Republicans need a message about guns other than the NRA’s “we need more good guys with guns” idea, which, by my estimation, would cost about $5 billion and impose a federal mandate for armed guards at schools rather than allow for local control, neither of which strike me as conservative approaches or solutions.
The Newtown massacre created a tipping point on the gun debate in America. The Obama administration and Democrats are moving quickly to reframe the issue and move new policy. As a citizen, I think it is appropriate and overdue. As a political observer, I think it’s smart politics. As a Republican, I think it’s yet another instance where the party, by refusing to recognize reality, is going to end up looking like the “stupid party” that fails to adapt and evolve to changing circumstances in our society.
The most frequent argument I hear from GOP colleagues is: “People promoting new gun control laws are liberals from the coasts who don’t understand our culture. And none of their ideas would actually have changed anything at Sandy Hook.”
Okay, I’m not a liberal. And I do understand “our” culture. I grew up in Colorado and spent much of my adult life in Texas where shooting guns is almost required by law. Deer, dove, and quail hunting is a right of passage in the Lone Star state. So, I own a couple of shotguns and a couple of rifles. And I had a.44-caliber handgun to defend against bears in the Colorado mountains, until I gave it to a friend, afraid that I was going to blow off my foot. (Turns out pepper spray is a much better deterrent.)
My question to Republican gun enthusiasts is: How would anything being proposed in any way impact what you do now with your guns? Or, is it that you are just hostage to the NRA talking points?
Here’s a list of some of the ideas currently being floated by people like Mayor Mike Bloomberg and others:
• Reinstatement of an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition
• Requirement of universal background checks for firearm buyers
• Track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database
• Strengthen mental health checks
• Stiffen penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors
• Make gun trafficking a felony
• The president should make a recess appointment to fill the vacancy at the top of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
• The Justice Department should step up prosecution of criminals who try to buy guns (In 2009, the latest year fully recorded, only 77 out of 71,000 people who had been convicted of gun crimes and tried to buy guns were prosecuted.)
• The Justice Department should crack down on rogue gun dealers
• Requiring law-enforcement notification of customer purchases of more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition
• Create a database that would allow the ATF to track all gun sales.
• Outlaw armor-piercing bullets
None of these ideas strike me as out of the mainstream. None would impact the ability of law-abiding citizens to buy firearms and participate in gun-related hunting, recreation, or self-defense. And while it may be a debatable point about the extent to which any or all of these ideas would have changed the circumstances or outcomes of any of the horrifying massacres in our recent history, if the ideas are reasonable and don’t limit legitimate activities, then why not consider them? Under what circumstance would you need more than 10 rounds of ammunition in a clip?
And yes, we need to look all the contributing factors to violence in our society, including mental health interventions and violent media. But recently 11,000 Americans lost their lives in gun-related deaths in a year. During the same period in Japan, 11 died. And last time I looked, they play videogames too.
Unless the GOP comes out with a proactive plan that has some appearance of responding to recent events, then it continues to play defense and digs deeper the hole it has been digging for itself in recent years. On issues where the physics are moving irrevocably forward, like immigration, gay rights, and guns, the Republican Party continues to look backward. And backward is a sure path toward irrelevance.