As the US Senate begins today’s debate on gun control, Coloradoans can be forgiven for having a feeling of deja vu. That’s because the debate in Congress is intended to mimic the one in Colorado, and because it’s about politics, not about governance.
The one piece of the president’s broad gun control agenda that has survived public scrutiny is background checks on sales. This is a broadly popular idea, and even gun owners support it by large margins in poll after poll. But Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute has shown that in Congress, as in Colorado, while the bill will be sold as checks on sales, it actually does much, much more:
While the woman is out of town on a business trip for two weeks, she gives the gun to her husband or her sister. If the woman lives on a farm, she allows all her relatives to take the rifle into the fields for pest and predator control — and sometimes, when friends are visiting, she takes them to a safe place on the farm where they spend an hour or two target shooting, passing herover gun back and forth. At other times, she and her friends go target shooting in open spaces of land owned by the National Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.
Or perhaps the woman is in a same-sex civil union, and she allows her partner to take her gun to a target range one afternoon. Another time, she allows her cousin to borrow the gun for an afternoon of target shooting. If the woman is in the Army Reserve and she is called up for an overseas deployment, she gives the gun to her sister for temporary safekeeping.
One time, she learns that her neighbor is being threatened by an abusive ex-boyfriend, and she lets this woman borrow a gun for several days until she can buy her own gun. And if the woman becomes a firearms-safety instructor, she regularly teaches classes at office parks, in school buildings at nights and on weekends, at gun stores, and so on. Following the standard curriculum of gun-safety classes (such as NRA safety courses), the woman will bring some unloaded guns to the classroom, and under her supervision, students will learn the first steps in how to handle the guns, including how to load and unload them (using dummy ammunition). During the class, the firearms will be “transferred” dozens of times, since students must practice how to hand a gun to someone else safely. As a Boy Scout den mother or 4-H leader, the woman may also transfer her gun to young people dozens of times while instructing them in gun safety.
These are not far-out scenarios. Kopel notes that “transfers” are defined very specifically in the bill, with specific exceptions. And lest “transfer” be read narrowly to exclude loans, where someone retains possession, time limits on such transfers are laid out. In order to escape such notice, guns could be “gifted” to family members, but presumably those gifts would be considered taxable events.
The bill does include some exceptions, designed to provide plausible deniability to senators who want to claim they’ve made reasonable allowances. Those exceptions are subject to such severe restraints so as to make them all but meaningless. This was largely the same legislative and debate strategy used here in Colorado, and for fun, count the number of times reference is made on the floor of the Senate to what happened here.
All of these scenarios will fly under the radar. The plan is for the press to continue to repeat the “40% of sales” myth and to deflect attention from the real burdens of the proposed law. Western Democrats will be given enough cover to present their votes as reasonable to the folks back home, and Republicans opposing them will have the Hobson’s Choice of either caving (and dispiriting and disillusioning their supporters) or appearing obstructionist and unreasonable.
It’s the same strategy that the Democrats used with the Violence Against Women Act: take a non-controversial piece of legislation, load it up with partisan baggage, and dare the other side to vote against it. It was a key element in the 2012 campaign theme of a “War on Women,” and it didn’t really have anything to do with governing. Obama and the Democrats now hope to repeat the same trick, and set up the 2014 Congressional campaigns as one of the Republicans against the Suburbs, newly-competitive territory which the Dems see as the key to long-term victory.
The bills, largely written by Mayor Bloomberg of New York, suffer from the same lack of public process, examination, amendment, and debate as Obamacare and the ill-thought-out, and supposedly much simpler, magazine ban rushed through the New York State legislature in the wake of Newtown. That’s by design; while the mayor and the president may be true believers in disarming citizens, President Obama is a greater believer in winning elections.
To thwart this strategy, the Republicans will have to do more than filibuster. Their amendments – and thus the floor debate – will have to be focused on the question of “transfers” and the absurd outcomes that this bill creates. They’ll never have a better time to make their case publicly.