The national debate on gun control has finally made it to the Senate. The battle between the proponents of “Gun Rights” and the supporters of gun control have already agreed on one point, some americans have a right to own guns. Just who they are, how many guns of what types and how someone qualifies for that right is still in question.
On the side of gun ownership we have many fervent supporters castigating the government’s ability to enforce the laws it already has. However, few are suggesting a greater effort and funding for that enforcement. After all it has been six years waiting for congress to confirm a Director of the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and explosives.
On the side of gun control supporters are screaming for the closure of the “Gun Show loophole” and requiring background checks on all gun sales/transfers. Again, few of these have estimates of the cost of expanded access and maintenance of a national system to provide background checks for all gun transfers.
Two major points of contention are an “assault weapons ban” and the effectiveness of the last legislation that attempted this. Supporters of the ineffectiveness of the original ban point to a department of Justice report released in 2004 which they claim points to evidence of it’s failure to suppress the illegal use of these weapons. In fact the complex report comes to no solid conclusion due to lack of data. An outside study reports that police departments seized thousands of fewer banned assault weapons during the sales ban and points out that the frequency of use of this type of weapons in crimes has risen sharply since it’s expiration.
As for what constitutes an “assault weapon,” it’s a very prickly point of contention that stands in the way of a renewal of any ban. The original ban specifically defined 19 separate models of semi-automatic weapons as “assault weapons” and specified a number of features of all weapons that would also classify them the same way. Provision for attaching a grenade launcher, a telescopic/folding stock or a semi-automatic version of an automatic weapon were some of these.
Beside the points of definition, the arguments of effectiveness of any weapon laws and the pervasive immobility of the viewpoints on either side of this debate, the most impressive fact is that we are having this debate at all. It’s the clash of two distinctly american cultures, some might very be tempted to say “the city folks and the country folks are at it again...” Certainly urban mayors are distinctly pro gun control as are a good deal of their constituencies. It’s also clear that most of the hunting goes on in less populated areas of the country, which concentrates gun ownership there. However, not all hunters are pro “assault weapons”, an AR-15 makes a crappy deer rifle and it’s even worse for “long shot” hunting. There are certainly groups of "city slickers" who believe that assault weapons are necessary for their own safety. The complexities of thought on this issue range from fears of losing all rights to gun ownership to living in some kind of “wild west” version of the US.
Most of all it’s a chance to see our elected officials tackle a really difficult divisive issue. It has all the makings of a great political struggle, entrenched interests (gun manufacturers, the NRA, other pro-gun lobbies) and advocates for a kinder gentler society (victims and their support groups, anti-gun violence coalitions, law enforcement).
It’s going to be quite a show, whether anything actually gets done or not. My prediction is that the “Gun Show loophole” is a goner, background checks will become more pervasive. We can also look forward to increased dilligence aimed at enforcing current laws.
I also believe that the arguments are so entrenched that the supreme court will get involved, especially in that some states are already moving to tighten up their own gun control legislation. We’ll see.