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Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ New Gun Control Plan Is Yet Another Wasted Opportunity

The Democratic party is gearing up for another gun control push. Per Margaret Hartmann over at New York Magazine:

Senators Chuck Schumer and Debbie Stabenow outlined the plan, which will be announced at a press conference on Thursday morning, in a letter to their colleagues. It involves strengthening background checks by closing a loophole that allows gun purchases to proceed if the FBI’s check isn’t completed in three days, eliminating loopholes for firearms purchased online and at gun shows, and providing more funding for the existing federal background-check system. The proposal also calls for new restrictions on gun trafficking, domestic abusers who attempt to purchase weapons, and straw purchasing, or buying a gun for someone who legally can’t purchase one themselves.

As Hartmann concedes, this plan will be dead on arrival. And, frankly, it deserves to be. This isn’t a serious attempt to find common ground; it’s a political exercise designed to rile up the base. Because they are not stupid, Schumer and Stabenow know full well that Congress is not going to eliminate the presumption-of-innocence protections that have been rightfully accorded to gun purchasers, and they know that it is not going to preempt the 38 states that do not require private sellers to run background checks on their buyers. Presumably, the pair also knows that “straw purchasing” is already a federal felony, and that the ATF spends about half of its time prosecuting those who indulge in it. Alas, they just don’t care. Why? Because the aim here is not to actually get anything done; it’s to stoke enthusiasm (and opposition) from that small part of the voting population that cares deeply about this issue.

And make no mistake, it is a small part. We hear a great deal about how popular some of these ideas are. But, as Noah Rothman points out at Commentary:

Morning Consult survey conducted in the wake of the Oregon shooting found 55 percent of registered voters backing stricter gun laws. Eye-popping majorities of Democratic, Republican, and independent voters back such boilerplate measures as background checks on private sales, a ban on ill-defined “assault weapons,” and the elimination of high-capacity magazines. But when asked if voters prefer stricter gun control measures, only a majority of Democrats agreed. Just one-third of independent voters and less than one-quarter of GOP survey respondents welcomed new gun control measures.

In other words: Americans do not seem to object to some of the (carefully worded) control gun control proposals that are thrust their way, but they are indifferent or opposed when asked if they should actually be implementedReally, this really shouldn’t surprise. Washington can indeed be unresponsive to the public’s wishes, but if 90 percent of Americans really were clamoring for more gun control there is no way that they could be resisted. 90 percent? Prohibition was passed with less enthusiasm than that!

On both practical grounds and libertarian grounds, I am a staunch opponent of most gun control, and, as such, am unlikely to sign on to much that comes from Chuck Schumer’s pen. But even I think that it’s a shame that the Democrats always feel a need to go down this more extreme road, and thereby to lose their opponents’ trust. Had Schumer and co taken the view that something good could be done here – even if it wasn’t what they really wanted – they could have introduced a more modest plan (limiting their ambitions to, say, a funding increase for the background check system and some anti-domestic abuse measures), and got both sides to sign onto it. They didn’t. And now their bill will die.

Good.

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