On Gun Control, Obama Looks like Reagan and Bush

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On Gun Control, Obama Looks like Reagan and Bush

January 4, 2016

The Obama Administration is planning new gun restrictions to be implemented by executive order. 

Politico reports

According to gun industry insiders and others familiar with the proposals, the changes include requiring an expanded number of small-scale gun sellers to be licensed — and therefore conduct background checks — whenever selling a weapon. This wouldn’t close the so-called gun show loophole, though it has the potential to narrow it.

In response, the Conservative media has expressed the expected outrage, with Donald Trump declaring that “pretty soon, you won’t be able to get guns.” 

With these new measures, however, Obama isn't supporting anything that hasn't been supported by Republicans in the past. 

Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have supported closing the so-called “gun show loophole,” and both supported an “assault weapons” ban, which goes beyond what Obama is currently attempting. 

Here's George W. Bush in 2004 saying “my view is clear. I do think we ought to extend the assault weapons ban…I believe in background checks at gun shows or anywhere.” Bush even attempts to portray himself as the “sensible” person in the room who supports more gun restrictions while others in both parties refused to support Bush's call for more restrictions.

Ronald Reagan also supported national background checks and in 1991 wrote a column in The New York Times calling for sweeping changes in federal law on handguns that would greatly restrict access. Remembering the assassination attempt against him, Reagan wrote:

This nightmare might never have happened if legislation that is before Congress now — the Brady bill — had been law back in 1981.

Named for Jim Brady, this legislation would establish a national seven-day waiting period before a handgun purchaser could take delivery. It would allow local law enforcement officials to do background checks for criminal records or known histories of mental disturbances. Those with such records would be prohibited from buying the handguns.

Reagan went on to bemoan the fact that there were not strong enough provisions for federal agents to punish gun dealers who are not thorough enough in their background checks. 

Naturally, we should not expect anything less from Reagan, who as governor of California supported some of the most draconian gun laws ever passed in the state's history (up to that time.)

The right wing would have us believe that Obama is somehow unique in his animosity to guns, but if that's true it's only a small matter of degree. The fact is that every president during (at least) the past thirty years has been quite fond of restricting firearms ownership in the United States. This makes perfect sense, of course, since restricting gun ownership is the same thing as expanding the government's monopoly over the means of coercion. 

Dreaming of a larger and more powerful government — something every president does — goes hand in hand with wanting to centralize and expand government power over weaponry. 

Politicians like Obama, Bush, and Reagan have all decried the problem of gun violence one minute while advocating for more guns in the hands of government and its friends, whether it's selling military surplus to local police, or shipping guns to Central American, Syrian, or Iraqi death squads. 

It's hard to know what a future Republican, if elected would suddenly decide he supports among gun control measures. But we can guess.

Chris Christie, the rapidly rising establishment darling among GOP candidates, has called Obama a petulant child for his gun control measures, but it's unclear that Christie would take a more gun-friendly position as president. 

Christie has rightly criticized Obama's threatened use of executive orders to get around Congress, but in terms of gun control, Christie — the latest darling of the establishment GOP — supports some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, and instructed his spokesperson in 2014 to note that Christie “supports New Jersey’s already tough gun laws.’’ New Jersey is perhaps the most restrictive state in the nation on guns.

Ultimately, however, Obama may not even need executive orders to expand background checks. After all, four Republicans, including Rep. Steve King of NY were sponsoring new legislation to expand them and close the “gun show loophole” in 2015.  

No Evidence New Measures Would Work

Most important, though, is the fact that there's simply no evidence that new restrictions such as these would actually work. 

Gun ownership is a simple matter of property rights. Owning a gun is no different from owning a computer or a car or real estate. All of these can be used for nefarious means, but with the exception of guns, people generally recognize that restriction of ownership in these cases should be determined on a case-by-case basis subject to due process. Few advocate for a nationwide ban on fast cars or alcoholic beverages even though the items annually are involved in thousands of fatalities

Unfortunately, the public can be easily swayed to abandon basic property rights if it thinks that gun control “works.” 

There is no evidence, however, that it does work, since some of the states with the lowest homicide rates in the nation (lower even than Canada) also have some of the most unrestricted access to guns. Many states with highly restrictive gun laws, on the other hand, can have very homicide rates. Moreover, there's no historical evidence that gun control has led to lower homicide rates in numerous foreign countries as well, including England, where homicide rates are higher now than they were before gun control became fashionable in that country. 

At the same time, expanded background checks would have done little to nothing in restricting access to the famous mass shooters in recent years who have become the poster boys for the need for more gun control. Background checks only work on people with existing criminal records. 

One might argue then, that this proves that total disarmament (of non-government agents) is the only answer. But even leftists admit that a “zero-gun America” is an “impossible dream.” And, in the end, gun control advocates are left explaining how the number of guns in the US has exploded over the past 20 years while homicides have been cut in half.



Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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