The Broad Strokes

I don’t forsee this passing in toto, but it’s a good place to start to shape a new policy, one that fits a nation catching up with the 21st century:
President Barack Obama will propose an assault weapons ban and better background checks for gun buyers on Wednesday as part of a package of proposals to curb gun violence one month after the Newtown school massacre.

The proposals will include executive and legislative measures, with the latter sure to face an uphill battle in Congress, where appetite for renewing an assault weapons ban is low.

By the by, as a side note, a masterful stroke including children at the press conference. We’re already seeing rumbles from the right about grandstanding…from the usual suspects, of course. But it will inoculate the President from really harsh criticisms about the proposals, since you’d basically be calling schoolchildren liars.
Of course, that wouldn’t stop the zagnuts from doing precisely that.
The more and more I read and talk to conservatives, the more convinced I am that they see a handwriting on the wall that’s telling them time’s up, and they’re fighting tooth and nail to hold onto an illusory past where they actually mattered. Even Ed Meese thinks he’s still relevant, even tho his old dead boss would probably side with President Obama on this issue because, you know, he was shot.
We’ve treated them like our kid brother who tagged along on a guy’s night out long enough. Time to put them to bed and get on with things.
The assault weapons ban will be a tough sell in the House, of course. Here’s where “We, the People” come in. We have to get on the horn to our legislators. The NRA, the Gun Owners of America, and all the other crackpot rightwing jackboots will have their troops lined up, ready to threaten and intimidate their lawmakers. We have to make it clear that the 4 million (yea, right) members of the NRA are shouted down by the whispers of the other 326 million of us.
Make your kids write. Make your cat write (I know mine is already drafting a letter). This is important. We spoke up when the first bailout package was proposed in the Bush administration and beat that back. We can beat this crowd, too. They don’t have nearly the influence banks did.
From what I’ve read and heard, the bill as proposed is a good one, if incomplete. But it’s hella better than letting terrorists run our nation.

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  • One of the proposals is to expand the use of the federal database for background checks. Checks would be required even for private sales at gun shows. States would be pressured to more fully report people who are forbidden from buying because of certain kinds of encounter with the mental health system.

    There is some history here. The federal government used to broadly require states to supply certain mental health records to the FBI for open-ended purposes. The mental health part of the background check database grew out of that requirement. The requirement that states report mental health records to the FBI was struck down by the court. Today, many states voluntarily participate barely or not at all in the program, though a few participate with seeming enthusiasm.

    Interestingly, even the NRA complains about the situation with mental health reporting. They have endorsed the idea of making mental health record reporting more complete.

    I’m not sure exactly what the effect on violent crime will be if the database is beefed up with greater mental health reporting and wider use. I’m skeptical that it will make a huge difference to public safety one way or another but none of us really know.

    So for me there’s only an uncertain gain from the proposal but there are some certain costs:

    a) The proposal is to expand unaccountable, universal, domestic surveillance by federal law enforcement.

    b) In particular, it proposes attempting to track everyone who is ever involuntarily committed or who are subject to certain kinds of court orders related to mental illness. (And it is a virtual certainty that such a list will include many people who would pose no special risk as gun buyers.)

    It is commonly believed that, at least on paper, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) can only be used for the very narrow purpose of regulating gun sales. Unfortunately, that’s a bit misleading.

    It’s true that the law itself specifies the creation of the NICS database, who can use it, and for which (narrow) purposes. The law explicitly specifies auditing policies aimed at preventing abuse.

    There is a big loophole in the law, though. The law specifies restrictions on how the NICS database itself may be used but it does not so narrowly limit what the FBI can do with records submitted for addition to the NICS.

    When the NICS staff get a record from a state they update the NICS database itself, but they are also assigned the duty of updating other (less regulated) federal databases from those same records.

    In effect, the FBI may not (per law) directly use the NICS database for “general law enforcement” purposes but the FBI can in effect make a copy of all incoming records to the NICS, and keep those in less restricted databases.

    For example:

    Law Enforcement Records Management Systems (RMSs) as They Pertain to FBI Programs and Systems (a manual published by the FBI):

    “The NICS Section [the department that runs NICS] also is instrumental in effecting the update of applicable federal, state, and local automated criminal history databases to ensure the availability of current record information for future inquiries by law enforcement agencies.”

    So is all this really — as a practical matter, legislative intent aside — really about “common sense” gun control?

    • I did not know that about NICS. That’s interesting, thanks.

      I should note that Obama mentioned yesterday that people who suffer mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators (which speaks to your point about many would still be OK as gun owners). This is a really underreported aspect of American society: the depth and level of mental illness around the nation. We’ve talked about this ever since Tipper Gore admitted she was treated for depression, and still little has been done because of who holds the purse strings.

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