The difference between being president and running for that office was evident Tuesday.
When it comes to gun violence, candidates can rely on underlings to tweet out pious remarks about prayers and thoughts when U.S. citizens go on killing rampages here at home while a president must consider whether his oath of office demands he address this domestic threat.
And so it was that as President Barack Obama proposed a modest set of reforms to crack down on illegal gun sales and improve background checks to prevent people who our laws have long said can’t buy guns from getting them, the Republican contenders fell rapidly into all-too-familiar dire, and misleading, rants.
“Rather than taking guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens,” Jeb Bush said in a statement, “we should focus on keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists.”
The rhetoric is informed by the enormous financial and other clout of the National Rifle Association.
OpenSecrets.org, which tracks money in politics, reported that in the 2014 election cycle the National Rifle Association contributed just under $1 million to candidates, mostly Republicans, spent over $3.3 million lobbying and accounted for over $28 million in outside campaign spending.
To clarify, Obama’s actions will not take guns away from law-abiding citizens. His plans could make it harder for terrorists — foreign and domestic — to buy guns.
There are two large gaps that allow people the 1968 federal Gun Control Act says shouldn’t have guns to get them.
The first is that too many sellers — at gun shows, on the Internet and in private transactions — are not federally licensed dealers. That means they aren’t required to conduct federal background checks as licensed dealers that sell guns.
The second is that the background check system, due to technical limitations and limited staffing, simply doesn’t catch all those who aren’t allowed to buy guns.
The executive actions Obama described Tuesday address those two areas.
One clarifies the definition of a regulated gun dealer to include more of the so-called hobby sellers, who have long been exempt from the rules requiring businesses to conduct a federal background check before selling a gun.
Obama also plans to increase the number of officers involved in enforcing those rules.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence — named for Jim Brady, press secretary for President Ronald Reagan, who was seriously injured during a 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan — estimates that about 40 percent of U.S gun sales, including thousands of online, gun-show and flea-market sales, fall under the hobby, or gun-show loophole. A disproportionate number of those guns are used in criminal acts.
Obama’s other important initiative will ramp up the resources of the background-check system, increasing the number of people conducting checks and allocating resources to improve the quality of information in the system.
Polls consistently show that an overwhelming majority of voters support commonsense gun-control proposals like these but many politicians, their ears deadened by the NRA’s generous purse and threatening rhetoric, ignore them.
Obama’s actions will not prevent any person eligible under existing federal law from exercising his or her Second Amendment rights. They also will not stop gun violence in the U.S.
But they will make it harder for gun dealers to sell to criminals, the mentally disturbed and people associated with dangerous foreign and domestic groups.