In the wake of the Colorado catastrophe, in which a maniac shooter killed at least a dozen people in a theater showing the latest Batman movie, everyone seems to be calling for “commonsense” gun laws. Unfortunately it’s hard to tell whose sense is common enough these days.
The polls are often too polarized to be of much help. The venerable Gallup Poll, for example, finds that while overall violent crimes declined nationwide beginning in the mid-1990s, the percentage of Americans who favor “more strict” laws governing firearms sales actually fell between 1990 and 2010 — from 78 percent to only 44 percent.
But does that mean Americans don’t want any more gun control laws or that they haven’t heard of any that they think will work? Phrases like “gun bans,” “gun control” and “stricter laws” don’t tell us very much unless we also say what those stricter laws would do.
I, for one, favor “commonsense” gun laws, as President Barack Obama and activists like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence say, even though this president’s record on gun control is a bit blurry on whose common sense he’s talking about.
I suspect that most people are in the wobbly middle on this issue. We’re looking for answers that make sense — somewhere between the extremes of an all-out ban and an all-out distribution of concealed-carry permits to any bozo who can put an “X” on the paper.
For starters, we could improve background checks before gun purchases. James Holmes, the Colorado shooting suspect, was not prevented by his background check in that state from purchasing a firearm, but he might well have been stopped in New York, where gun permits require interviews and references, who also are interviewed.
Police might have learned, as reporters quickly did, that suspect Holmes had been barred from a local gun club for what the owner described as “bizarre” behavior. And that apparently was even before Holmes dyed his hair orange and started calling himself “the Joker.”
Second, we could reinstate limits on high-capacity magazines that carry more than ten rounds. Police say Holmes had a 100-round barrel magazine on his AR-15 assault rifle. Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat, have introduced bills to reinstate a law that expired in 2004 to ban such high-capacity magazines.
They tried similar bills, you may recall, after last year’s shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, in which six others were killed. The bills went nowhere and aren’t expected to get much further this time. Democrats want to widen their tent and back away from gun control fights. But, really? Ten rounds per magazine should be enough for any civilian who is not planning a government overthrow.
Besides, the debate is worth having. Otherwise, Congress tends to read the absence of outrage as total consent.
Third, I would limit gun purchases to no more than one per month. Virginia put a good pinch on East Coast gunrunners by passing such a law in the 1990s, without putting an unreasonable burden on legitimate collectors and sportsmen. Nevertheless, the state’s current Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and GOP-led legislature repealed that law earlier this year. Gun smugglers rejoiced. The law should be reinstated — nationally!
Finally, close the federal loophole that still allows weapons sales at many gun shows without background checks. The best recent argument that I have heard for that move comes from an unlikely source, al-Qaida spokesman and recruiter Adam Gadahn, the first U.S. citizen to be charged with treason since 1952. On YouTube, just watch him praise America’s lax gun laws — for all the mayhem they can bring.
“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms,” he chirps. “You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check and, most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”
Right. That’s what I say to politicians who claim to want sensible gun laws. What are you waiting for?