A decent start on guns, but it won’t stop the bloodshed
Flanked by children who wrote to him after the Sandy Hook shooting last month, Barack Obama today proposed the strictest American gun laws since Bill Clinton’s assault weapons ban in 1994.
He deserves a lot of credit. It won’t be easy to push this legislation through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and America’s powerful gun lobby will resist, but Obama has signalled that he is willing to fight hard.
The President’s proposal would forbid the purchase of military-style assault weapons by civilians, while also banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and mandating universal background checks for gun buyers.
He has also issued a number of executive orders – decrees which do not require congressional approval – although placed in context, most of these measures are little more than window dressing.
Importantly, Obama seems to have learned from some of the flaws in Clinton’s earlier ban, which expired under President George W. Bush in 2004. Gun companies circumvented that legislation by making small aesthetic changes to their products, thus ensuring that their guns weren’t classified as assault weapons under federal law.
In its policy release today, the White House has explicitly warned that it will not allow that practice to be repeated. Even so, Obama should expect some trickery from gun manufacturers in the future if his legislation does pass.
He can also expect a significant public backlash. A Washington Post/ABC poll released several days ago does show majority support for banning assault weapons (58 per cent in favour), and a whopping 88 per cent of Americans support background checks for gun buyers.
But the same survey found that 55 per cent of Americans agree with the National Rifle Association’s position that there should be armed guards in schools. Even as support for some regulation of the industry grows, America’s gun culture endures.
Any opposition to Obama’s plan will be extremely vocal, whether it’s in the minority or not. Remember the Tea Party? Take that level of anger and double it.
And yet, for all the acrimony that this proposal will cause, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. According to our best estimates, there are already roughly 300 million guns in public circulation within the United States. Whatever Washington does to regulate the sale of new firearms, those 300 million weapons will still be out there.
Clinton’s assault weapons ban only applied to guns manufactured after the 1994 law had been passed. If Obama copies that approach, any new legislation will do virtually nothing to stop the bloodshed in America’s streets.
Obama’s proposal is an excellent start, but nothing more. Unless tougher measures are enacted later, the violence will continue.
Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…