Rand Paul’s important concession on guns

Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee all appear set to mount a filibuster to prevent any Obama gun control proposal of any kind from being debated on the Senate floor — on Second Amendment grounds. Senator Paul went on Fox News last night to explain his thinking.

In the process, however, Paul inadvertently made an important concession. Here’s what he said:

“I haven’t heard one proposal from him or Harry Reid that would have saved one life. And I’m all for saving lives….We plan on making them have at least 60 votes to pass any legislation that may abridge the Second Amendment. So we will fight tooth and nail, and use every parliamentary procedure to stop that from happening. We have a lot of things on the books that the president says he wants to enhance, many of these could be enhanced without any legislation. Background checks already do work. We already have rules that say mental health statistics need to come from the states to the data bank.”

I’d advise Senator Paul against claiming improving background checks would not save lives or prevent mass shootings. A better background check system very well may have prevented the Virginia Tech massacre. Data collected by the pro-gun-control Mayors Against Illegal Guns suggests that states with better background check laws show a lower murder rate of women, fewer suicides, and less gun trafficking. Now, maybe you don’t trust MAIG’s data. Shouldn’t the possibility that expanding gun background checks could save lives — which Paul himself says he wants — be enough for him to actually give the idea serious thought?

It’s also important that Paul claimed that current background checks “already do work.” Here’s why: He’s effectively allowing that the current background check law is not a threat to people’s Second Amendment rights. The current compromise on expanded background checks being negotiated would simply expand the current system to cover most private sales. It would maintain the prohibition against any national gun registry. It would maintain the current system of record keeping — in which dealers keep records of sales, and the feds destroy any record of a valid gun transfer within 24 hours. By Paul’s own lights those things, in the context of the current law, are not a threat to Americans’ constitutional rights. There is no logical way, then, that the new proposal threatens them, either. This is an important concession.

Keep that in mind as you read Senator Lee’s deeply strange and hallucinatory argument against the proposal. Lee claims it would require a national registry to work (it wouldn’t), and then adds that the American people “are not really comfortable with the idea of the government knowing exactly what firearm they purchase any more than they would be comfortable with the government knowing when or how often they go to church or what they eat for breakfast or what books they are reading from the library.”

But most gun sales currently undergo checks — and Lee’s own ideological fellow traveler, i.e., Senator Paul, is just fine with that. He doesn’t see the Big Government threat to liberty in the current law that Lee envisions. See the problem here?

The other day, Dana Milbank wrote a good column arguing that Paul is proving willing to break with conservatives in surprising ways (immigration reform, gay marriage, drone filibuster), and is “more complex than his Tea Party caricature.” Paul can prove that this is true by giving expanded background checks a serious look. He can do this while maintaining his Second Amendment-driven opposition to the assault weapons ban. His own quotes reveal that the background check policy proposal has nothing in common with the fantasy version of it that his Tea Party comrades have created. Senator Paul could talk to some law enforcement officials and experts about the proposal. This is a real opportunity for him to defy expectations again. Seriously.

 

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