Fixing the Holes in the Net

If you’d told me I’d ever agree with anything Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s executive vice president and spokesman, said, I’d have thought you were crazy. But then my conservative niece from Missouri posted this video on Facebook, and after reading her comment on it I decided to see what the man had to say.

My niece’s comment was something on the order of “Our background check system is hopelessly broken.” Before I watched the clip I took her to mean we shouldn’t have background checks at all, an argument I hear all the time from Second Amendmenteers. And honestly, based on things Wayne LaPierre has said in the past, I thought that’s what he’d be saying in this clip.

But in her comment, my niece quoted this line from LaPierre’s speech: “If you cast a net and the fish swim through the holes, you don’t need a bigger net. You need tighter holes.” That’s odd, I thought. My niece, and Wayne LaPierra too, were undermining their own argument. If you’re a fisherman with a bad net, you don’t give up fishing, you fix your net. You don’t throw out a broken gun background check system, you fix it! And that’s what I said in my reply to her post.

This morning I got around to watching the clip, and to my surprise that seems to be exactly what LaPierre is saying: fix the system, make it tighter. I have to apologize to my niece, because that’s probably what she meant as well.

Yes. Add the names of convicted felons and violent offenders (wife-beaters, child abusers, etc, the sort of people on social welfare and child protective agency lists) to a no-buy list and use that to screen gun sales. By the way, I deliberately use the words “no-buy list” because it sounds like Homeland Security’s no-fly list, which is similar, in place, and being enforced.

LaPierre lays the blame for the broken background check system on politicians, who shy away from letting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms prepare a list of what he calls “prohibited buyers.” But those same politicians didn’t hesitate a New York minute when they authorized DHS to prepare and enforce a no-fly list. Gee, I wonder what the difference is? Could it be NRA money and campaign contributions?

See, in my heart I still believe what the NRA wants is no background checks at all. I believe that if BATF did prepare a no-buy list the NRA would howl bloody murder. But here’s Wayne LaPierre, on the record, supporting a far tighter system of background checks. Does he really mean it? Apparently politicians aren’t quite ready to take him at his word. And neither am I. As for my niece, I think we’re on the same page … let’s get to work on that no-buy list. Let’s sew a new net.

Here I need to interject a quick reality check. Yes, I know that if there were a gun no-buy list that included convicted felons and violent offenders, there’d be enormous pressure to expand it. People who already have six or more registered firearms, say, or anyone known to be a member of the Klan or a militia. Anyone ever committed to a mental health care facility. Members of outlaw biker gangs. Anyone with a gang tattoo. The homeless. Muslim-Americans. African-Americans for sure, and, what the hell, let’s throw in people with Hispanic last names. The whole system would quickly come crashing down, because every racial, social, and economic group in America would be clamoring to deny guns to everyone else. That’s why the real answer, the only one that will actually work to curb gun violence, is to ban personal possession of almost all firearms, à la Britain and Australia.

Good thing I’m not the king, eh? ‘Cause that’s exactly what I’d do.

But I have to live in the here & now with you and everyone else, and guns are a fact of life in the USA. I think President Obama is doing what he can do, given reality and the constraints placed upon him. I wonder, though, why he didn’t issue these executive orders right after Sandy Hook. He was in his second term then, with nothing to lose politically. Well, better late than never.

Yesterday I exchanged thoughts on President Obama’s executive orders on gun control with a friend on Facebook. Here’s part of our conversation:

Him:

I’d be interested in your thoughts concerning the President’s recent actions on gun control. I read the White House summary and found most of it refreshing (the content, not so much the rhetoric). Enforcing existing laws, adding personnel to programs needing them, money to update the existing NICS database, etc.

The mental health thing I have mixed feelings on; there should be a threshold where people are considered dangerous but restricting/depriving civil liberties without due process concerns me. And I don’t know how I’d go about fixing it frankly. Doctors should be doctors, not law enforcement officials. But who is going to make the call? And where is the line going to be drawn?

When I was in 8th grade and my parents were divorcing, my mother thought it best all the kids see a therapist to help us through the ordeal. In those days, insurance would not cover a psychologist, but would a psychiatrist (the latter having an actual medical degree in those days.) So should my sisters and I be on some sort of no-gun list?

I’d like to see the existing laws enforced more vigorously. Lock up violent criminals, make room for them by letting the non-violent drug offenders out (and while we’re at it, let’s just concede the war on drugs, it didn’t work on booze. But that’s another rant all of its own).

Me:

I’m all for Obama’s executive actions, even if they are mostly symbolic, because symbology is important and a message needed to be sent—to the courts, to congress, to the American people, and to the NRA.

You know I’m a gun owner, and I would not willingly surrender mine. But then again, I don’t have assault- or military-style weapons, just a couple of handguns. I had a hunting rifle and a shotgun, but sold them (now wishing I’d kept the shotgun for home defense, but I guess I can always buy another).

Keep & bear is important to me, but so’s driving a car, and I don’t mind having to be tested and licensed for either. I don’t think registering gun owners and their weapons violates the constitution in any way. And just as we suspend the constitutional rights of convicted felons when it comes to voting, we shouldn’t hesitate to keep them on a list of people who cannot legally buy or possess firearms.

Dealing with crazies is a far tougher issue. Who will certify people as mentally unfit to possess firearms? The VA does so now with vets, but what about civilians? There are so many people with depression, yet 99% of them get along just fine, holding down jobs and marriages and so on. If I were one of them, I’d be very leery of any talk about putting me on a list.

It seems to me the right’s entire argument boils down to “if registration won’t stop a single bad guy from getting his hands on a gun we shouldn’t have any laws at all,” which is contemptibly stupid and not worthy of a response from sensible people.

© 2016, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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One thought on “Fixing the Holes in the Net

  • Based on my unscientific memory of events, a major issue is people sharing homes with people with mental health issues (such as Sandy Hook) and that would be hard to legislate. A legal gun owner who then develops mental health issues would be problematic. But since I live in a country with laws similar to the UK and Australia (Michael Moore got it wrong), I would nominate you for king.

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