President Obama announced this week that he'll be holding a town hall on gun control on Thursday and rolling out a series of proposals for executive action that would make it harder for people will criminal intent to buy guns. The announcement hasn't been made formally yet, but the biggest piece is expected to be a tightening of the gun show loophole, an exception in current federal law that allows sellers of guns to skip running background checks on buyers so long as they are making "private" sales. The problem is the definition of a "private" sale has been expanded so much that it seems to encompass any sale, including those at gun shows, that isn't done in a store, meaning that a whopping 40 percent of gun owners didn't have to go through a background check to get their latest gun.
Closing the gun show loophole is sadly not that big an action. It will hopefully reduce the number of people who are banned from buying guns who use this loophole to get one anyway, but it certainly won't do what a broader program like mandatory buybacks would do to reduce gun violence. Still, while it's a half-measure, it's a popular one, with around 90 percent of Americans supporting the idea that everyone who gets a shiny new gun should have to pass a background check to do so.
Despite all this, conservative pundits and politicians are acting like this is the end of liberty and perhaps life itself. "President Obama is talking about this week issuing yet another executive order trying to go after our right to keep and bear arms," Ted Cruz bellowed on Monday, even though anyone who could pass a background check at a gun store would be able to pass the same one at a gun show.
Cruz's campaign is currently raising money by raffling off an engraved shotgun. But, in an interesting show of hypocrisy, the campaign will require the winner to undergo a background check in order to get their free gun. If Cruz really thinks that there's no reason to perform background checks on people who obtain guns outside of direct purchases from federally licensed gun stores, then he and his campaign should prove it by giving this gun away to some rando, no questions asked.
Jeb Bush went another direction, claiming that "the so-called gun show loophole, which was I think what he's talking about, doesn't exist."
"People that want to sell randomly, you know, occasionally sell guns ought to have the right to do so without being impaired by the federal government," he continued. Which is the gun show loophole. Which he claimed doesn't exist. Right before explaining what it is. Considering that 40 percent of recent gun acquisitions are done through the gun show loophole, that's a might big loophole for one that kind of sort of doesn't exist except for that it does.
A similar nuh-uh strategy is in play when conservatives claim that there's no need to expand the background checks to cover every gun buyer, because doing so doesn't work anyway. "The big question is would any of the things that the president is going to do, would they have stopped any of the shootings we've seen in the past? So far, probably not," Steve Doocy of Fox News smarmily declared on Monday.
Never mind that there is a huge amount of evidence that the existing background checks, inadequate as they are, do prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands. This kind of argument is self-refuting. Say that it's true that everyone who is buying guns through the gun show loophole right now is a law-abiding citizen who would pass a background check. Then what's the danger in making them go through one? The only reason to oppose a background check is the fear of not passing it and not getting a gun. But who is currently failing background checks that conservatives are willing to say should be getting guns? Wife beaters? Violent felons? People with mental health issues whose doctor forbids them from getting weapons? Until conservatives are willing to say who is currently being denied guns that should be allowed to have them, they don't have a leg to stand on defending this massive loophole.
Despite this, Jeb Bush kept at it, declaring that Obama would "trample on the Second Amendment" and that this requirement that everyone pass a background check is Obama's attempt to "advance a gun-grabbing agenda". Clearly, society will fall apart if wife beaters and convicted felons don't have an easy way to buy guns even though they're legally barred from doing so.
Of course, many on the right are bypassing even these arguments and go straight to screaming about how the black-booted thugs are coming tomorrow to castrate you — I mean, take your guns.
"President Obama is plotting with his attorney general to get our guns," Todd Starnes wrote in a typically hysterical piece at Fox News. While admitting that the likely executive decision is little more than cracking "down on small scale gun sellers," Starnes then goes full blown in his paranoia.
"But that's not the point," he continues, lest you make the mistake of thinking we should worry what the law actually does rather than what it doesn't do. "This president wants to disarm the nation."
At no point does Starnes explain why people who can't pass background checks at licensed gun dealers should be able to just go to a gun show and buy a gun instead. The column is an 800-word version of the "look over there!" maneuver. "So instead of declaring war on law-abiding gun owners," he screeches, ignoring the fact that the proposed action is to make it harder for non-law-abiding people to evade background checks, "maybe the president ought to declare war on the true threat facing our nation -- radical Islam." Just so long as you don't make any Islamic terrorist wannabes undergo a background check that might keep them from buying guns, that is.
Similarly, Rush Limbaugh was so bent out of shape over the not-yet-announced executive actions that he went straight into Alex Jones territory. "They can't do a thing to curb gun violence," Limbaugh said of the Obama administration. "In fact, as Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association once said back during the Clinton years, they profit from the violence. They're comfortable with a certain level of violence because it encourages supporters of this kind of unilateral action."
He didn't quite go as far as to accuse the government of staging "false flag" operations in order to gin up support for gun control, but no doubt his audience knows which conspiracy theory he's playing footsie with. Lest there's any doubt there, he continues: "They're talking about removing guns from the hands of innocent people, which is the only thing they'll be able to accomplish."
Again, the main proposal is making it harder for people who cannot pass a federal background check to go to a gun show or to some other unlicensed dealer and buying a gun anyway. If Limbaugh is so convinced these buyers are "innocent" people, make that case, instead of dancing around the issue.
All in all, it's clear that conservatives are tripping over their own rhetoric that pits supposedly "good guys with guns" against criminals. If their only interest is making sure that good guys are armed while the bad guys are kept in check, making sure that background checks are universally applied should be a no-brainer.
But it's clear that is not and never has actually been the issue here, a fact that's driven home all the more by the fact that we currently have a seditious militia, all hepped up on anti-government and pro-gun rhetoric, occupying a federal building and basically hoping, out loud, that the government tries to retake it so they can justify shooting federal officials. No doubt the vast majority of conservatives would have assumed that these men were "good guys with guns", right up until the very moment they took a federal building and started threatening to kill people.
Meanwhile, Democrats are trying to get some kind of policy passed that would reduce the real world number of gun crimes. Political winds, being what they are, will make it nearly impossible to pass comprehensive policy that dramatically reduces gun crime — much less gun accidents or gun suicides— but even so, stopping just some is a worthy goal we all need to get behind. Which also means pushing through conservative lies and hysterics, something Obama will hopefully be able to do during his Thursday town hall.