Political Animal


December 16, 2012 10:24 AM GOP History of Opposing Post-gun Massacre Safeguards

By Samuel Knight

The New York Times’ Charlie Savage detailed yesterday how the Justice Department shelved proposals to make background checks more robust in the wake of the 2011 Tuscon shooting that left six dead and thirteen injured.

It pains me how cliche this has become in my writing on Newtown, but it highlights the massive struggle the administration is sure to face if it tries to advance gun control. A department study on the issue, for example, stressed that assault weapons bans were unlikely to be approved by Congress. Savage also pointed out that polls since 2008 have evidenced little enthusiasm for stricter gun control, although the Newtown tragedy may turn the tide against the Hestonistas.

The DOJ proposal, however, noted several initiatives the White House could take on strengthening background checks through executive order:

For example, the study recommended that all agencies that give out benefits, like the Social Security Administration, tell the F.B.I. background-check system whenever they have made arrangements to send a check to a trustee for a person deemed mentally incompetent to handle his own finances, or when federal employees or job applicants fail a drug test. It also proposed setting up a system to appeal such determinations.
I, personally, have serious reservations about the house that J. Edgar Hoover built keeping a list of “persons deemed mentally incompetent” (fodder for another post, perhaps). But I can see the appeal if the threshold to determine mental competence is set high enough, and if a legal firewall could ensure that this information is solely used as an acid test to determine who can own a weapon capable of killing dozens of people in a matter of minutes.

Still, based on precedent, it hardly seems likely that the GOP will agree to any of these proposals. And if they do, they will likely wait for an opportunity to repeal them, as they are doing with safeguards enacted after the Virginia Tech massacre.

Savage explains:

…it emerged that a state judge had deemed [killer Cho Seung-Hui] mentally ill, but that information was not in the F.B.I. Database.

“In 2008, Congress called upon federal agencies that might know whether someone is mentally ill to make sure the F.B.I. database had that information. But most agencies that have such information — as varied as Social Security and the Railroad Retirement Board — have yet to comply.”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs, by contrast, does share its data about instances in which benefit checks are sent to a trustee because a recipient has been deemed mentally incompetent. Republicans in Congress have introduced a bill, the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, that would end the practice.
Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.


  • c u n d gulag on December 16, 2012 11:28 AM:

    I read an interesting idea this morning. And I can see some potential on selling this idea to politicians (either that, or Im delusional again).

    Treat gun ownership like owning cars and driving them.

    Create laws that demand that all gun owners not only have to go for mandatory training, they have to pay for licenses/permits annually, and they also have to have Gun Insurance.
    You have a simple hunting rifle? Very low rate.
    You have a Glock? Very high rate.
    You have an assault rifle? Very, very high rate.
    Got a teenage male, or several? Very high rate. Even higher, depending on the type of gun.
    Have a young, white, adult male, late-teens to mid-20s (the typical psychiatric profile of a mass murderer who uses guns)? See teenager above.
    Have a gun accident in the house? No guns, no insurance, for 5 years.
    Guns stolen, and its unreported within a specified time? No guns, no insurance for 10 years.
    Someone in the house has psychiatric issues? Either no guns, no insurance C or prohibitive pricing, if you want to keep guns in that house.
    Be caught drunk or high with a gun? Lose the gun and insurance for X# of years.
    Fire, or even point, a gun at a person, when its not a clear case of self-defense? Permanent revocation of gun permit and insurance. All of this on top of the criminal and civil charges.

    So, with guns, like with cars, you want to insure an old clunker, or a family car? Low rates.
    You want to insure some fancy sports car thats about as fast going 0 to 60 as a rocket? Ok C but youve got to pay the price. Give a teenager access to that sports car C an even higher price.

    This way, you want a gun? Fine, you and everyone in the house has to be trained. You pay for the training. You pay annually to renew that license. And you pay for the insurance. The more training, and the more people trained, the lower your rates are.

    Right now, in some areas, its easier to buy and keep a gun, than it is to get certain decongestants and antihistamines. And FSM only knows, if they could prove it, what the charges would be if I got caught selling some that I had bought, to a guy who used it to make meth.
    The mind reels...

  • bleh on December 16, 2012 11:30 AM:

    If I were in the WH, I would advise expending an absolute minimum of political capital on this issue.
    -- Be sad and outraged, use it politically to paint Republicans as frothing nutcases who hate children.
    -- Try to leverage some additional funding for mental health care generally, which is only extremely tangentially related to gun safety, but which has become a favorite media narrative and thus presents a political opportunity.
    -- Say and do nothing concerning any data collection, licensing, restrictions or anything else that likely would have a material effect on gun safety, for the simple reason that any suggestion by the Black Muslim Usurper, whom we all know is just itching to take away everyone's weapons so his Black Panther friends can steal our TVs and rape our women, would get nowhere and be nothing but a Christmas present to the howling wingnuts.
    This is a counsel of despair, but I have seen or heard nothing to suggest any possibility of success of any other approach.

  • Robert on December 16, 2012 11:32 AM:

    I am really not liking the republican leadership at all right now...or at any time to be truthful...Talk about Fiddling while we burn...ignoring the obvious...and the rest of their bull...no real comment from me...just frustration and contempt for these right wing, evangelicals, and those who support their insanity...

  • mmm on December 16, 2012 12:13 PM:

    @c u n d ... that makes a lot of sense to me. Can you imagine going to a "Medicine Show" and buying dangerous drugs?

  • Fess on December 16, 2012 12:21 PM:

    also @ c u n d ... I like it!

  • Northzax on December 16, 2012 1:02 PM:

    @cund. You're over thinking it. Simply require a one-time registration for every firearm, and that every owner of a firearm must carry say, $25k in liability insurance. Small number, but that's the minimum for many states and auto insurance. Then let the free market take over. Just like a car, once it's registered, it is your responsibility until you transfer that registration, or demonstrate to the DMV that it has been destroyed or rendered unusable. Let the insurance companies assess risk and set pricing. They will be significantly more ruthless than any government. A dealer can have a blanket policy, covering all guns in her inventory, until she transfers that registration to someone else. If a car dealer can afford insurance for test drives, why not?

  • Celui on December 16, 2012 2:01 PM:

    Gulag's post has mucho merit, and serves to underscore the lethality of guns of any type. Make the insurance costs prohibitively high for assault weapons (why does a citizen need this anyway? Bambi can't outrun a shotgun slug!) Guns ain't toys, as I always reminded my Scout troop when they were earning their rifle and shotgun merit badges, and every one of those now young men in their mid twenties will tell you that they have a healthy respect for firearms, not some sort of crazed, drooling affection for them. The guns = cars analogies can go only so far, because we don't have conceal & carry auto laws (my Hummer is in my back pocket, guys!). The idea to attach great monetary cost to owning and using a weapon has the salutary effect of making this weapon's potential lethality very important to the owner, perhaps giving second pause to leaving them lying around unattended, unlocked, and deadly. And, it reinforces a chain of ownership as well. Will criminals always evade the laws? Yes. Will these 'new' insurance deterrents remove the current assault weapons now on the street? Probably, not. On the other hand, I 'stand by my guns' sorta: we are a nation of violent people; to encourage, permit, and stand idly by while instruments of deadly violence continue to ravage our fellow citizens is to bury our heads in the muck and neglect our civic responsibilities. Let's get to it.

  • Fritz Strand on December 17, 2012 9:33 AM:

    As was stated on Chris Hayes show on 12/15/12, stop talking about gun control and start talking about gun safety. A change in the language might drop the level of paranoia associated this issue.