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Smart v. Stupid

Background check bill signals new era in Congress

The United States Senate is now poised to debate a background check bill co-sponsored by West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. The sponsors are remarkable in that they both have an A-rating from the National Rifle Association and Manchin is arguably the least-Democratic Democrat now serving in Congress.

But that's not the real story of Thursday's demolition of a filibuster threat by Republican senators (who had hoped to use it a launching pad to the White House.) The sound rebuke of Sens. Cruz, Paul and Rubio signals that the NRA no longer has unchallenged veto power in Congress. That's a big deal.

The four biggest reasons for the National Rifle Association's declining influence are:

  1. Polling: With 85-92 percent of Americans favoring stronger background checks (take your pick of a dozen polls) even contribution-fed senators don't think they can afford to ignore hometown voters. Last week's Pew poll found that the number-one issue being followed closely by Americans was gun legislation. Today, more and more Americans are signaling they will make anti-massacre voting records a litmus test in the next election.
  2. The recent Senate recess: No matter what senators say in public, it is clear that when they went home during the recent holiday, their constituents told them they now govern in a post-Newtown world. Voters must have told them to do something, because the Senate came back fundamentally changed.
  3. Lobbying by the Newtown massacre parents: Don't underestimate the profound effect the parents of the dead children had as they roamed the halls of the Senate this week. Everyone in Washington agrees that their impact was powerful and personal.
  4. A glimpse at today's NRA: Americans are surprised to learn that today's NRA exists almost exclusively to keep gun hoarders and preppers in a panic. Shocked, actually.

The vote count on the Motion to Proceed was itself notable. Usually, when provocative votes are taken, senators bargain not to have to cast them. But 68 Senators voted for debate. That's 8 more than needed. Looking toward the 2014 elections, senators wanted to be on record for moving the background bill forward.

If gun legislation continues to be a top concern of Americans and opponents of gun regulation are punished in the 2014 election, the NRA's era of effective control is over.

The bill, though, is exceedingly weak, more of a field goal than a touchdown. It closes a few loopholes, particularly for in-state and online purchases. Still, the conservative sponsorship of Manchin and Toomey is glaringly evident some of the proposal's "compromises."

  • It expands Internet sales of handguns to allow direct sales across state lines. Currently, far away online sellers need to transfer your gun to an in-state dealer for the background check. That requires the buyer to present him or herself in person to someone.
  • It continues to allow parking lot sales at gun shows, and all sales between individuals to family, friends or strangers without any background check.
  • It fails to do anything to prevent "straw man sales" where a buyer buys for someone else.
  • It fails to keep a federal registry of who has guns so that guns used in murders can be traced.

In fact, the bill only marginally increases the number of sales that will be subject to background checks. Still, it does subject more sales to background checks and make the checks one step harder to avoid.

But the bill also helps gun sellers. It makes Internet sales less expensive and more convenient for everyone. The bill reduces the cost of every online handgun sale by $35-75 – the cost of delivery to a local "FFL" dealer. It opens cross state markets to gun sellers. And it exempts concealed carry permit holders from background checks.

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It is this last part that is the most troubling. Concealed carriers like to fantasize that they are community heroes when they are actually just people who are afraid to go out without a gun. Painting with a broad brush, they suffer from many more fears than the average person, are more likely to fantasize about blue helmets and black helicopters, are 77 percent more likely to follow your car aggressively and are almost 500 percent more likely to threaten you with a gun. They are the problem, not the solution.

That the NRA is opposing this bill is either more evidence of their intellectual breakdown, or a cruel and manipulative trick to increase gun sales by getting the bill passed.

So whether the U.S. Senate is really responding to the will of voters or just playing an inside game will actually be revealed by what it does about the next bill, S.52. That's Grassley's bill to end straw purchases.

Newtown mass-murderer Adam Lanza's dead mother was just such a straw purchaser, buying guns for her mentally ill son. In Arizona (for example) it is perfectly legal to buy a gun, change your mind on your way to your car and sell it to a "stranger" passing by. Prosecutors have to prove you intended to make a straw purchase and that you did. But you need only claim to be an idiot.

The Mexican government believes straw purchases send 750,000 guns to Mexico each year. That's equal to about 4 percent of all the background checks in 2010. Let's say another 1 percent of all gun sales end up with U.S. criminals. That's one in 20 guns sold. So you can see why gun makers don't want to give up illegal sales. They are a growing part of the arms business.

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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3 comments on this story

Apr 12, 2013, 8:13 pm
-1 +1

I’d really like to read the study you reference. It’ll be interesting to see how the author correlates murder to party affiliation.  Perhaps we can all cut the murder rate simply by getting a new voter ID card.

Could you kindly provide your source for the information, Bill? Thanks.

Apr 12, 2013, 4:50 pm
-0 +1

300,000 died last year from cancer, 3,000 from guns, priorities don’t seem to be big deal for left leaning wingnuts. Same old baloney, blame instead of a focus on the problem, which is mental health. I guess since the left have so many psychos that a focus on mental health would eliminate so many of them? The mentally ill vote Democrat so we keep blaming the gun instead of the wacko’s using them to kill! There is not one politician that claims the new laws they are passing would have prevented any of the gun tragedies we have experienced, yet you praise their actions like they have done something when in fact all they did is the same old crap, kick the can down the road! If you want to stop gun related tragedies don’t bother going to gun shows looking for the perpetrator, hang out a the shrinks all those murderers had in common was the fact they were crazy, in fact our biggest domestic mass murderer didn’t even use a gun he used kerosene, a U-Haul truck and fertilizer, making this issue about extended magazines and weapon types is making us less safe, like that restaurant owner that posts “NO GUNS ALLOWED” on their door!  Crazy rules!

Apr 12, 2013, 4:39 pm
-0 +1

The fact is A Minnesota Law Professor released the results of his research yesterday April 8th 2013, the results are fascinating, in areas that vote Republican there are 2.1 gun murders per 100,000 people, in areas that vote Democrat there are 12.2 gun murders per 100,000. Think about what this research tells us! THINK! What clearly is shown is a tale of two communities, one who has gun murders at an acceptable rate balanced against Constitutional Rights; the other Community is being overwhelmed by gun murders at a rate 650% higher than the other!

Eureka! This study shows me that there isn’t one problem with two extremes at odds at how to solve it, there are two problems one of violence the other of an erosion of Constitutional Rights. Both are valid and an honest debate would show both as such. But our President and the Democrats are not interested in debating honestly or solving a problem they are interested in politics as usual and making as much political hay out of their distortions and misleading as they can, they won an election doing such certainly they figure they can fan the flames of gun control with ginned up emotion and pass law that addresses no problems but that’s OK because it is against the Republican communities, so what if it doesn’t as usual address the real problem that so clearly lies in the Democrat communities, he can win and keep this Democrat mob ginned up.

What strikes me odd is that the problem as it is cleared up by such research clearly exposing this tale of two communities, isn’t receiving the bipartisan attention it deserves to work together for a solution. Let’s review Republican communities have a gun murder rate of 2.1 per 100,000, Democrat communities have a murder rate of 12.2 per 100,000 or a murder rate 650% higher than in Republican voting communities. I am going to ask you, what would you do, encourage moving the laws that Democrats are using which result in a 650% increase in gun murders to the Republican communities or would you say “hold up, why the discrepancy, let’s study what the Republicans are doing in their communities and see if it holds any fruit for our own problems!”  Logically the data shows us that the Republicans are more successful in their communities controlling gun murders, the question is why! Right?

So we are down to why do the Republican communities have a gun murder rate 650% lower than the Democrat communities. The answer to that question needs to be answered before we push forward passing laws that we don’t know what they are designed to do, only what we HOPE they will accomplish which is basically World Peace, that won’t happen. What we should agree on is that any laws passed should be designed to have impact in the communities that are having the troubles! What logic is there to push laws that will work only where the problem is 650% lower, you know the people already following the law? That is the lie the Democrats are trying to use to drive their anti-gun agenda, emotion over valid objective planning to achieve a goal which should be to lower the gun murder rate in problem areas not to just attack those in communities who don’t share the problem. 

In a nutshell the Democrats see a big problem because THEY have a big problem in their communities; the Republicans see a threat to the Constitutional Rights as a bigger problem than gun murders because they have a gun murder rate 650% lower than that in the Democrat communities. What not to do is to ramrod more gun laws into the Republican communities which don’t have a problem just because you can, like passing a Healthcare Bill we can read after passing and figure it out. What’s the plan? I can tell you with 100% certainty that plans that are not focused on the 650% larger gun murder problem in the Democrat communities like a laser are for political fodder only.

Stop being used by this President and the Democrats; we can solve the gun violence issue at least to match what the Republican communities are experiencing, how? Seems to me that defining what the difference is between the communities and how to apply what is working from one to the other would be a prudent place to start, not treating this issue like it is one universal problem which it clearly is not!

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