WASHINGTON – The arguments for and against gun control are so familiar by now, we might as well hit replay and skip the debate.
In the wake of the horrific murders of 49 people in an Orlando gay nightclub, America is re-enacting the usual drama: Politicians repeat past arguments, citizens retreat into their routines, killers reload.
Come Monday, Senate Democrats and Republicans are scheduled to roll out four gun-control bills – two from each side – attached as amendments to the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill.
And, of course, given that 60 votes are needed to pass, none is expected to.
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The most anyone can agree upon, including the National Rifle Association, is that terrorists shouldn’t have guns. Well, it’s something. I guess.
The holdup, as always, is how to balance the right to bear arms with the right to avoid being killed by a nut with a semi-automatic weapon. This shouldn’t be too terribly hard to figure out, though you’d think we were cave dwellers trying to map the human genome.
But seriously, what’s really on the line here? A few hours or days of inconvenience for someone who wants to buy a gun. In a nutshell, that’s it.
Democrats want to close loopholes at gun shows by requiring universal background checks. And California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is proposing a previously defeated “no-fly, no-buy” bill that would prevent people on terrorist watch lists from buying a gun.
Not so fast. In a separate version of this idea, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn is proposing that the attorney general can delay a gun purchase for anyone who has been part of a terrorism investigation in the past five years – but only for three days.
Democrats say this is too limiting.
Seriously, esteemed senators: You can’t figure this out? Make it five days, make it a week. But for heaven’s sake, make it work.
Republicans argue that people may be erroneously placed on the watch list and therefore be denied due process. Democrats argue that due process will be “baked into it,” whatever that means. Another bill backed by Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley would allow terror suspects to buy a weapon but would ensure that the FBI be notified.
Okaaaaaay. This makes zero sense and has cover-your-rear-guard written all over it. Essentially, it protects the terrorist’s Second Amendment rights while pretending to protect Americans. But to work, the FBI would need to conduct 24/7 surveillance lest the possible terrorist become a real one and slaughter his co-workers at his company’s annual Christmas party.
Meanwhile, the question remains whether a ban on military-style assault weapons that expired in 2004 should be reinstated. Hillary Clinton has called for renewing the ban. Donald Trump, though he tweeted his support for “no-fly, no-buy” legislation, has promised to preserve Americans’ right to keep their assault weapons.
I admit to having no interest in owning, if this constitutes a bias. But as someone raised around guns – and whose lawyer-father tutored me that “An unnecessary law is always a bad law” – I appreciate the tension between my right to survive an act of terror and another’s to tend his own business. As always, every debate ultimately centers on: Where on the continuum of constitutional rights does one person’s interpretation of the Second Amendment become secondary to another’s right to survive said interpretation?
Is it not logical, however, that the right of the greatest number of people to survive supersedes the right of a relatively few who wish to own weapons intended to inflict mass casualties?
Obviously, the vast majority of people who buy assault weapons don’t intend to kill anybody. But just as obviously, many of those who have killed massively had access to them. Adam Lanza, who killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, very likely would have been less successful but for his Bushmaster .223 caliber model XM15 rifle with its 30-round capacity magazine. Lanza fired off 154 shots in five minutes.
As a way of reframing the conversation, is it not possible to create both a good and necessary law? We now live in a world that requires a certain kind of law to address a specific kind of problem. It isn’t only terrorists in our midst but loopholes that allow bad actors of all faiths, ethnicities and races (not just radical Islamists) to buy firearms, including assault weapons. Closing those loopholes and ridding society of weapons we know to be mass-killing machines are the least – and the only sane things – we should do.
Washington Post Writers Group
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