WASHINGTON — The biggest obstacle to the Obama administration's push for tighter gun control may be its own best argument: Newtown.
This is because nothing proposed in the gun control debates would have prevented the mass killing of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and everybody knows it. At best, tighter gun laws will make us feel better.
Let's review: The Newtown killer was a mentally disturbed young man living with his mother. She had legally purchased her arsenal and had even taught her son how to responsibly handle firearms.
What she did not do was: (1) deal appropriately with her son's mental illness; (2) safely contain her guns so that her son could not access them.
As much as anyone, I am eager to do whatever will make a difference. But I'm unconvinced that what is being proposed will provide the solution we seek.
Universal background checks are a perfectly good idea, except that they won't stop the burglar who recently cleaned out our house of all our legally purchased rifles and shotguns, including an antique belonging to my great-grandfather, who, as sheriff of Barnwell County, S.C., confiscated the gun from the triple murderer he tracked for three days and finally killed. (I want that gun back, please.)
Those guns are now in circulation among an element of society that has no intention of submitting to a background check or any other well-intentioned effort to ensure that only good guys have guns.
Should we insist that buyers at gun shows submit to a quick background check as they would at any gun store? Sure. Why not? Federally licensed vendors at gun shows already have to conduct background checks, but everyday people who sell among themselves at the shows do not. Few beyond the gun lobby object to this step, but even this wouldn't have prevented Newtown.
Meanwhile, what about my neighbor, Mike, who, theoretically, wants to buy a shotgun I no longer use? Is it really practical to insist that he submit to a background check? Gun control proponents would have Mike and me run down to Dick's Sporting Goods (or some other “portal”) and run through a quick background check. We could do that. Or, I could just give Mike the gun and he could hand me a couple hundred dollars one of these days.
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