Something’s better than nothing on guns


In a highly publicized move, President Obama issued new executive actions on gun control—his boldest  ones yet—in an attempt to regulate and restrict the sale of guns, particularly to criminals and the mentally ill. The new mandate includes hiring more federal employees to monitor gun sales and conduct background checks, requiring licenses for gun sellers at gun shows and on the internet, and increasing funding for the treatment of severe mental health issues. Predictably, pundits and politicians on the right were quick to voice their disapproval, accusing the president of infringing upon the Constitution and even threatening to challenge the move in court.

The issue of gun violence—as well as the rancor and political fanfare surrounding it—seems to be a uniquely American malady. In no other modernized country in the world do mass shootings occur with the same frequency and severity as in the United States. With frightening tolerance, we watch as small towns such as Aurora, Newtown and San Bernardino turn into landmarks, and the perpetrators of these heinous acts become household names. In some parts of the country, gun violence has become such a daily reality that it goes virtually unnoticed by the press; death becomes a statistic, not a story. And yet nothing ever seems to change. Under pressure from the NRA and other right-wing organizations, lawmakers routinely block efforts to pass even the most modest and sensible aspects of gun control, such as universal background checks or assault weapon bans.

Congress’ inability to take action has forced the president to resort to unilateral measures to combat gun control.

“People are dying,” Obama said when announcing the initiatives. “And the constant excuses for inaction no longer do, no longer suffice. That is why we are here today. Not to debate the last mass shooting, but to do something to prevent the next one.”

His sadness and frustration was palpable as he tearfully recounted Sandy Hook, an event that Obama has called the single worst day of his presidency.

We believe these actions are a much-needed step in the right direction. However, we realize the limits of what they can realistically achieve. The reforms are extremely modest in scope and are unlikely to curb gun violence; instead of changing the law, they simply clarify existing regulations and strengthen the federal government’s ability to enforce them. There are still a number of serious shortcomings in federal policy on gun control. These reforms do nothing to limit the sale of ammunition or assault rifles. And perhaps most surprisingly, it remains perfectly legal for suspected terrorists on the “no fly” list to purchase firearms. Not to mention that without congressional approval, Obama’s successor in the White House could easily reverse the reforms, which many of the Republican candidates have suggested they would do if elected.

Should there be limits on the power of the federal government to regulate guns? Perhaps. But let’s wait until such bills are actually drafted before we leap to conclusions about what they may or may not contain. Pro-gun advocates are quick to warn about a “slippery slope,” in which background checks today could lead to the government confiscating your guns tomorrow (which, by the way, is something that Obama repeatedly emphasized he had no intention of doing).

Late Show host Stephen Colbert summarized it best; he commended Obama for “doing something, even if that something will do nothing. Maybe someday someone will do something that does anything. And that would be something.”

In a debate that’s become as absurd as the one about gun control, perhaps it is no surprise that the voice of a comedian rings the truest.

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