Gun control and presidential debates, fall 2012

I didn’t recall the subject of gun control being raised in the presidential debates this fall, but it was.

There were indeed no references to the terms firearm(s), gun(s) or weapon(s) in the first presidential debate, 10/3/12 and third presidential debate, 10/22/12.

However, there was a substantive exchange in the second presidential debate, 10/16/12.

For context to the latest horrific massacre in our country, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun violence lists 12 major shooting sprees–meaning 3+ dead–in the US in the past five months, not including the latest. These events are now so commonplace that I don’t recall even having heard of this one, pretty close to home:

July 9, 2012
At a weekend soccer tournament in Delaware three people died and two were wounded. The dead included the tournament organizer, a 16-year-old boy participating in the tournament and one of three suspects alleged to have initiated the deadly violence Sunday afternoon at a park near downtown Wilmington.

For a notable contrast to our own culture, see “None Dead’ in China: Sensible Laws vs. Maniacal Attacks: 8,000 miles away from Connecticut, a vicious attack on school children has only one grace: all survived,” by Beth Brogan and Jon Queally, Common Dreams, 12/15/12. (It seems the Chinese use knives, not guns, when they set out to massacre children.)

Glock, Sig Sauer

Yesterday’s shooter “was carrying two lethal semi-automatic handguns: a Sig Sauer, the type of gun carried by Secret Service agents, and a Glock 9mm, a model used by many police officers and federal agents across the United States,” according to CBS News, 10/14/12 (image from there).

orr4_244x183Also, from CBS News, “A third gun, a .223 assault rifle, was found outside the school in the back of his mother’s car. It’s similar to the type of gun used in the shooting on Tuesday at a mall outside of Portland, Oregon” (image from CBS News). (Update: or maybe this gun was used in the shootings after all?)

To find out how easy it is, even for criminals and people who couldn’t pass a background check, to buy one of these murder tools, the Glock 9mm, see the video at Gun Show: Undercover.

The NRA site has no comment; the latest post on their home page is “More Guns, Less Crime in Virginia,” 11/27/2012 (full text below). If only those elementary school students had had guns in their back packs, right? And as for teachers, it was actually the guns of a teacher (the mother of the shooter) that did the killing (update: or maybe she wasn’t a teacher after all?).

Here is the leading question about the debates: Did the candidates enunciate any plan that, if implemented (which, given the House of Representatives, is a big “if”) would have helped prevent one more tragedy like this?

I needed to educate myself: what is an “assault weapon”? According to Wikipedia (see original for links and footnotes):

Assault weapon

Not to be confused with assault rifle, FGM-172 SRAW, M202 FLASH, or Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon.

Assault weapon is a political term, often used by gun control advocates, typically referring to firearms “designed for rapidly firing at human targets from close range,” sometimes described as military-style features useful in combat.

The term was most notably used in the language of the now-expired Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994, more commonly known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004. The federal assault weapons ban specifically prohibited 19 guns considered to be assault weapons. These were all semi-automatic firearms, meaning that they can eject spent shell casings and chamber the next round without additional human action, but (as opposed to automatic firearms) only one round is fired per pull of the trigger. In addition to the 19 weapons specifically prohibited, the federal assault weapons ban also defined as a prohibited assault weapon any semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine and at least two of the following five items: a folding or telescopic stock; a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon; a bayonet mount; a flash suppressor or threaded barrel (a barrel that can accommodate a flash suppressor); or a grenade launcher. The act also defined as a prohibited assault weapon semi-automatic pistols that weighed more than 50 ounces when unloaded or included a barrel shroud, and barred the manufacture of magazines capable of carrying more than 10 rounds.

The Glock is a semiautomatic pistol. The Sig Sauer, according to CBS’s description, was also a semiautomatic handgun, also capable of releasing up to 30 shots. The third gun is described as an assault rifle.

So, it sounds to me as if all three are the type of assault weapons banned in 1994-2004, and I’m going to assume that’s what the President and the Governor are talking about.

Here are the relevant quotes (de-italicized in the full transcript farther below):

Obama:

“we have to enforce the laws we’ve already got, make sure that we’re keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill”

“weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets”

“get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence”

“seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced”

“looking at other sources of the violence”

Romney:

“I’m not in favor of new pieces of legislation on — on guns and — and taking guns away or — or making certain guns illegal.”

“make enormous efforts to enforce the gun laws that we have and to change the culture of violence we have”

Comments:

Both agreed that schools and parents are important in counteracting a culture of violence. But that wasn’t the question asked.

The President answered only the second part of the question “What has your administration done or plan to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?”

Overall, Obama seemed to favor a renewed ban on semiautomatic weapons and Romney didn’t (as with health care, he has thus reversed the stand he took as governor of Massachusetts). Presumably Romney, like the NRA, will now be keeping quiet about the issue.

And president Obama… well, we’ll see soon if he wishes to exercise leadership, or let others do it. “Seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced” was hardly the ringing demand that others are already issuing. And is that more or less than saying “we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics” in the president’s 12/14/12 statement made, ironically, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room?

Time, as usual, will tell. Meanwhile, we can, at the rate documented by the Brady Campaign, expect another massacre of 3+ Americans every 2 weeks..

exhibit 1): second presidential debate, 10/16/12

Q: President Obama, during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or plan to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, we’re a nation that believes in the Second Amendment. And I believe in the Second Amendment. You know, we’ve got a long tradition of hunting and sportsmen and people who want to make sure they can protect themselves.

But there have been too many instances during the course of my presidency where I’ve had to comfort families who’ve lost somebody, most recently out in Aurora. You know, just a couple of weeks ago, actually probably about a month, I saw a mother who I had met at the beside of her son who had been shot in that theater.

And her son had been shot through the head. And we spent some time, and we said a prayer. And remarkably, about two months later, this young man and his mom showed up, and he looked unbelievable, good as new. But there were a lot of families who didn’t have that good fortune and whose sons or daughters or husbands didn’t survive.

So my belief is that A, we have to enforce the laws we’ve already got, make sure that we’re keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill. We’ve done a much better job in terms of background checks, but we’ve got more to do when it comes to enforcement.

But I also share your belief that weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets. And so what I’m trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally. Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced, but part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence, because frankly, in my hometown of Chicago, there’s an awful lot of violence, and they’re not using AK-47s, they’re using cheap handguns.

And so what can we do to intervene to make sure that young people have opportunity, that our schools are working, that if there’s violence on the streets, that working with faith groups and law enforcement, we can catch it before it gets out of control?

And so what I want is a — is a comprehensive strategy. Part of it is seeing if we can get automatic weapons that kill folks in amazing numbers out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. But part of it is also going deeper and seeing if we can get into these communities and making sure we catch violent impulses before they occur.

MS. CROWLEY: Governor Romney, the question is about assault weapons, AK-47s.

MR. ROMNEY: Yeah, I — I’m not in favor of new pieces of legislation on — on guns and — and taking guns away or — or making certain guns illegal. We of course don’t want to have automatic weapons, and that’s already illegal in this country to have automatic weapons.

What I believe is we have to do as the president mentioned towards the end of his remarks there, which is to make enormous efforts to enforce the gun laws that we have and to change the culture of violence we have. And you ask, how are we going to do that? And there are a number of things.

He mentioned good schools. I totally agree. We were able to drive our schools to be number one in the nation in my state, and I believe if we do a better job in education, we’ll — we’ll give people the — the hope and opportunity they deserve, and perhaps less violence from that.

But let me mention another thing, and that is parents. We need moms and dads helping raise kids. Wherever possible, the — the benefit of having two parents in the home — and that’s not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone — that’s a great idea because if there’s a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically. The opportunities that the child will — will be able to achieve increase dramatically.

So we can make changes in the way our culture works to help bring people away from violence and give them opportunity and bring them in the American system.

The — the greatest failure we’ve had with regards to gun violence, in some respects, is what is known as Fast and Furious, which was a program under this administration — and how it worked exactly, I think we don’t know precisely — but where thousands of automatic and — and AK-47-type weapons were — were given to people that ultimately gave them to — to drug lords. They used those weapons against — against their own citizens and killed Americans with them.

And this was a — this was a program of the government. For what purpose it was put in place, I can’t imagine. But it’s one of the great tragedies related to violence in our society which has occurred during this administration which I think the American people would like to understand fully. It’s been investigated to a degree, but the administration has — has carried out executive privilege to prevent all the information from coming out. I’d like to understand who it was that did this, what the idea was behind it, why it led to the violence — thousands of guns going to Mexican drug lords.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Candy.

MS. CROWLEY: Governor, Governor, if I could, the question was about these assault weapons that once were banned and are no longer banned. I know that you signed an assault weapons ban when you were in Massachusetts. Obviously with this question, you no longer do support that. Why is that? Given the kind of violence that we see sometimes with these mass killings, why is it that you’ve changed your mind?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, Candy, actually, in my state, the pro-gun folks and the anti-gun folks came together and put together a piece of legislation, and it’s referred to as a — as an assault weapon ban, but it had at the signing of the bill both the pro-gun and the anti- gun people came together, because it provided opportunities for both that both wanted. There were hunting opportunities, for instance, that hadn’t previously been available and so forth. So it was a mutually agreed upon piece of legislation.

That’s what we need more of, Candy. What we have right now in Washington is a place that’s — that’s gridlocked. We haven’t had — we haven’t — we haven’t — we haven’t had the leadership in Washington to work on a bipartisan basis.

MS. CROWLEY: So if I could, if you could get people to agree to it, you’d be for it.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Candy —

MR. ROMNEY: I was able to do that in my state and bring these two together.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Candy.

MS. CROWLEY: Quickly, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The — first of all, I think Governor Romney was for an assault weapons ban before he was against it. And he said that the reason he changed his mind was in part because he was seeking the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.

So that’s on the record. But I think that one area we agree on is the importance of parents and the importance of schools, because I do believe that if our young people have opportunity, then they’re less likely to engage in these kinds of violent acts. We’re not going to eliminate everybody who is mentally disturbed, and we’ve got to make sure that they don’t get weapons….

exhibit 2) Wayne’s Commentary: “More Guns, Less Crime in Virginia,” NRA. 11/27/2012:

Virginia Commonwealth University Professor Thomas Baker has crunched the numbers in the state of Virginia, and has determined that gun sales in the state have climbed 73% since 2006, while the number of violent crimes involving guns has declined by more than 27%.

For years, we’ve heard the shrill voices of those who hate your guns. “More guns on the street means more crime!” “More guns equals more murder!” and so on. And yet, clearly that’s not the case. So now the gun ban crowd is changing its tune.

Andrew Goddard, a gun control advocate in Virginia, told WTOP radio, “It’s quite possible that you can sell a whole lot more guns and crime is still going down. But is the crime going down because more people are buying guns, or is the crime going down because the crime is going down?”

I don’t know anyone who thinks a decline in violent crime can be attributed to a single factor. That’s not the point. The point is that, despite Goddard’s new assertion, the anti-gunners have been telling us that what’s happening in Virginia is impossible. The point is people like Andrew Goddard think that Virginians would be safer with Chicago-style gun control laws, even though that flies in the face of logic and reality.

The point is, gun owners and the NRA have been right all along. It’s the criminals, not the law-abiding gun owners, who are the issue. More guns, less crime isn’t just “quite possible,” it’s a fact.

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About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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