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“What Price Would Be Too High?”: The Question Gun Advocates Should Have To Answer

As we have yet another round of our repeated and possibly fruitless arguments about the role of guns in American society, there’s one thing I desperately want to hear gun advocates say. It’s not complicated, it would have the benefit of honesty, and it might enable us to move this debate to ground where we could actually make choices about what kind of society we want to have.

What I want to hear gun advocates say is, “This is the price America has to pay for the right some of us cherish.”

The reason I want to hear this is that on no other basic debate over constitutional rights that I can think of does one side argue that there are no tradeoffs, that exercising a particular right, even in the most extreme way, doesn’t actually involve any cost whatsoever. Only gun advocates say that.

When somebody shoots 49 people in a club with a military weapon that gun advocates work so desperately to keep as widely available as possible, they don’t say, “That was terrible, but the right to have guns is so important that it’s something we need to live with.” When confronted with the fact that over 30,000 Americans are killed every year with guns, they don’t say that this cost is acceptable, they say that guns had nothing whatsoever to do with all the people killed with guns. Maybe it was because of mental illness, or radical Islam, or video games. But guns? Why should we talk about guns?

There’s no other right we talk about this way. When the exercise of other rights produces things we don’t like, we don’t deny that we’re paying a price for something we value. When Nazis decide to hold a march and it makes us upset, nobody says, “Oh, we didn’t have to endure that hateful sight because of free speech; it was our road-building policy that made it possible. Speech had nothing to do with it!” We say that as unpleasant as it was, we have to tolerate hateful speech because of our commitment to free expression. Nobody denies that it has a cost.

Now to be fair, on some extremely rare occasions a prominent conservative has acknowledged that our national gun fetish has a price. For instance, Ben Carson said last fall that while he treated gunshot victims as a doctor, “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” If your mind reels at how morally obtuse that is, then you know why it’s an argument you almost never hear. Instead, gun advocates say that the real answer to the carnage guns inflict is to saturate our society with yet more guns. In other words, there’s no tradeoff at all. It’s as though someone said that if you’re worried about the privacy we give up when we let the government snoop on our communications in order to stop terrorism, the answer is to just give the government all your passwords and set up a webcam in your bathroom, and then you’ll have real privacy.

Nor does anyone talk this way about less fundamental rights, the things we merely want and need. Cars kill the same number of Americans as guns, but even though cars are incredibly useful, nobody denies that they’re dangerous. So we try to make them as safe as possible. We build technologies into them, like seat belts, air bags, and anti-lock brakes. We try to make sure people are capable of handling them safely before we give them permission to drive. We pass new laws on things like texting while driving in order to eliminate the factors that make them less safe. Nobody says, “Well, the fact that your child was mowed down by a teenager texting on his phone doesn’t have anything to do with cars and driving—let’s put the focus where it belongs, on teen attention spans.”

Perhaps it’s because gun advocates look at their opponents and see people who put no value at all on gun rights, who would rather have America be more like, well, like almost every other industrialized country in the world, where guns are heavily restricted and gun ownership isn’t seen as a “right” at all. They may think that arguing against those people requires taking an absolutely categorical position at all times. Or perhaps it’s because that small proportion of gun owners, the ones who fight with fervid intensity against even the most modest restriction and regulation, really have sanctified guns in their own mind. An object so perfect in its wondrous glory can’t possibly be blamed for anything done with it.

But the truth is that gun advocates do actually think that the price we’re paying is a reasonable one for the existing gun regime, in which it’s so spectacularly easy for almost anyone to obtain as many weapons as they like. Nobody thinks that the NRA or your average Republican politician is happy about the 30,000 Americans whose lives are ended by guns every year, but it’s not a high enough number for them to embrace any measure that might inhibit gun ownership. It’s not even high enough for them to tolerate some inconvenience, like making gun owners demonstrate that they know how to handle them safely and are able to store them where children can’t get them.

Presumably, there’s some number that would be too high. Maybe it would be a hundred thousand Americans killed with guns every year, or five hundred thousand, or a million. But 30,000? That’s a price they think we can pay.

I have little doubt that some gun advocates genuinely believe that they’ll probably have their home invaded by murderous gangs, or that they need their concealed carry permit because there’s an ISIS strike team waiting at the supermarket, or that society is eternally on the brink of complete breakdown and their guns are the only way to protect their family against the cannibal hordes. But they also won’t say to the rest of us what they say to each other, which is that guns are fun, guns are cool, guns make you feel like a man and that’s the reason that guy in the shop is buying his fifth or tenth or 12th gun, not because he’s the only thing standing between the rest of us and government’s tyranny.

And the AR-15s that are getting so much attention? They aren’t as popular as they are because it’s impossible to defend your home without one. They’re popular because they’re relatively affordable, because they can be easily modified (so you can trick yours out with lots of cool accessories), and because having a gun designed for the military makes you feel like a real warrior.

That’s a truth that can’t withstand the light of day. If it’s really not about needing guns but about people wanting them and loving them, then we’d have to ask exactly what price we’re willing to pay for some people’s love of guns. So maybe that’s the question gun advocates should answer: If 30,000 dead Americans is an acceptable price to pay for your version of freedom, what price would be too high?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, June 29, 2016

June 26, 2016 Posted by | Gun Advocates, Gun Control, Gun Deaths, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“21st Century Assault Weapons And 18th Century Muskets”: Why The Next Supreme Court Is Poised To Roll Back Gun Rights

While Congress remains stymied by Republican opposition to any gun regulations, there are four reasons to think that the court system, and the Supreme Court in particular, may be evolving: Orlando, changes in the Court, and two recent court cases.

Remember that the NRA’s understanding of the Second Amendment is an extremely recent phenomenon. For more than 200 years, the legal and scholarly consensus was that, in the absence of a standing army, the Second Amendment was designed to enable states and localities to maintain a “well-regulated militia” by placing muskets and other weapons in the hands of local citizens.

Then came three decades of conservative political activism, focused on law schools, the National Rifle Association, and conservative think tanks. This effort culminated (but by no means concluded) with the 2008 case of D.C. v. Heller, which the Supreme Court found, for the first time, an individual right to gun ownership in the Second Amendment.

This view is now the dogma of tens of millions of Americans, propped up by an entire industry of selective histories and scholarship that can usually be traced back to the handful of philanthropists who paid for it. Indeed, the preamble of the Second Amendment has been written out of the Constitution to the point where the NRA’s national headquarters has a frieze engraved on a wall bearing only the second clause of the amendment, “the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Despite the fervency with which some hold that belief, however, it is very shaky as a judicial matter—and recent signs suggest it may collapse entirely. First, of course, is the Orlando massacre, the latest mass shooting to horrify America. While the Right has, of course, blamed the shooting solely on Islamic terrorism, it seems clear to most people that it was due to a combination of terrorism, homophobia, the personality of the shooter, and access to guns. Without the AR-15-style rifle, the shooter would likely not have killed 49 people.

The Orlando massacre doesn’t have any formal judicial meaning. But Supreme Court justices are also human beings, and it’s hard to see it not impacting how they view the relationship between 21st century assault weapons and 18th century muskets.

Second, there is the shift in the Court’s own membership. The Heller opinion was written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia for a 5-4 majority. That majority is now gone.

Interestingly, we know next to nothing about how a Justice Merrick Garland might vote on gun control. Contrary to the insinuations of Bill O’Reilly and other conservative talking heads, Judge Garland did not vote to uphold the District of Columbia’s gun law that was ultimately overturned in Heller; he only voted for the entire appeals court to hear the case, rather than just a three-judge panel. (One of the appeals court’s most conservative members voted the same way—but they were outvoted.) We have no clue of his view of the Second Amendment, and his more moderate outlook in general means that anything is possible.

Still, Garland is no Scalia—and if he isn’t confirmed, whoever President Hillary Clinton nominates is likely not to be a Garland-style moderate either. So the pendulum may swing back on gun rights simply as a function of the Court’s membership.

Two lesser-known developments, though, may be even more telling.

The first of these is that the Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal brought by a challenger to a state’s assault weapons ban, upholding the gun-control law. This may mean many things: maybe a majority of justices think the appeals court got it right, or maybe they don’t see enough of a conflict among the circuit courts, or maybe they think this case isn’t the best test case to take, or maybe the short-handed court is limiting its workload, or who knows—it could be anything.

But at the very least, it means the Court does not see the ban as a horrifyingly unconstitutional travesty that requires immediate judicial remedy. Contrast that with two of the cases still outstanding this year: Texas’s challenge to the Obama administration’s immigration policies, and Texas’s defense of its abortion clinic regulations. The Court not only took these two cases but issued (or upheld) injunctions on the enforcement of the challenged rules.

Not so in the assault weapons ban case.

Finally, there’s a case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, decided earlier this month, that provides some of the best intellectual rationale for limiting, if not overruling, Heller.

That case, Peruta v. City of San Diego, dealt with California’s strict requirements to obtain a “concealed carry” permit. (They are only available to limited groups of people, such as guards, messengers, hunters, or target shooters.) Do those requirements violate the Second Amendment? The Ninth Circuit, by a vote of 8 to 3, said no.

Writing for the court, Judge William Fletcher wrote an extensively researched originalist opinion worthy of Justice Scalia himself. Expressly avoiding the question of whether the Second Amendment gives citizens a right to carry weapons openly in public (a question left open by Heller as well), Judge Fletcher’s opinion focused on whether there is a Second Amendment right to carry concealed weapons.

To answer the question, he turned Scalia’s logic against him. The Heller opinion refuted the plain meaning of the constitutional text on the grounds that it codified a “pre-existing right” to bear arms for self-defense, not just for use in a militia. (That the opinion was by a self-proclaimed strict constructionist was an irony not lost on liberal commentators.) Thus the question became whether there was a “pre-existing right” (in America or pre-colonial England) to carry a concealed weapon in public.

And the answer was obvious: not in the least. On the contrary, English common law, colonial regulations, and state statutes dating back as far as the year 1299 prohibited carrying a concealed weapon. (That 1299 regulation provided that sheriffs prohibit anyone from “going armed within the realm without the king’s license.”) The masterful opinion cited English laws and opinions from 1299, 1304, 1308, 1328, 1388, 1419, 1444, 1541, 1594, 1613 (“bearing of Weapons covertly… hath ever beene… straitly forbidden”), 1686, 1694, 1716, and 1782; and American state cases and statutes from 1822, 1833, 1840, 1842, 1846, 1850, 1868, 1871, 1875, 1876, 1879, 1885, 1889, 1890, 1891, 1897, and 1899—all of which, save a single outlier (Kentucky, 1822), upheld bans on carrying a concealed weapon even in the face of general rights to own or carry firearms in general.

Applying the Supreme Court’s own methodology, the Ninth Circuit reached the obvious conclusion: whatever the Second Amendment does protect, it does not protect concealed-carry rights. Thus the California law is constitutional.

Along the way, the Ninth Circuit, while bound to respect Heller, seriously limited its application. It would not be logically difficult to extend an individual gun right to a right to concealed carry, but Heller was not a logical opinion; it was an historical one. In its view (similar, incidentally, to the conservative dissents in the same-sex marriage cases), history, not logical reasoning, is what determines whether a right exists.

It’s not hard to see how this use of conservative constitutional logic for a substantively liberal outcome would play out in future cases. Is there a historical right to own an automatic weapon? To amass unlimited amounts of guns and ammo? To bring weapons into schools and sporting events? Of course not.

More generally, if history is to be our guide—as judicial conservatives usually insist—then surely it is appropriate to factor in the quantity of firepower involved, which could enable the government to regulate nearly all contemporary weapons.

Of course, one factor unchanged by these four considerations—Orlando, the Court, the assault weapons case, and Peruta—is the way in which gun rights has become a symbol, for white American conservatives, of the good ol’ days, limited government and exceptionalist American values. Indeed, the logic is often adolescent in nature; if it pisses off the liberals, it must be a good thing. That attitude, combined with the unprecedented gerrymandering of the House of Representatives, makes it unlikely that federal legislative action will come any time soon even though a majority of Americans support it.

But if Orlando has awakened the American public, in a way that Virginia Tech, Colombine, Sandy Hook, Roanoke, and San Bernadino did not, then these judicial changes might provide the avenue for that change to occur. They may not provide the will—but they do provide the way.

 

By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, June 22, 2016

June 23, 2016 Posted by | 2nd Amendment, Gun Control, National Rifle Association, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“NRA Corpses Pile Up”: The NRA’s Day Of Reckoning Will Come, And Maybe Sooner Than We All Think

Can the National Rifle Association ever be defeated?

I can’t blame you if you’re thinking “no.” It won again this week, as everyone knew it would. But someday, this dam will break.

I admit that these last few days give us little basis for hope, but I do think Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy’s filibuster had some impact in forcing a vote, albeit an unsuccessful one. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell controls the calendar, decides what gets to the floor. He didn’t have to schedule these votes. Granted, his real motivation was undoubtedly to give that small number of Republican incumbents from purple or blue states a chance to cast a reasonable-seeming vote on guns.

But public pressure exists, and polling is through the roof on support for banning the purchase of guns by people on terror-watch and no-fly lists. Murphy’s stand galvanized gun-control forces.

After the Newtown shooting in December of 2012, it took five months for the Senate to hold a vote. This time it took a week. That may not seem like much, especially given that both efforts came to the same bleak end, but this is progress of a sort. These things take a long time.

It was mildly encouraging, too, to see some red-state Democrats vote for gun legislation sponsored by Dianne Feinstein. To NRA hard-liners, she is Satan. There are four red-state Democrats who risk political suicide if they’re not careful on guns: Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Jon Tester of Montana. All but Heitkamp voted for Feinstein’s amendment to prevent gun purchases by anyone who’s been on a terror watch list for the last five years.

It should be noted that only Donnelly voted for the other Democratic measure, introduced by Murphy and Chuck Schumer, which sought to close the gun-show loophole. And all four of these Democrats opposed a weak amendment from Republican Chuck Grassley.

But ultimately, yes, the votes were election-year theater. Here’s how ridiculous the whole thing is. Maine Republican Susan Collins has this “compromise” bill that would ban purchases of guns by people on the no-fly list. That’s to get Democratic support. Then it allows people to appeal such a decision, which is supposed to lure Republicans, who’ve said they don’t like the ban because some people have been incorrectly put on those lists.

You might think that that would mean that enough senators from both parties could vote yes. But as of Tuesday afternoon, a Senate source explained to me, no other Republican had yet signed on to Collins’s bill. A small number presumably would—Mark Kirk of Illinois, who’s facing a tough reelection fight in a very blue state, maybe a few others. But Collins would need 15 or 16 Republicans to back her to get the 60 votes needed to end cloture. That’s as close to impossible as anything can be.

Now it gets even more baroque: Despite this lack of Republican enthusiasm, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may well give Collins a vote anyway. McConnell, of course, has no personal interest in compromise on this issue. He’s NRA all the way.

However, he probably wants a vote for the sake of Kirk, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson—that is, all the Republicans up for reelection in blue states. It’ll look nice to voters back home that they cast a bipartisan gun vote.

But of course Democratic leader Harry Reid knows this, and so he might respond to such a move by McConnell by encouraging his caucus to vote against the Collins measure, thereby denying Kirk and the rest the desired bipartisan cover. Capische?

So the bill that is an actual compromise, the one bill on which both sides might actually have been able to agree, at least in theory, is the very bill that might lose by something like 95-5.

It’s not just ridiculous. It’s immoral. How high do the carcasses need to pile?

I sense we’re starting to reach the point where we’re going to learn the answer to that question. This just can’t go on forever. For starters, if Hillary Clinton maintains her lead and is elected president, one of the first things she’s going to do is put a liberal on the Supreme Court, making for a 5-4 liberal majority. Even if she settles for Merrick Garland, signs are he’d back gun control measures (the NRA already came out against him).

That could lead to an overturning of District of Columbia v. Heller, which vastly expanded individual gun-ownership rights. Given enough time, and maybe an Anthony Kennedy or a Clarence Thomas retirement and thus a 6-3 liberal majority, it could lead to still bigger changes in gun-law jurisprudence.

That would lead a defensive NRA to try to tighten its grip on Congress even more. And that will probably work, for a time. But it will embolden the anti-NRA forces too. Momentum will then be on their side.

And the mass killings will continue, and the bodies will pile up, and public outrage will grow. And one of these days, there’ll be a tragedy that will make everyone, even the number of Republicans who’d be needed to break a filibuster, say “enough.” It would have to be just the right kind of thing, click all the demographic boxes just right—a white man who bought an assault weapon with no background check and went on a rampage and killed many white people in a heavily Republican part of the country. I’m not wishing this on anyone, but then, I don’t need to. As we continue to do nothing, the odds increase daily that it will happen.

Things look awful until, one day, they suddenly don’t. The day Rosa Parks sat down on that bus, I bet not that many people would have predicted that a president would sign a civil rights bill just nine years later. The evil that is the NRA is so thoroughgoing and so repulsive to most Americans that it just can’t last forever. Newtown and Orlando energized millions of people. The LGBT community, I gather, is going to embrace gun-control as an issue. They’re organized, and they have money and clout. The old saying that pro-gun people vote on that issue while anti-gun people don’t isn’t as true as it once was.

So be angry about what happened. But Wayne LaPierre’s day will come, and maybe sooner than we think. And what a day it will be.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 22, 2016

June 23, 2016 Posted by | Chris Murphy, Gun Control, National Rifle Association, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Carnage Will Continue…For Now”: This Is One Of Those Moments When It Is Tempting To Get Cynical

Sen. Chris Murphy’s filibuster was successful in pressuring Republicans to hold votes last night on whether or not to require background checks on all gun purchases and add terrorist suspects to the list of people who are barred from buying guns. But those measures failed to get the 60 votes in the Senate that are needed to pass.

In order to limit the damage voting against those common sense reforms will do in the upcoming election, Republicans offered their own versions of the bills to muddy the waters. In the end, the Senate voted on 4 amendments.

The Senate voted 47 to 53 to reject a measure from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to let the attorney general deny firearms and explosives to any suspected terrorists. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota was the sole Democrat to vote against the measure, while Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mark Kirk of Illinois, both of whom face tough re-election contests, voted for it.

The Senate also rejected a Republican alternative from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), that would allow authorities to delay a gun sale to a terrorism suspect for three days or longer if a judge ruled during that time that there is probable cause to deny the firearm outright. The vote was 53 to 47, falling short of the 60 votes needed.

Two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, backed the measure. But three Republicans – Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Kirk and Susan Collins of Maine voted against Cornyn’s amendment…

The Senate also rejected, on a 44 to 56 vote, a measure from Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would expand background checks for anyone trying to purchase a firearm, including at a gun show or online…

Both Manchin and Toomey refused to back Murphy’s more expansive measure. Democratic Sens. Heitkamp and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) – who is also running the Senate Democrats’ campaign operation this year – also voted against Murphy’s proposal…

Most Republicans backed an alternative from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that would only increase funding for the government to run background checks without expanding them. It failed on a 53 to 47 vote, falling short of the 60 votes needed…

Republican Sens. Kirk and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) voted against the proposal; Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) voted for it.

Republicans offered an unworkable alternative to banning terrorist suspects from buying guns (Cornyn’s bill):

Democrats countered that the time limitations in Cornyn’s alternative would make it functionally impossible to actually prevent suspicious individuals from purchasing firearms.

They also voted for a measure that would increase funding to do background checks, but didn’t close the loophole of being able to purchase them without one at places like gun shows (Grassley’s bill). So even if the Republicans’ alternatives had passed – they would have accomplished nothing.

Meanwhile, they were able to keep the Democrats from passing their bills with assists from a few Democrats, including Senators Heitkamp, Manchin and Tester.

To put this is some perspective, yesterday CNN released a new poll showing that 92% of Americans favor a background check for any gun purchase and 85% support preventing people who are on the U.S. government’s Terrorist Watchlist or no-fly list from owning guns. A majority (54%) also support a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons as well as the sale and possession of equipment known as high-capacity or extended ammunition clips.

To be honest, what the Democrats offered yesterday in the Senate was pretty weak tea when it comes to gun safety measures. But they did so knowing that they had the overwhelming support of the American people. And still…Republicans obstructed.

This is one of those moments when it is tempting to get cynical. I suspect that is precisely what Republicans and the NRA are hoping for. When people give up – they score a permanent win. But this is when I remind myself of the years it took for women to get the right to vote and for the Civil Rights Movement to end Jim Crow. We have two choices at a moment like this: give up and allow the carnage to continue, or remain committed to the struggle and keep fighting.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 21, 2016

June 22, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Chris Murphy, Gun Control, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Don’t Believe It For A Minute”: Are The NRA And Trump Moderating On Guns? Not On Your Life

The headlines today are full of surprising news on guns, from some of the least likely sources: Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and the National Rifle Association. “Trump to meet with NRA about banning gun sales for terror watch list.” “Trump Veers From Party Line on Gun Control.” “In wake of Orlando shootings, gun control getting a fresh look from GOP.” And even “NRA Announces Bizarrely Sane Position on Selling Guns to Terrorists.”

Don’t believe it for a minute. This new effort to make it more difficult for people on the federal government’s terrorism watch list to buy guns is going to meet the same fate as every other gun control measure in Congress.

Yesterday, Trump tweeted, “I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns.” He can talk to them about that if it’s what he wants (which I doubt it is), but it won’t change their minds, because the NRA has a very specific position on the question of banning gun sales to those on the watch list, one you have to read carefully to understand. Here’s what they say:

The NRA believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period.  Anyone on a terror watchlist who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing.  If an investigation uncovers evidence of terrorist activity or involvement, the government should be allowed to immediately go to court, block the sale, and arrest the terrorist.  At the same time, due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watchlist to be removed.  That has been the position of Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) and a majority of the U.S. Senate.

So: if someone is proven to be a terrorist, the NRA is opposed to letting them buy a gun and would prefer that instead they be arrested. Good to know! Now what about that investigation they want the FBI to undertake before the sale is completed? The reference to John Cornyn is important, because what the NRA supports is an amendment Cornyn proposed back in December, which was defeated in the Senate. It said that when someone on the watch list tries to buy a gun, the Justice Department would have 72 hours to file an emergency petition to a court, inform the gun buyer, allow the buyer to participate with counsel, then convince the judge that there is “probable cause to believe that the transferee has committed or will commit an act of terrorism.” Only then would the sale be stopped.

In practice, how often is the government going to be able to conduct an investigation, assemble an ironclad case, get in front of a judge, and get the judge to rule that the buyer has already committed terrorist acts or is about to, all within 72 hours? Basically never.

That’s in contrast to this amendment from Sen. Dianne Feinstein that Democrats now want to pass, which would allow the Justice Department to stop a gun sale not only to anyone on the watch list but anyone who had been on the watch list in the last five years (Omar Mateen had been on the watch list but had been removed), based on a “reasonable suspicion” (a much lower standard than probable cause) that the person had been engaged in or prepared for some involvement in terrorism.

In other words, Feinstein’s amendment would allow Justice to stop a gun sale to pretty much anybody on the watch list they suspected was a threat, while Cornyn’s amendment would make it almost impossible for Justice to stop a sale to anyone who didn’t already have a bomb strapped to their chest.

We should acknowledge that there are legitimate questions about the watch list itself. Many critics argue that it’s too broad and is full of people who have no involvement with terrorism. And there’s a positive and negative side to Feinstein’s five-year provision. It would mean that someone like Mateen might be identified, but it could also mean that a lot of people who justifiably got themselves off the watch list, and should never have been on it in the first place, could now face bureaucratic hassle and extra government attention they don’t deserve when they want to buy guns. So perhaps this debate could lead members of both parties to take a good look at how the list is operating and come up with a plan to reform it so that it focuses only on people who are genuinely suspicious.

But to return to the NRA and the Republican position represented by the Cornyn amendment, it has a gigantic loophole, one they themselves created. Let’s say you’re on the watch list, and you want to buy yourself an AR-15. You go to your local gun store, but the sale gets stopped by the government. What do you do now? Well, all you have to do is go to a gun show — there’s probably one in your area this weekend — and buy from one of the sellers in attendance who aren’t federally licensed dealers. Or you could go to one of the many online gun marketplaces, and get one there. Or you could find someone in your area selling guns privately, and buy it from them. Because we don’t have a system of universal background checks — which the NRA bitterly opposes and helped kill after the Newtown massacre when it was moving through Congress and had the support of up to 90 percent of the public in polls — there are multiple ways to get just about whatever gun you want no matter who you are.

That’s how the NRA wants it, and that’s how they’re going to work to keep it. And the Republican Party is their partner in this effort. Despite the fact that many kinds of restrictions on guns are broadly popular, even with Republican voters and gun owners themselves, the GOP has not only adopted the NRA’s categorical opposition to any and all restrictions, it has moved that belief to the very center of Republican ideology, along with the commitment to low taxes, small government, and the elimination of abortion rights. While we might see a Republican officeholder here and there buck the party and the NRA on this issue — for example, Rob Portman of Ohio, a vulnerable senator up for reelection this year, is now offering some conditional support for keeping those on the watch list from buying guns — their opposition to both Feinstein’s amendment and a companion Democratic proposal for universal background checks will remain nearly unanimous.

Finally, there’s the question of what Trump actually believes on this issue, and what positions he’ll take. Here’s my prediction: Within the next day or two, Trump is going to walk back his implied support for something like what Democrats are advocating and adopt the NRA position. I suspect this will follow a pattern we’ve seen before, in which out of simple ignorance Trump says something that alarms Republicans, then gets told what his position should be, at which point he changes it. The classic case was when he said women should be punished for getting abortions, and was then told that anti-choice ideology has it that women are helpless victims with no agency, so he walked it back.

For all his transparently phony commitment to the Second Amendment, Trump probably hadn’t thought about this particular issue before, so he didn’t know what he was supposed to say. Once he does, he’ll fall in line. Republicans will kill the Democratic proposals, and we’ll be right back where we started.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 16, 2016

June 21, 2016 Posted by | Diane Feinstein, Donald Trump, Gun Control, John Cornyn, National Rifle Association | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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