Chris Honoré: Romancing the gun, Part 2
Several weeks ago, President Obama announced that he was taking executive actions that would require those who are in the business of selling firearms — on the Internet or at gun shows — to be licensed and therefore required to conduct background checks. Both venues represent a major loophole in preventing individuals who would do harm to themselves or to others from acquiring a weapon.
While President Obama acknowledged that we cannot stop all shootings, his actions implicitly ask the question: Why would anyone (including the NRA and Congress) oppose this seemingly benign and common-sense executive proposal?
In attempting to answer that question, consider the context that frames any attempt at tightening gun regulations in America. There are 93 gun deaths each day in America. That toll includes suicides, murders and accidents. We know that more than 30,000 Americans are killed yearly from gun violence. Is it not a moral imperative to ask what reasonable changes could be made?
Just one narrow example: According to data published in the New York Times, 61 percent of all women killed with guns were killed by husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends. Yet the very loopholes addressed by President Obama allow domestic abusers to purchase firearms, even after the courts have determined that the abuser poses a threat to his or her domestic partner. It is obvious that if a gun can be purchased absent any background check, one in which a restraining order would be red-flagged, the abuser can acquire a weapon and do irreparable harm. As an aside, inexplicably, someone convicted of stalking can legally buy a gun.
The slippery slope fantasy: The pitched battle conducted by the NRA and other gun-rights advocates (including gun manufacturers) against any form of gun control invariably involves a literal interpretation of the Second Amendment. The amendment, written in 1791, reads: “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
I have always assumed that the Constitution is a living and evolving document. Hence, I read the Second Amendment as reflecting the concerns of the framers, having just fought a revolutionary war with England, did not want the armed militias to stand down until they knew all was secure. It seems self-evident that we no longer need an armed citizen-militia today to guarantee our national security. At the same time, this fact in no way negates the right of those who wish to bear arms to do so. President Obama said as much.
What has occurred, however, is that among certain groups (some calling themselves militias) a growing mistrust of the government has evolved into a virulent, anti-government position.
When the Second Amendment was initially conceived, the armed militias were created in order to be ready to resist by arms a tyranny from England. But today, among some Second Amendment literalists, our own government has been substituted for England and the suggestion of any form of gun control is viewed as an attempt to disarm the people, thus allowing a tyrannical government to rule a now defenseless population.
It’s a self-perpetuating fantasy with no basis in reality. None. In fact, it seems surreal. Yet Jeb Bush called Obama’s action a “gun-grabbing agenda.” Donald Trump warned that Obama was moving toward a total ban on guns. Ted Cruz warned that Obama was coming for your guns.
And so expanding background checks is viewed as but one step on what the NRA and its ilk regard as a slippery slope toward creating a populace that can no longer defend itself. Any change is viewed as a threat to the Second Amendment and gun ownership: smart guns that can only be fired by the owner (and not a toddler); funding research by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention regarding gun deaths; resurrecting the ban on the sale of assault weapons; and fully funding the ATF.
The conclusion: As long as the NRA and others promote the fantasy that the government’s agenda is to disarm all Americans, any meaningful dialogue about gun control will remain a bridge too far.
Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.