After every mass murder by gunfire, lots people with access to Facebook or some other medium feel compelled to spout off. Hardly anything sensible ever comes out, and we’d be no worse off if everybody just kept his trap shut.
Our chief spouter-off, President Obama, said Thursday that if we only took some “basic steps” we could at least make it harder, not impossible but harder, for people to carry out mass shootings. Basic steps? Like what? Universal background checks, waiting periods, limits on magazine size and so forth? It’s as though the president lived in some fog where facts never penetrate. In the shootings that come to mind, up to and including Roseburg and San Bernardino, the weapons were purchased legally some time before the murders took place – waiting periods would have made no difference — and universal background checks were the law. In San Bernardino (for which I’ll always have a soft spot since I spent a semester at the junior college there), the police chief said the weapons were even “registered.” Perhaps California has a gun registry, which is a controversial subject all by itself.
The minority Democrats in Congress are pushing for a bill to keep people on the federal terrorism “watch list” from passing a background check to buy a gun. Again, none of the recent shooters were on any watch list. And anyway, as long as citizens can end up on that list for reasons they are not told about and cannot challenge, or for no good reason at all, we ought to be careful about abrogating an important civil right.
The one thing that might have an effect is to outlaw private ownership of semiautomatic weapons and their magazines and round up all the ones that people have. Even if that were possible – that is, if it would not lead to an insurrection — it would violate the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment is not about hunting or plinking tin cans. It’s about the kind of weapons citizens can use to defend themselves or the state, as the Oregon constitution puts it.
So no, there are no basic steps that have not already been taken. Anything beyond that would require amending the Constitution and becoming like England, say, and if that’s what anybody has in mind, that’s what they ought to be candid enough to propose. (hh)