Before the massacres in July in Aurora, Colo., and last month at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn., American politicians had seemingly arrived at two somewhat differing conclusions regarding gun policy:
- There are some people we don’t want having guns in this country: Convicts, people who’ve spent time in mental institutions, dishonorably discharged veterans, people who have renounced their citizenship, and so on. You have to be a citizen in good standing to have the right to buy a gun in this country.
- We’re not actually going to try that hard to enforce that vision.
To the extent that background checks have been used to keep guns out of the hands of such folks, it’s been effective: Over 14 years, 1.5 million gun purchases have been denied. But the system is still fatally compromised: Roughly half the states decline to contribute records to the background database, and in any case it’s easy enough to evade background checks by purchasing a firearm at a gun show.
Address those issues — as Obama’s proposed legislation does — and all you do is make it harder for “bad guys” to obtain guns in the first place. That should be a no-brainer.
So should a law that would limit ammo magazines to 10 rounds. In a Sandy Hook-type situation, the moments a killer stops to reload might be the moments that allow more people to survive. Is there a reason common citizens should want bigger magazines?
Sure. Is it compelling in light of the damage done by large-capacity magazines? No. We already largely ban automatic weapons in this country; limiting magazine capacity is of a piece with that philosophy.
No law — or group of laws — will end gun violence. But Obama’s proposals appear to raise the opportunity cost of committing such violence, while treading relatively lightly on Second Amendment concerns.
Nobody’s coming to take your guns — unless you own them illegally.
Joel Mathis is a writer in Philadelphia.