The Corner

Common-Sense Gun Control

The New York Times has written a foolish editorial on the issue of President Obama’s executive-fiat gun-control agenda.

Consider first these sentences: “There may be an interesting argument over whether having more civilians walking around with guns and empowered to use them enhances public safety. Our position on this page has been that it makes people less safe.” The question of whether civilian carry makes people more safe or less safe is complicated, but it is not, contra the Times, a matter of opinion. Either higher levels of civilian carry correlate with lower levels of public safety or they do not. (And, if you’re wondering: They don’t.) This is a question of fact, albeit a complex and hard-to-pin-down one.

The Times poses as the great champion of “common sense” gun control, but it consistently pushes policies that would have no effect whatsoever on cases such as the one in San Bernardino, to say nothing of ordinary street crime.

For evidence of that, I refer the editors of the New York Times to the news pages of the New York Times, where reporters doing the work of establishing fact rather than insisting upon baseless opinion actually bothered to track down who commits murders in New York City, and found that in about 90 percent of the cases identified killers had prior criminal histories, often for violent crime — and about 70 percent of the victims had prior criminal arrests. The problem is an entrenched culture of criminality and disorder, not regulations on Bob’s Bait Shop and Firearms Emporium in Muleshoe, Texas.

Those killers aren’t walking the streets of New York City because of the NRA. They’re on the street because law-enforcement and criminal-justice agencies, especially in big, Democrat-run cities, fail to do their jobs. And President Obama refuses to hold them to account.

If you want some common-sense gun control that can in fact be enacted by presidential order, start by reversing the fact that federal prosecutors more or less categorically refuse to take up straw-buyer cases. The U.S. attorney responsible for Chicago announced in 2012 that his office would no longer prosecute straw-purchase cases unless there was some bigger, sexier aspect to them, such as interstate gun-trafficking. If, as the Times report and similar surveys suggest, most crime is being committed by people with prior violent-crime records (most of whom would be forbidden from legally buying guns) then going after straw buyers makes a lot of sense. But we don’t do that, because you don’t make a name for yourself as a federal prosecutor by putting a bunch of Chicago gangsters’ mothers and girlfriends in jail. The desire to focus regulatory efforts on licensed gun dealers instead of on straw buyers and other actual criminals is in part about laziness (gun dealers have fixed addresses and regular business hours) but also about the desire to shift prosecutorial energy away from the sort of communities in which “community organizers” make their living.

The president has it within his power to order U.S. attorneys, in Chicago and elsewhere, to take up those straw-buyer cases, but he refuses to exercise it. Why? Because he believes that there is political juice to be had from a long, drawn-out confrontation with the NRA and other gun-rights activists, but none to be had from taking meaningful steps to punish the actual wrongdoers. That is cowardice, and it is immoral. 

One suspects that the editors of the New York Times are politically sophisticated enough to understand this, but they are craven, and so they pretend, along with the president, that this is a question of “the National Rifle Association and those who do its bidding” rather than an administration and a criminal-justice system that won’t do their damned jobs. 

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