Congress returned to work this week and the first order of business is gun control legislation, at least according to all the news we’ve been reading since El Paso and Dayton. The mission seems to be, “do something, anything, to make this stop.” Everyone’s talking about banning this gun or that high capacity magazine. There’s also the movement to pass a national red-flag law that will take guns away from those who shouldn’t be allowed to have guns because of their mental state. Or the best one yet – comprehensive background checks for every gun transfer.
It’s all hogwash that might make some people feel they’ve done something meaningful, but it will not change anything. Sadly, not one thing.
Because, no matter how horrible gun violence has become in America today, it is not something we can legislate away. The problem goes much, much deeper than anything a new law or background check can solve. Some would say its root is in bad parenting, genetics, is the result of our overcrowded prison system, a failed mental health system, gangs, the list could go on and on.
Dear Congress, write all the new laws you want (whether the President will sign them or not), wanna know why they won’t put a dent in gun violence? Because the bad guys don’t care about laws – isn’t that part of the definition of “bad guy?” No matter how many laws are enacted, the bad guys have already figured out a way to get around it. I could give two hoots what the NRA says about this, I’ve seen it first hand as a cop – if a bad guy wants a gun, he’s going to get a gun and there’s no law that’s going to stop him. Nice try.
Universal background checks are a great idea, if all of the agencies across the country are reporting as they are supposed to. They aren’t. Remember the Sutherland Park, Texas church shooting in November, 2017? It most likely wouldn’t have happened had the US Air Force reported Devin Patrick Kelley’s less than honorable discharge after his court-marshal for a domestic violence arrest. You see, he passed the NICS check when he bought the rifle he used in the shooting… because the US Air Force failed to report. Many states and municipalities do not report criminal or mental health issues that would prevent someone from buying a gun. So long as there are states, agencies, and armed forces that are not fully reporting to NICS, universal background checks will not work. Another nice try.
So what about those red flag laws everyone is crowing about? Congress can pass a national red flag law with the best of intentions. At some point an angry ex-spouse, ex-business partner, angry neighbor, or other person who is upset with a legal gun owner will fraudulently report that person as being a hazard to self or others. The lawyers will be circulating, waiting to sue the reporting party and challenge the law. The legal beagles will probably be successful because many of the state red flag laws currently on the books completely disregard any due process for the legal gun owner. In my home state of Massachusetts, no hearing is required before the police show up at the gun owner’s door with a warrant to seize his guns. After the gun owner has sold his house to pay the legal bills and proves he’s in charge of his faculties or never made any threats, how does he get his guns back? He doesn’t, because in Massachusetts there is no mechanism in the law to return the guns to the original owner. He winds up having to keep paying the bonded storage charges (yep, the owner has to pay for storage when’s guns are taken away). I give the red flag laws about a year before the courts over turn them.
What can be done? My point is that there is no single answer to the gun violence problem. Anyone who tells you passing a law will solve the problem is flat-out lying to you. If you believe and embrace this hokum-filled philosophy, I’m sorry, but you are sadly misguided. This is a much, much larger problem that has less to do with the gun than with larger societal issues.