Knee-jerk: “occurring quickly and without thought” (Merriam-Webster).
On Jan. 5, 2016, President Barack Obama announced several practical executive actions he hopes will make it harder for criminals, terrorists, the mentally ill and domestic abusers to get their hands on firearms.
Those actions include hiring additional staff to increase efficiency on background checks for those who wish to purchase weapons at registered gun shops. Obama also restated the existing federal law that businesses selling firearms should register with the FBI and are required to conduct background checks.
Glaring loopholes have allowed gun show dealers (the ATF estimates there are upwards of 2,000 gun shows annually in the U.S.) to sell weapons without background checks. Hence, any mentally unstable person, terrorist or felon can make a purchase — cash and carry.
Congress passed the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, 17 years ago, and as of 2015, the FBI had logged more than 225 million background checks on potential firearm purchasers since then, according to CNN Money. Of those checks, 1.27 million resulted in “federal denials” — meaning that more than a million bad guys have been denied the right to purchase firearms.
Based on the knee-jerk rhetoric from candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, you’d think Obama had ordered the Secret Service, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marines, and Navy SEALS to march door to door from Washington state to Washington, D.C., ransacking homes and seizing weapons.
The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, called Obama “a petulant child” before Christie had even heard the president’s announcement.
And the day prior to Obama’s announcement, GOP hopeful Carly Fiorina took the stage and claimed the president was “delusional, dangerous,” and claimed that his actions were unconstitutional. She added that Obama should enforce laws on the books rather than “create new ones.”
Hello, Ms. Fiorina: We know it’s an election season and candidates engage in hyperbole, but in fact Obama was seeking to enforce existing laws relating to background checks, and was not offering any new laws.
The newly appointed speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, reached for his most eloquent protest to Obama’s proposals; he called them “intimidation that undermines liberty.”
Ryan, from Janesville, Wis., near where I grew up, insisted that Obama’s word “does not trump the Second Amendment.”
Mr. Speaker, Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, and fully respects the Bill of Rights.
Even Jeb Bush, whose recent poll numbers show he trails frontrunner Donald Trump by more than 30 points, launched a verbal grenade: “Obama is trampling on the Second Amendment.”
GOP candidate Marco Rubio asserted that Obama is “obsessed with undermining the Second Amendment.”
Meanwhile: Is there a bigger lie than the NRA claim that expanding background checks for firearms purchasers will lead to the confiscation of guns?
The local picture
I phoned several county gun shops seeking comment on Obama’s desire to increase background checks. Proprietors generally resisted commenting on the president’s remarks, although they referenced California’s strict laws on gun sales. The individual answering the phone at the Harbor Gun Shop in Morro Bay, in response to my question, blurted out that California has background checks — and hung up.
I called back and asked why he hung up on me and whether he had understood my question about background checks at national gun shows? He said if I called again he would notify the police. It’s clear the country is polarized and there is tension around the issue, but — call the police? Yikes.
California is one of nine states that require all gun sellers to be licensed and to conduct background checks. In San Luis Obispo County, in order to carry a concealed weapon — which 571 citizens currently are authorized to carry, according to SLO County Undersheriff Tim Olivas — there are tight regulations.
First, Olivas explained in a 2015 Tribune article, there is a background check, followed by required weapon training sessions. The applicant must also provide three letters of reference, pay a $200 application fee, and submit a letter that details specifically why there is a need to carry a weapon.
However, if a recently radicalized jihadist in Nipomo, or Atascadero, for example, wanted to get his hands on an assault rifle, all he would need is a computer, cash and WiFi. Through Google, he could access www.gunbrokers.com, shell out $699, and become the proud owner of a Smith & Wesson M&P Sport QUAD RAIL featuring a 30-round magazine.
We know better background checks won’t stop all gun violence, and no one is claiming that tighter gun ownership regulations will be a panacea for this problem.
But shouldn’t a self-governing, democratic nation make an honest attempt to reduce this carnage?
Or have we become a society that simply gives up and accepts that 33,000 annual gun deaths is our new reality? Oh, say can we see, the forest and the tree?
Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s column appears biweekly and is special to The Cambrian. Email him at john fitz44 @gmail .com.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson believes that when it comes to addressing gun violence in the United States, educating children is important. But he calls that a challenging task, saying many young people have become “desensitized” to murder during the time they spend watching violent video games and brutally violent movies.
In response to email questions, the sheriff said what children see in videos and movies “appears to be very real.”
“Many children grow up being exposed to killing people in a game and winning,” he said. “The reality of what they are seeing is so real, I believe they have become comfortable with it — too comfortable.”
Parkinson also said that when there is a mass tragedy involving deaths by gunfire, “people have an immediate emotional reaction … and they look for a simple single answer to a complex problem.” Yet there are no easy answers, he said.
Ideally, he said, gun-owning parents should be responsible to educate their children on gun safety — in order to avoid accidental shootings — and he supports the idea put forward last week by President Barack Obama of researching technologies that could make guns safer in the home.