On Friday, the Obama administration floated a trial balloon suggesting the president is considering taking executive action on gun control. As Obama flew to Oregon to meet with the families of victims of the massacre at Umpqua Community College, sources in the White House leaked to reporters that this action would consist of expanding the legal definition of a licensed gun dealer to include those that sell more than a certain number of guns a year. Currently there is no minimum number to meet this designation, which allows an unknown number of dealers to operate without having to follow the same rules about background checks as, say, your local gun shop. These dealers would then be required to conduct background checks on all their customers.
The media touted this as a major new regulation. In truth, that remains to be seen. Though the administration has not yet decided on a minimum number a person must sell to be considered a licensed dealer, it will likely be somewhere between 50 and 100. It is impossible to know how many small dealers passing themselves off as hobbyists or collectors who regularly sell off or replenish their collections would reach the threshold the Obama administration is considering. Though this report from Everytown gives some anecdotal evidence that this practice is fairly common:
(A) 2009 undercover investigation of seven gun shows conducted by the City of New York documented numerous private sellers engaged in the business of selling guns. For example, investigators met a seller in Reno, Nevada displaying more than 100 guns for sale in twelve professionally designed cases. In Smyrna, Tennessee, a private seller reported doing “a pretty good business” in 9mm handguns; when it came to .45 caliber guns, he said he “sold as many as he [could] get.” And in Sharonville, Ohio, a private seller told an investigator he had sold more than 348 SKS assault rifles in “just under a year,” netting $174,000 in revenue.
But it would not have mattered if the media described this new proposed regulation as a tiny, incremental, hopeless flailing against the tide of gun violence that claims 30,000 American lives every year. It would not have mattered if news anchors made a jerking-off motion while reading the story on the air. Because to the right wing, this is yet another lawless usurpation of the Constitution by the Kenyan tyrant in his never-ending quest to disarm red-blooded Americans so they can’t…well, who knows what. Resist his iron-fisted efforts to give everyone affordable health insurance? Raise the marginal tax rate of a tiny percentage of the population to the same number it was during Bill Clinton’s presidency? Install Saul Alinsky’s desiccated corpse as the new Speaker of the House?
We have seen this movie before. In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre and Congress’s subsequent inability to pass gun-control legislation that might address the problem of gun violence, Obama issued a series of 23 executive orders. They were all pretty weak tea, unless you think “Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers” and “Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime” (what, we weren’t doing that already?) is the height of a crackdown. None of these orders would have likely affected the 300 million guns already in circulation in this country, nor would they have dissuaded gun manufacturers from making more. Heck, gun companies were probably thrilled, because every time the president makes noises about doing something about gun violence in the wake of a slaughter, gun sales, um, shoot up.
And so Friday we were treated to “Mild Executive Orders on Gun Control Are Hitler: The Sequel.” This line of argument was helped by the continued ramblings of Dr. Ben Carson, who was still defending his thesis, against all historical evidence, that the Holocaust would never have happened if only the Nazis had not disarmed the Jews. The general wingnutosphere leapt to defend Carson and claim that this possible executive order equals “confiscation” of everyone’s guns.
All this paranoia and terribly wrong historical scholarship would be hilarious if Ben Carson was not the number-two choice for the Republican presidential nomination right now, or if Obama had not been met in Oregon by a small group of armed (!) protestors who wanted him to know that his views on “common-sense gun laws” made him unwelcome there. (I’m betting if they asked, the president would assure them that he didn’t want to be there either, since he has already played Mourner-in-Chief after more than his share of mass gun slaughters, thank you very much.) It would be hilarious if we were not having this ridiculous conversation when separate shooting incidents on two other college campuses on Friday left two people dead and four wounded. Maybe the president can stop in Flagstaff and Houston on his way home to comfort those survivors as well.
In other words, the Second Amendment dead-enders can relax. This “major new regulation” is nothing of the sort, and the Republican Party is in no danger of suddenly discovering a reserve of heretofore-unknown sanity floating around its ranks over gun control. It’s their world, the rest of us just get to live – and occasionally get shot and bleed out – in it.