The tragic scene in Connecticut has created an increased pace in gun control discussion. (AP file photo)
By Robert Bradley
President Obama yesterday created a gun control task force with Vice-President Biden as its chair.
The creation of the task force appears to back the President’s message repeated in several speeches that the mass shooting in Newtown indicates that it is time for action. The scope of the concern that the task force is about to tackle is indicated by:
Size of problem: There are more retail gun stores than grocery stores in America. There is about three times the number of retail gun stores as there are McDonald’s restaurants. The number of places to purchase a gun legally is almost equal to the number of gas stations in the nation. An estimated 200 million guns exist in the country.
Nature of problem: More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in sixth months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Children ages 5-14 in America are 13 times more likely to be murdered with a gun as children in other industrialized countries. One out of 17 Americans have a serious mental illness and only one out of three get any help. One out of five youth in America have some type of mental illness or disorder, and the majority do not get any assistance.
Political Clout: The NRA has more financial resources at its disposal for political lobbying than all the pro-gun regulation groups combined. The profits of the NRA and other pro-gun rights groups totaled around $550 million while the profits of pro-gun regulation groups combined were around $6 million. This might be evened out if Mayor Bloomberg commits his vast financial holdings to a pro-regulation effort.
What follows are some options for the gun control task force to consider.
Eliminate the gun show loophole: In 33 states, private gun owners are not restricted from selling guns at gun shows and not doing a background check on the purchaser. Many called for the ending of this loophole when it was revealed that the Columbine shooters purchased guns at a gun show from an unlicensed seller and went through no background check.
Create a federal database on those who should not be able to purchase firearms: The Virginia Tech shooter passed a background check to purchase firearms despite a court ruling that said he was mentally ill and an imminent danger. Those doing the background check were not made aware of the court ruling. After the Virginia Tech shooting, Congress passed a law to improve the reporting of mental health records. Yet there are still 10 states which have reported no mental health records to those doing background checks. A recent audit indicated that the communication of mental health court rulings in Illinois is problematic.
Reinstitute the ban on military-style assault weapons: Perhaps the task force could examine the decision by Dick’s Sporting Goods stores to suspend the sales of military-assault weapons in the region surrounding Newtown, and see what could be down to persuade other major retailers to follow suit. Also, a major investment company has withdrawn its financial support from the manufacturer of one of the most popular military-style assault weapons sold to civilians. This action should also be examined by the task force to see if other financial backers of the producers of such weapons could be influenced to take similar action.
Eliminate access by civilians to high-capacity magazines: Do hunters and recreational shooters really need to be able to fire off 25 to 100 rounds in about a minute without reloading?
Pursue affordable technology that would allow the legal owner of a gun to be the only person that could fire the gun: This would be a step in addressing the gun homicides that result from stolen guns. This would also be a start in addressing the gun deaths that result from the accidental discharge of a weapon by a person who is not the owner of the weapon.
Address the Internet sale of guns: An estimated 40% of gun sales are over the Internet, and the majority of those sales are done without a background check. This percentage is predicted to grow in the near future. This type of gun purchase has to be addressed by the task force.
Pursue buyback programs: The National Conference of U.S. Mayors is set to pursue a major initiative of instituting buyback programs in many American cities. The task force should consider a comprehensive review of these programs to assess their commonalities and differences, and examine their effectiveness.
Reevaluate the commitment to providing meaningful mental health services to adults and children: Just as in Illinois, many states in the throes of economic difficulties are contemplating or are already implementing serious spending cuts to mental health agencies. Clearly, there is a relationship between mental health concerns and many of the recent mass shootings that have occurred in this nation. The task force should examine what should be the appropriate level of federal and state support to assist those who suffer mental illness and disorders in America.
Once the task force convenes it will be interesting to note how quickly it produces a set of recommendations, and what the substance of those recommendations will be. What will be much more interesting is to see if the President and Congress actually act in response to those recommendations.
Bob Bradley is solely responsible for the opinions expressed above. These opinions do not necessarily reflect those of WJBC, Radio Bloomington or Cumulus Media staff or management.
Bradley was a full-time professor in the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University where he has been since 1982. He has received several recognitions including: Carnegie Scholar for Civic Engagement, Constitution Trail Friend of the Year, and Faculty Star distinction by ISU Athletics. He dearly loves his wife, Reenie, of more than 25 years, and his daughter, Erin. He is an avid reader, devout sports enthusiast, gardener, golfer, and bird watcher.