I should have started this with “Spoiler Alert”. ‘Cause nobody’s seen this movie yet.
A couple of days ago, President Obama announced on national television that he was taking executive action about gun violence. He invoked memories of tragedies, from Newtown and Aurora through Ford Hood and San Bernardino, and at one point he broke into tears.
I’m going to pause a moment here: People have poked fun at those tears, and attempted to raise doubts about his sincerity. Got news for ya: When thinking about some asshole shooting up his office Christmas party, some jerk shooting up a theater, or some kid shooting up a school he was bullied at, I have a hard time not tearing up myself — rage, yes, but mostly sadness. There’s no shame in it, none at all, and I have no doubt but that those tears were real.
One of the reasons I know they’re real? His new executive actions don’t actually do that much. Given how much gun violence affects our current president, I can’t imagine a better reason for tears. It’s frustration.
So what are these “executive actions”?
First, let me tell you what they aren’t: Despite conservative internet memes to the contrary, nobody is creating new laws by executive order here. There’s been several actions ordered to various departments, and a number of relatively minor clarifications have been made to existing laws. The FBI has been ordered to streamline their system of making background checks and a few items have been added to the proposed budget.
A word on the budget.
Every President for — I don’t know how long, but it’s a long time — every President puts together a budget proposal and submits it to Congress, and then Congress ignores it and puts together their own budget. On rare occasions, lawmakers are willing to throw a powerful sitting president a bone, but for the most part they’re too busy wrangling about which state gets to waste the most money on roads to nowhere — always along party lines. This happens every year, and the process never changes.
This year, with President Obama past his last election and looking at his final twelve months in the White House, there’s less likelihood than usual that anyone anywhere will read his budget proposal.
So the fact that he’s adding a $500 million item to his proposal for mental health care — a proposal that politicians on both sides of the aisle should, but won’t, jump on — will change absolutely nothing at all. Likewise his budget items for hiring more ATF agents, FBI staff members, and other proposed Federal employees will accomplish precisely: Zip. Zero. Nada.
But back to the executive actions.
What he has ordered that will definitely cause some changes is this: He’s ordered the Justice Department to streamline the process of background checks while redefining who needs to get them. Likewise, he’s ordered agencies to demand cooperation from states (who frequently refuse to cooperate) and the streamlining of certain rules with regard to privacy and mental health in order to keep firearms out of the hands of people who are considered disabled due to their mental problems.
There is very little in that to cause unrest. After all, it’s not like your doctor is going to turn you in to the Feds; nothing new is happening there. (If he could turn you in yesterday, he can turn you in tomorrow — so don’t tell your doctor about your plans to conquer Vermont and you’re probably fine. Telling him about your tinfoil hat fixation won’t cost you your guns.)
In addition, he’s taking the following actions: The Attorney General has been ordered to draft a memo on one subject, write a letter on a second, and then have a teleconference on a third. A few people in the ATF will be working in a couple of different departments, and several Federal agencies will be looking into the applications of technology to gun control in the areas of locks, safes, and anti-theft measures.
None of that will actually accomplish much, with the possible exception of the ATF reshuffle — and that’s just an efficiency thing. We should all be in favor of efficiency.
So basically what’s happening can be boiled down to three major changes:
– States and the SSI/Disability people will be required to report mental health issues for the purposes of background checks.
– Dealers at gun shows and over the internet and even folks selling out of their car trunks will be required to get background checks for each sale.
– The FBI is going to be expected to handle a lot more checks seven days a week.
Oh, and there’s one minor change:
– Rich people who had been evading firearms rules by making ersatz museums and using other legal tricks are going to find it harder to continue to do so.
In all of this, there is only one thing that should properly cause alarm in even the most paranoid of gun rights activists: It’s going to be harder for honest collectors to swap guns now. They’re going to have to register with some collecting organizations or get a license to deal.
And, frankly, I can’t imagine that rule surviving the first week of the next Republican presidency. (Editor’s note: Very few of these did.)
The Bottom Line
Considering the vast amount of hype generated and the massive unthinking reactions from the NRA and Republican congressmen, there’s surprisingly little happening here. It’s almost as though the sitting president, realizing that he’s rapidly becoming powerless, a “lame duck”, is attempting to influence the national dialogue and guide the upcoming elections toward a discussion of gun violence.
But here’s the thing: Folks are really not going to want to talk about it. Oh, they’ll posture and take positions and make prepared statements at debates, but they won’t talk. They won’t discuss. And nobody’s going to come up with any new solutions; they never do.
The Right is too busy shouting at you about how Obama is trying to steal your guns. The Left is too busy shouting at you about how assault weapons should be banned and all guns are evil. And you and your spouse are probably too busy shouting at each other for either of you to check and make sure the gun safe is locked.
Arguments aren’t solved by shouting, and problems aren’t solved.
Hell; it’s no wonder the President is crying. I’m coming damned close myself.
Here’s what you can do to promote gun safety: If you own a gun, make sure you know how to use it. Keep it locked up so it can’t be stolen or, worse, used against you in a home invasion, or worst of all, used as a toy by small children. If you don’t own a gun, you might consider it, if only so you can learn about firearms. Remember: it’s very tough to have a dialogue when only one side knows what it’s talking about.
And above all, stop being so damned unreasonable about it all. Nobody is going to take your guns, and you’re not taking away anyone else’s. Period.