The president concluded his recent State of the Union address with an appeal on behalf of those who've suffered from gun violence. We mourn with the families in attendance that night whose loved ones were stolen too early from this earth.
But in the midst of the president's emotional plea, we should also look to those whose lives have been saved because of the free exercise of our Second Amendment. In January, a Georgia woman in lawful possession of a firearm protected her children from certain tragedy when a violent intruder forced his way into their home. Last October, a similar scenario took place in Oklahoma when an intruder broke into a home where a 12-year-old girl was alone. When he approached the girl's hiding place, she fired a shot; the intruder fled, leaving her unharmed.
As Congress contemplates new restrictions on the Second Amendment, we must not fall into the trap of hastily adopting proposals that offer no additional safety. Nor should we trample on the rights of those who merely seek to protect their homes and families.
It's important to clarify from the president's January press conference the difference between his 23 executive actions and new gun laws. The president can't unilaterally write new laws that endanger the Second Amendment, despite his misleading claims that day. Any new assault weapon bans and onerous requirements to purchase guns must first be approved by Congress.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is now leading this charge in Congress. Her assault weapon bill would outlaw firearms that are essentially the same as semi-automatic rifles or pistols commonly used for hunting and personal protection. The major difference with how Feinstein's legislation defines an “assault weapon” is by the firearm's additional cosmetic features. Otherwise, the weapon operates no differently and can only fire one round per pull of the trigger.
While the number of assault weapons owned by private individuals has risen since the sunset of the original 1994 ban, the nation's murder rate is at historic lows. Criminals, by their very nature, have no respect for the law. An outright ban would do nothing more than restrict the rights of law-abiding individuals.
Concerning the president's push for universal background checks, we must enter this discussion with caution. In the case of the Sandy Hook shooter, the 14-day background check deterred Adam Lanza from purchasing weapons. Instead, he stole them from his mother who was in legal possession and for the purposes of self-defense. Before changing current background laws, we must first ask how reasonable any new regulation would be in reducing gun violence.
My heart grieves for the birthdays, graduations and anniversaries that have been unjustly stolen in recent months, but we must realize a person — not just a bullet — took these lives. For a safer America, our focus must first be on enforcing current laws, not further restricting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, and ensuring weapons stay out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.