children as a reminder of the Shady Hook massacre, Obama unveiled a legislative proposal to reinstate the 1994 assault-weapons ban, complete with the previously ambiguous definition of “assault weapons” and magazine-capacity limits, and new restrictions on ammunition purchases.
The President also announced almost two dozen executive orders that he will sign to bypass Congress on gun violence, a threat that had civil libertarians outraged over potential abuses of power. Instead, the list is a demonstration of executive impotence, procrastination, and an approach that has little to do with the actual Newtown mass murder.
Let’s start with the assault-weapons ban, which mirrors the ban Connecticut had in place at the time of the massacre. Obama insisted in his speech that “Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater,” but the weapons banned under this proposal wouldn’t be used in any theaters of war, either.
Watch a clip of the President's news conference on assault weapons.
They are all semi-automatic weapons, which require one trigger pull per shot fired, just as revolvers do. Weapons designed for theaters of war are usually fully automatic, at least for modern armies, allowing soldiers to produce rapid continuous fire on an enemy. Fully automatic weapons are already banned for most American civilians, either for sale or possession, by existing federal law.
The potential effectiveness of an assault weapons ban can be measured by the impact the state ban had on the Newtown shooting, which was none at all. The same can be said for the previous assault weapons ban, as the center-left magazine The New Republic reminded its readers yesterday.
First, if one wants to prevent murders, then going after rifles isn’t going to do much, since murders involving rifles only accounted for only 323 of the 8,583 firearms-related murder victims in 2011, according to the FBI. More homicide victims resulted from blunt-object attacks (496), and nearly five times as many from knives and other cutting instruments (1,587).
More than twice as many victims (728) resulted from “personal weapons,” defined by the FBI as “hands, fists, feet, etc.” More to the point, the 1994 ban didn’t reduce the rate of mass shootings; its expiration didn’t increase the rate, and many of those that did occur involved weapons outside of the scope of the ban, such as shotguns and handguns. Note too that homicide victims from firearms dropped in each of the last five reported years in both overall numbers and those resulting from rifles.
On top of all these facts, it’s almost certain that Obama’s assault-weapons ban proposal will go nowhere with Congress. The House, controlled by Republicans, won’t be anxious to give it a floor vote, although John Boehner issued the obligatory offer to “review” Obama’s proposal.
House Republicans told Politico that they won’t do anything with the proposal unless the Senate takes action, but CNN reported that Democrats don’t have enough votes in the upper chamber for the ban for a floor vote, let alone the 60 needed for cloture. Too many Democrats have to face red-state voters in 2014, and Majority Leader Harry Reid backed away from the proposal earlier this week.
For real insight into impotence, read the list of executive orders Obama pledged to sign immediately. Only a few of the actions have any real connection to the Newtown or Aurora shootings, and most of the rest consist of clarifications and requests for further study. For instance, much debate has ensued about how to identify the mentally ill on weapons-purchase background checks.
The first six EOs relate to background checks – even though the Newtown shooter was already blocked from buying his own weapons and stole his mother’s guns instead. The second EO proposes to undo problems that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) created in sharing issues about medical problems with state and federal agencies that has created a barrier to identifying the mentally ill on background checks.
Most of the rest of these executive actions are practically non-sequiturs or examples of Obama administration indifference to gun violence until Newtown. Number 13 pledges to “Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime,” even though prosecutions for gun crime have fallen more than 40 percent during the Obama administration.
The eleventh executive action commits to “nominate an ATF director,” a post that has remained unfilled with a regular appointment since 2006, and for which Obama had not nominated anyone for Senate confirmation. (The White House announced the nomination of current acting ATF Director Todd Jones after Obama’s speech.)
Another executive action listed promises to “provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers,” a proposal that the NRA made a week after the Newtown shooting, and which the Obama administration ridiculed until others pointed out that Bill Clinton had done the same thing in his COPS program. The rest of the pledged actions promise nothing but studies on health and gun safety, which could have been proposed and undertaken at any time, and have little connection to the issue of mass murders and multiple-victim shootings.
We certainly should look for ways to increase safety and security for our children, and for all Americans, but not by propagating rehashed nonsense with little connection to the real problem, while turning millions of law-abiding citizens into criminals. Why not trust the vast majority of responsible gun-owning Americans and enhance the natural-law liberty of effective self-defense? At the very least, that would have more relevance than the non-sequiturs offered by President Obama a month after Newtown.