IN laying out his ideas for curbing gun violence, President Barack Obama urged Americans to ask their elected officials whether they back renewal of a ban on military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. “And if they say no, ask them why not,” Obama said.
Oklahoma's congressional delegation was glad to explain why. All seven made it clear Wednesday they're not fans of Obama's proposal to reinstate the assault-weapons ban that was in place from 1994-2004. They're concerned about protecting the Second Amendment, for one thing, but they also may wonder, as we do, what difference such a ban would actually make.
The original ban had no significant effect on reducing gun-related violence, which is one reason lawmakers allowed the ban to expire. The Wall Street Journal on Thursday noted that defining the term “assault weapon” poses a problem, and so does the U.S. Supreme Court, which twice in recent years has upheld an individual's right to bear arms for commonly used guns. The AR-15, the weapon Adam Lanza used in Newtown, Conn., fits that description, with about 2 million in circulation.
The Journal noted: “The government is empowered to ban ‘dangerous and unusual weapons,' like machine guns and surface-to-air missiles, but it also needs to explain how any of this will prevent the next Newtown.”
The truth is that simply banning some guns and ammo won't make a difference. What might make a difference is something else the president proposed, which touched on the issue of mental health. Obama wants to use federal funding to support state programs that seek to identify high-risk youths and to train mental health experts who focus on children.
That's an idea members on both sides of the aisle should be able to support. Similarly, many of the 23 executive orders the president signed Wednesday aren't likely to cause much of a ruckus. It's his recommendations requiring congressional approval that are more political than practical. Indeed the president milked the politics for all it was worth by lining up a handful of school children to join him for the announcement.
Getting past the political will be a tremendous challenge. This isn't an issue that's split evenly along party lines — many members of the president's own party are uncomfortable with the idea of weapons bans.
We appreciated the comments by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee. A solid defender of the Second Amendment, Coburn said Congress is responsible for reviewing and adjusting laws when needed, and he looks forward to a full and open debate on this issue.
“Instead of repeating the failed policies of the past, Congress should work on thoughtful and constitutional ways to prevent unspeakable tragedies like this from happening again,” he said. “The fact that almost every public mass shooting tragedy occurs in a place where guns are prohibited shows that restricting Second Amendment rights tends to disarm everyone but the assailant.”
He also said it's incumbent on gun owners to do all they can to keep their firearms and ammunition from getting into the wrong hands, and that policy shouldn't be dictated by special-interest groups. Instead, Coburn said, “As elected officials, we should be beholden solely to the Constitution.”
Obama has never been one to let a crisis go to waste. He's not the first politician to exploit a tragedy in a pursuit of an agenda. But a government of laws must protect the rights of the lawful as well as protect us from the outlaws.
Instead of repeating the failed policies of the past, Congress should work on thoughtful and constitutional ways to prevent unspeakable tragedies like this from happening again. The fact that almost every public mass shooting tragedy occurs in a place where guns are prohibited shows that restricting Second Amendment rights tends to disarm everyone but the assailant.”
Sen. Tom Coburn,