While comedian-turned-secular-Pope Jimmy Kimmel was once again berating Republicans on his show last night, this time for caving to the "gun lobby," Stephen Colbert was also getting political down the dial. In a joke-free monologue at the top of his CBS program, Colbert basically begged Congress to do something -- literally "anything but nothing" -- in response to the bloodshed. ("Anything"? Really? Would he gush over a proposal to mandate firearms purchases and training for every adult in America?) Inaction, he averred, is tantamount to "cowardice." There's that word again. The late night host was giving voice to an understandable and near-universal human impulse: People witness terrible events and instinctively wish to see concrete steps taken to mitigate or prevent similar atrocities in the future. There's also a deep-seated human compulsion toward action in response to emotionally-charged developments; people have an atavistic desire to check boxes, to feel productive, and to make "progress." That's not ridicule. It's merely an acknowledgement of human nature. But when we debate "solutions" to complex problems, the idea of doing anything at all in order to capture some fleeting sense of closure or accomplishment is immature and even reckless. Pertinent, serious questions ought to focus on whether the proposals in question would actually help, and whether they're constitutional.
To place my cards on the table at the onset, I'm someone who supports the Second Amendment, but who is not familiar with gun culture -- let alone steeped or immersed in it. I've never fired a gun. It doesn't interest me. So every time the latest demented gunman unleashes evil upon his fellow men, I watch our gun control debates play out like ghoulish clockwork without an emotional dog in the fight. I've occasionally found myself initially attracted to certain suggested laws or regulations, only to dig a bit deeper and discover that they're some combination of impractical, duplicative, unworkable, and constitutionally dubious. I've also found many of the arguments advanced on their behalf are emotionally manipulative and logically uncompelling. When these objections are challenged in greater detail, conversations tend to degenerate to angry personal attacks, or circle back to the same familiar refrain: 'Well, we need to do something.' But what? Because I'm not ideologically committed to the proposition of no new regulations on firearms, ever, I'm open to good ideas. I ask questions like these, even while acknowledging the flaws in proponents' framing:
...are earplugs/headphones really such unreasonable burdens for target shooters & hunters that they outweigh some law enforcement concerns?— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) October 2, 2017
The answers I received on this particular topic were somewhat persuasive regarding personal freedom and hearing loss, but I'm still not convinced that expanding access to suppressors is a necessary step to take (the House appears to have tabled the bill). Along similar lines, I also understand the frustration of people who see innocent people dying, and whose every idea is swatted down -- even if quite convincingly -- by their opponents. Can't you people support anything? Or is it all just no, no, no, at every turn? Which brings me to these tweets from two conservatives I follow and respect:
I'm eager to hear an explanation why bump stocks should continue to be legal.https://t.co/qgvtWY1Mfb— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) October 3, 2017
2 reasonable proposals that actually relate to recent shooting: 1) Cornyn bill on terror watch list 2) Regulate bump stocks like auto guns.— (((AG))) (@AG_Conservative) October 3, 2017
If the federal government effectively banned the production and sale of almost all fully automatic weapons to civilians decades ago, why can't we very heavily regulate kits designed to transform semi-automatic guns into facsimiles of automatic guns, mimicking their rapid-fire, multiple-bullets-per-second capabilities? I'm always wary of anti-gun arguments that go something like, "who really needs product X?" because that standard could be over-applied to justify outlawing a lot of things. Still, I do find myself asking that question here. Besides trying to kill as many people as possible in as little time as possible, who needs a "bump stock" (which authorities allegedly found in the Las Vegas killer's arsenal), and for what legitimate purpose? Granted, the Second Amendment does not state that firearms and related accessories are only protected if there's a reasonable hunting application to owning them; there's a critical self-defense component, too, which anti-gun forces too often belittle or downplay. And yes, legally barring a tool obviously does not mean that bad people -- especially someone who's hellbent on destruction, and undertakes a great deal of meticulous and sophisticated planning -- will not manage to get their hands the outlawed tool, or otherwise improvise.
Nevertheless, making bump stocks much more difficult to obtain is a step that does not strike me as an unreasonable imposition on Second Amendment rights, especially since we basically outlawed "the real thing" long ago. I've read some critics of this idea who warn that overly-broad or vague legislative language on this point could be used to ensnare additional gun components or accessories. My response? Write the law tightly and smartly, in conjunction with bona fide experts. Take great care, and get it right. As for the Cornyn bill regarding the terror watch lists (which at least has a tangential tie to the Pulse Nightclub ISIS shooting), here's some background from June of last year, when Senate Democrats killed the measure:
Sen. John Cornyn's proposal to notify law enforcement when someone on the terror watch list tries to buy a gun failed to move forward Monday. A test vote on Cornyn's proposal - which would have triggered a three-day investigation into the pending buyer - failed 53-47, with Sen. Ted Cruz supporting Cornyn's amendment. The proposed amendments to the Department of Justice spending bill needed 60 votes to proceed...Republicans and Democrats say they agree that "terrorists" shouldn't be allowed to buy guns, but are split on how to prevent it...Cornyn's legislation would have allowed the attorney general to block the sale of a gun to someone on the terrorism watch list for three days while an investigation into potential wrongdoing takes place. On Monday, the Senate's No. 2 GOP leader called his version "superior" to a similar amendment brought by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., because his would take "terrorists off the street" should a judge find probable cause to detain the person. Feinstein's proposal would prevent a gun sale, "but nothing else happens," Cornyn said. Feinstein sought to automatically block any one on the terrorism watch list from purchasing a firearm and allow the attorney general to prohibit someone from buying a weapon if there is "reasonable belief" it would be used for terrorism.
The Feinstein alternative was more draconian in its due process implications, especially considering that the 'watch lists' are notoriously rife with errors -- some of them embarrassingly glaring -- about which Democrats used to complain bitterly. Cornyn's legislation would flag potentially-problematic purchase attempts for authorities, and permit a three-day holding pattern allowing officials to investigate. This avoids imposing a due-process-free standard to that blocks sales to anyone who, unbeknownst to him or her, is sitting on a secret government list somewhere, quite possibly unjustly. So there's my answer to the "what will you support?" challenge: (1) New, carefully-crafted, robust regulations on mechanisms that effectively "convert" semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones (I realize that modifying a rifle for this purpose is already illegal in many cases), and (2) the Cornyn bill. Many gun controllers, some of whom are open about their desire to confiscate and outlaw guns altogether, will likely view these steps as inadequate. That's fine. But this is a pro-gun country with a pro-gun constitution. They keep asking for "reasonable," "common sense" compromises -- and literally anything. Well, this is something. I'll leave you with two must-read pieces on the disconnect between rhetoric and realities surrounding mass shootings: The first is a point-by-point rebuttal of various legislative "solutions" offered by a New York Times columnist in response to the Las Vegas massacre, via The Federalist. The second is an essay by a longtime gun control supporter whose exhaustive research into actual data forced her to abandon her support for popular agenda items pushed by anti-gun politicians. "The case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence," she writes. Read the whole thing: