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Ethics & Religion
January 7, 2016
Column #1,793
Obama Is Right on Gun Control
By Mike McManus

President Obama has taken modest steps to close loopholes so that more guns sales would be subject to a check on buyers' backgrounds. Currently, backgrounds are not checked on 40 percent of gun sales (on the Internet and at gun shows).

"Our unalienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness  -- those rights were stripped away from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first graders in Newtown," he said.

Surrounded by families who had lost a child or a spouse, he paused and repeated, "First graders." Tears welled up. "Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad."

Federal law already requires that anyone "engaged in the business" of selling guns must be licensed and conduct background checks on every purchase. The problem is that many sellers at gun shows and on line claim to be hobbyists who are exempt from those requirements.

Obama's executive action does not expand existing law, but alleges that those who claim to be hobbyists may be "engaged in the business" of selling firearms. He is tightening the definitions so that those who sell guns in their original packaging will be subject to criminal penalties for violating the law.

In demanding better enforcement of existing laws, he is asking Congress for funding to hire 200 new investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Unfortunately, a Republican Congress is unlikely to do so.

He says the FBI will increase the number of workers who process the background checks by 50 percent, or 230 people. That and new computers will reduce delays in a system that receives 63,000 background check requests daily.

Obama is also seeking to close a loophole that has allowed people to avoid background checks when they buy machine guns and sawed-off shotguns by creating corporate entities and trusts to conduct the sales.

He is making it clear that health privacy rules do not bar states from reporting mental health records to the background check system. Finally, he is asking Congress for $500 million to improve basic mental health care.

These are mostly modest improvements to implement existing law, to reduce the number of guns sold to criminals or those with mental health problems.

Yet to Republican candidates for President, you'd think he tried to repeal the Second Amendment. Sen. Marco Rubio immediately released a new TV ad that Obama plans "to take away our guns.

N.J. Governor Chris Christie thundered, "The president wants to act as if he's a king, as if he's a dictator." Jeb Bush says Obama proposes to "use executive power he doesn't have... He wants to take power away from law-abiding citizens and the protection of the Second Amendment. I will fight as hard as I can against this president."

Anticipating such criticism, Obama asked in his 37-minute speech, "How did we get to the place where people think requiring a comprehensive background check means taking away people's guns?"

A slight majority of Americans, 53 percent, gave positive marks to the President's proposals, but that number masks strident differences by political party. Three-quarters of Democrats rate his proposals favorably, but nearly as many Republicans (72 percent) oppose them.

What's puzzling is that before the President's speech, a Washington Post-- ABC poll found nearly nine in 10 Republicans supported background checks at gun shows.

Apparently, however, when Obama speaks passionately, he arouses passionate Republican opposition.

Nevertheless, his proposals are modest and reasonable small steps that he can take in the face of congressional inaction slightly ramping up enforcement, interpreting present laws in ways to close loopholes so that fewer criminals and mentally unstable people can buy guns to kill innocent people, or themselves. (Two-thirds of the 30,000 killed by guns are suicides.)

His single major request was for $500 million in new funding to care for those with mental illness.

"Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well," the President asserted. "Our right to worship freely and safely that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. And was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They had rights too."

President Obama deserves credit for taking modest steps that will save lives. Republican candidates for President deserve no credit for parroting the National Rifle Association's line.

Copyright Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers.

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