US Senate blocks universal background checks

April 18th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The US Senate has blocked bipartisan legislation aimed at tightening restrictions on the sale of firearms, a huge defeat for an angry President Barack Obama.

This morning’s attempt to ban assault-style rifles went down, too, and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines faced the same fate in a series of showdown votes four months after a gunman killed 20 school children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The background check measure commanded a majority of senators, 54-46, but that was well short of the 60 votes needed to advance. Forty-one Republicans and five Democrats sided together to scuttle the plan.

Speaking to the nation after the vote Obama said a minority the senators decided “it wasn’t worth it” to protect the nation’s children.

“All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” Obama said.”There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn’t do this. It came down to politics,” he said, flanked by relatives of the victims of recent mass shootings, some of whom wept during the president’s comments.

Universal background checks are, for me, a non-brainer. 90% of Americans support them. You want to make sure sales are not to convicted criminals, and the seriously mentally unwell. It is disappointing that even that modest proposal couldn’t get past the Senate.

The proposed bans on assault-style rifles and high-capacity ammo were never going to pass, and are far more debatable propositions.  But it is very hard to argue against universal background checks for gun sales.

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US gun views

January 30th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

And in my final look at a Gallup poll, it is the issue of guns. They tested the nine proposals put forward by Obama and found each one had majority support – in some cases overwhelming. In order they are:

  1. Require criminal background checks for all gun sales 91%
  2. More spending on youth mental health 82%
  3. Increase training for Police etc on responding to armed attacks 79%
  4. Increase penalties for buying a gun for someone not authorised to own one 75%
  5. $4 billion on 15,000 more police officers 70%
  6. $30 million to help schools develop response plans 69%
  7. Ban armour-piercing bullets except for military and police 67%
  8. Reinstate and strengthen assault weapon ban 60%
  9. Limit sale of ammo mags to 10 rounds or less 54%

Only the first one and the last three are really about gun controls or restrictions. The background checks has huge support. The last three majority support but some significant opposition – 30% or more.

So does this indicate Obama will get it through Congress? Not a lot. Why? Because they do not ask how strongly people feel on an issue. Let’s say 60% are in favour and 30% against. But what will impact politicians is will those 60% in favour change their vote based on how they vote on this issue and will the 30% against change their vote?

And the reality is that those pro gun control feel pretty strongly on it, but are unlikely to vote for a Representative or Senator just because they voted for gun control. However those anti gun control regard it as a deeply personal issue where it is their rights being taken away. They will never vote for you if you vote against them on it.

The same logic applied in NZ on nuclear ships visit. It was possible to get a 50/50 split on the desirability of allowing nuclear powered (not not armed) US ships to visit. However repealing the ban would not gain you a single extra vote while for 5% to 7% of the population (mainly women) it would shift their vote. So a passionate minority can trump a majority.

Also of interest is the partisan split, on the nine issues. The per cent agreement from Democrats and Republicans on each is:

  1. Require criminal background checks for all gun sales 97% and 92%
  2. More spending on youth mental health 93% and 67%
  3. Increase training for Police etc on responding to armed attacks 87% and 71%
  4. Increase penalties for buying a gun for someone not authorised to own one 81% and 75%
  5. $4 billion on 15,000 more police officers 81% and 63%
  6. $30 million to help schools develop response plans 81% and 61%
  7. Ban armour-piercing bullets except for military and police 80% and 49%
  8. Reinstate and strengthen assault weapon ban 80% and 56%
  9. Limit sale of ammo mags to 10 rounds or less 74% and 39%

So of the nine issues, Republicans only really oppose the last one around size of mags.

Also of interest is given a choice of priorities, 65% of Americans said the focus should be on school security and mental health system and 30% on gun laws. So they support the measures but don’t think gun law reform is the priority.

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Obama’s gun crackdown

January 17th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

US President Barack Obama is proposing a new assault weapons ban and mandatory background checks for all gun buyers in a bid to channel national outrage over the Newtown school massacre into the biggest gun-control push in generations.

Personally I have no problem with either of those measures. You don’t need assault weapons for legitimate purposes such as hunting, target practice or even self-defence.

Obama’s plan calls on Congress to renew the prohibition on assault weapons sales that expired in 2004, a requirement for criminal background checks on all gun purchases, including closing a loophole for gun show sales, and a new federal gun trafficking law – long sought by big-city mayors to keep out-of-state guns off their streets.

He also announced 23 steps he intended to take immediately without congressional approval. These include improvements in the existing system for background checks, lifting the ban on federal research into gun violence, putting more counsellors and “resource officers” in schools, and improved access to mental health services.

Again, none of this looks bad to me. However I would note that I doubt any of these measures would have prevented any of the recent mass shootings.

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Gun control in the US

December 16th, 2012 at 7:52 am by David Farrar

When ever there is a mass shooting in the US, there is inevitably a debate on the gun laws in the US. I find the level of ignorance in the debate inevitably high.

Personally I like living in a country where the level of firearm ownership and use is relatively low, and the level of gun related crime is also low.

If you want to debate gun control in the US, you need to understand three things.

  1. The second amendment, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” does mean there are limits to gun control laws, but these limits are less than many realise.
  2. The United States federal government has little role in gun laws. Each state gets to set their own laws. This is the basis of how government was formed in the US.
  3. The level of firearm ownership in the US is so huge, that it is naive to think it could or would ever have levels of ownership down with countries in in Europe.

I say this not to defend US gun culture. I’m not a fan of guns. But if you don’t understand how a political system works, then calls for change are an (understandable) knee-jerk response.

Now taking the 2nd amendment issue first, this clearly places a limit on gun control laws. You can’t just ban private gun ownership. And there is no possibility the 2nd amendment will ever be taken out of the Bill of Rights. Now the 2nd amendment does refer to a well-regulated militia, but courts have ruled that this doesn’t mean that gun ownership is only allowed for members of militias (especially as there are none now), but was allowed for traditional purposes such as self-defence.

The 2nd amendments writers were partially inspired by the English Bill of Rights and the earlier common law.

In terms of the actual law, it is worth noting Connecticut has the 5th toughest gun laws of the 50 states. Specifically:

To buy a gun, Connecticut law requires residents apply for a local permit, typically with the town’s police chief, have their fingerprints taken and submit to a state and federal background check with a 14-day waiting period. To buy a handgun, residents also are required to take a gun safety course.

The state is also one of seven to have an assault weapons ban that specifically lists more than 35 semiautomatic and automatic weapons. It does not appear to cover the .223 caliber rifle used in Friday’s attack.

In terms of the culture, Americans recall that it is only through gun ownership that they won their independence from Britain. Now I agree 200 years on, they don’t need guns with individuals to overthrow a government. But the reality is that this cultural tradition is hugely strong in America, and you are never going to have the US with Europe or NZ style gun laws or levels of gun ownership. It is like wishing for the Easter Bunny.

That is not to say that there are not improvements that can and should be made to the gun laws, especially around automatic weapons. But don’t think for a moment that you will ever have a case where criminals in the US can’t get their hands on lethal firearms.

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