The president seems either to not understand the legislative process very well or to remain undecided as to whether he wants progress or more political fighting on the gun violence issue. How else to explain why he threw into his anti-gun violence plan giant, unattainable items such as an assault-weapons ban (which we couldn’t adequately define in 1994 and didn’t work) alongside some common-sense items such as armed school guards and funding for mental health?
Opponents will focus, just as the president did, on the big issue — the assault-weapons ban — and insist that the whole package is kaput before it lands in the relevant Senate and House committees. In effect, President Obama included a poison pill in his own legislation.
He would have made it much harder on opponents of any gun restrictions if he had culled the list down to a more manageable size, emphasizing mental health care and detection of mental illnesses and keeping guns out of the hands of the seriously mentally ill.
Matt Miller speaks for many voters on this point: “I’m all for universal background checks, tighter assault-weapon bans, limits on high-capacity magazines, and ambitious and well-funded gun-buyback programs. But unless we also find more effective ways to identify and treat people who are dangerously mentally ill, we’ll never stop tragedies like Newtown (or Aurora, or Tucson, or Virginia Tech).”
So why didn’t the president start on the point on which we can all agree, rather than picking a fight on items over which there is almost certainly no agreement? Ya got me.
A number of the anti-gun provisions make no sense. Take the limit on high-capacity magazine clips. The president wants a limit of 10 rounds. Maybe gun owners want 70. So they compromise at 25. Does this make mass shootings less deadly? A deranged shooter might instead wear a holster for easy access to additional weapons, or he might just switch out an empty magazine for a full one, which takes a few seconds. And what about all the high-capacity clips out there already? Would it take 10 years or 100 to get rid of them? It is the lack of common sense in these measures (which seem to come from people who know very little about fighting crime or about guns) and willingness to paint opponents as irresponsible or anti-child that is so grating, not to mention unconducive to progress.
I would also add a fiscal point. The package costs $500 million. We don’t have the money for this or many other things. This is, in part, the argument for entitlement reform, which is crowding out spending on priorities liberals (e.g. gun enforcement) and conservatives (e.g. defense) prefer. The question is not whether we should throw Grandma over the cliff but whether some rich grandmas can pay for more of their health care so we can protect kids in school from madmen (as well as do many other things for the poor and young, the unemployed and untrained).
Veronique de Rugy and Jason J. Fichtner (h/t Jim Pethokoukis) speak to the issue of entitlement crowd-out, explaining that entitlements and debt payments combined have grown from 38 percent of the budget in 1970 to 64 percent in 2012 and, if we continue on this path, to 82 percent in 2040. These are transfer payments that go, in large part, from young to old without regard to progressivity. The authors argue: “This is no surprise as the federal government faced its fourth year of trillion dollar deficits and spent an unprecedented $3.5 trillion (in current dollars), or about $11,200 per person, in 2012 alone. As deficits continue to pile onto the national debt, interest payments continue to grow significantly as a result. Hence, the primary drivers of government spending today and into the future are the continual growth in entitlements and interest payments on the federal debt that crowd out all other areas of the budget.”
It would be nice if the president would have scaled down his gun ambitions and recognized that if he wants to pursue projects like this he should start negotiating on the debt ceiling and entitlement cuts. That, unfortunately, is too much to ask.