It didn’t take too long until we heard the oh-so-predictable calls for more gun control. Speaking this morning during an emotional press conference, the Mayor of Charleston, Joseph P. Riley, expressed his disappointment that the massacre at Sandy Hook had not yielded a “major national effort” to restrict the right to keep and bear arms. Later, he signaled his intention to “push on” toward that goal. He was quickly joined by the President of the United States, who used his remarks as an opportunity to propose that Something Needed to Be Done:
Giving voice to intense heartache, anger and sadness, President Barack Obama said Thursday the South Carolina church shooting that left nine people dead shows the need for a national reckoning on gun violence.
Obama, who knew the pastor killed in the Charleston attack, said he has been called upon too often to mourn the deaths of innocents killed by those “who had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”
“Now is the time for mourning and for healing,” the president said. “But let’s be clear. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.”
The million dollar question, though, is, “Do what?” It is all very well to criticize the National Rifle Association and the Republican party for opposing further gun control, and yet it remains an inconvenient truth that not one of the reforms that the Democratic party proposed the last time it ventured into this debate would have changed the outcome here.
Back in 2013, when the country was still reeling from the abomination at Sandy Hook, President Obama hoped to achieve three things: 1) He hoped to ban so-called “assault weapons”; 2) he hoped to limit the size of commercially available magazines; and 3) he hoped to force all the states to require background checks when a firearm is privately transferred. Because the killer used a pistol with a regular magazine, the first two of these proposals are irrelevant here. Per Reuters, the shooter’s “father gave him a .45-caliber pistol for his birthday this year.” That pistol would not have fallen under any of the “assault weapons” bans that were proposed by Obama and his allies in Congress. Moreover, magazine capacity does not seem to have been an issue. The New York Times reports that the shooter took his time, stopping to talk and “[reloading] five times.” Had he been limited by law to ten rounds per magazine — as Dianne Feinstein would have liked — he would have been in no worse a position. (Most .45s come with magazines that hold seven, eight, or nine rounds.)
It remains an inconvenient truth that not one of the reforms that the Democratic party proposed the last time it ventured into this debate would have changed the outcome here.
As for the third: Even if we presume that the problem was that the killer wasn’t picked up by the system (it wasn’t), Obama’s much-vaunted “universal background check” proposal would not have applied here, either. “Toomey-Manchin,” the failed bill that contained the measure, explicitly exempted all transfers between family members and close friends — not, you will note, because it contained a “loophole” or a “typo” or an “oversight,” but because such exemptions were deemed to be “common sense.” I’m sorry to be a killjoy, but the truth is the truth: Had the Democratic laundry list of 2013 been implemented in its entirety, what happened this morning would have gone down in exactly the same way.
(For the record, the story is similar at the state level, too. In the handful of jurisdictions that have implemented their own universal background-check systems, family transfers are usually excluded from regulation. Had the killer been operating in California, Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, New York, Iowa, Nebraska, or Delaware — or, for that matter, in 35+ other states — he would have been exempted from the rules. Had he lived in Rhode Island, Maryland, Connecticut, or New Jersey, he would not. And that’s before we even get to the questions of a) whether he’d have been picked up by such a check, and b) whether he’d have simply got a gun from somewhere else.)As one might expect, the killer also broke a host of laws that were already on the books. When he received the gun, the AP reports, he was out on bond in connection with a “felony drug case.” This alone rendered him ineligible to own a firearm. Per the DOJ, existing federal law holds that “persons awaiting trial on felony charges are prohibited from receiving firearms.” By giving him one for his birthday while knowing that he was awaiting trial, the shooter’s father committed a federal crime that is punishable up to ten years in jail; by receiving the gift, his son did, too. (The pair also broke a set of identical state-level prohibitions.) In addition, by driving his firearm to the church without a permit and then by taking it inside without the express permission of the pastor, the shooter violated a host of state-level concealed-carry and trespassing laws, some of which attract felony charges. He does not seem to have much cared.
They never do.