Like many folks, I am watching closely as President Obama begins his campaign to reform the gun laws in this country. Because most laws regulating the sale and use of guns are legislated at the state level, there are only a limited number of things he can do; nonetheless, those few things are important. In his White House briefing he outlined four major proposals
– Require that everyone who wants to purchase a gun go through background checks (i.e. closing the gun show loophole);
– Ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines;
– Better train teachers and officials on how to respond to shootings at schools;
– Increase access to mental health services
Also through executive order the president called for increased research on gun related issues and mental health.
Even before his proposals had been made public the NRA and its spokespersons in Congress were criticizing them. When Obama indicated in an interview said that he enjoyed skeet shooting, they scoffed, even after he produced a picture of doing just that. I wondered why the president felt a need to even respond to such criticisms, until I realized he wasn’t trying to answer his critics, but rather discredit them in the eyes of the millions of American who feel confused and ambivalent on the gun issue.
However, I recently got a sense of where the battle lines on this issue will be drawn (I apologize for using such a militaristic metaphor, but that is what this feels like) when I received a letter from my Congressman in response to a letter I had sent him calling for an assault weapons ban. Rep. Pat Meehan represents the 7th District of Pennsylvania, which basically constitutes the western suburbs in the Philadelphia metro area. Rep Meehan is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, a darling of many of the Conservative PACS. In response to my letter Re. Meehan wrote the following:
“… we need to put an emphasis on what works to keep guns out of the hands of criminals while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens. As I’ve previously said, I agree with the President that we can and should strengthen the nation’s background check system, filling the current holes and also requiring background checks at gun shows, regardless of whether the seller is licensed or not. Also it is correct o put a focus on mental health, improving care for troubled young people and the prevalence of violent movies and video games in our culture.”
Compared to previous responses I have received from the Congressman, there are some hopeful signs – Rep Meehan is now on record in support of a robust background check system, even at gun shows, a major source of gun sales. However, what is also noteworthy is what is absent from the Congressman’s proposals; he does not speak on the assault weapons ban, nor does he support the president’s call for more research funding or a strengthening of the ATF, which is has been vastly underfunded for years.
Rep. Meehan is a good litmus test for what political conservatives will or will not support. I think we who want to see more robust gun legislation need to see these are where the lines are being drawn. For some bizarre reason, otherwise intelligent men like Pat Meehan will not support the ban on armor piercing bullets or high powered rifles to the general public. He will speak about “enforcing already existing laws” without voting to provide to make that enforcement possible. And despite numerous incidents like Newtown, Aurora and Tucson he will continue to see this gun problem as a “criminal” issue, rather than an issue affecting everyday citizens caught up in our gun-worshipping culture.
In the political world of compromise and give and take, my sense is that conservatives will give a little on the background check issue, and dig in their heels on everything else, especially reinstating the assault weapons ban. They will use the language of “what works” to reduce crime, somehow having this huge blind spot when it comes to high powered weapons in spite several high profile events using those weapons. They will equate someone’s right to own a gun with the right to use a gun whose purpose is only to kill other human beings in a combat situation.
Because of my long involvement with this issue, people have been asking if I think significant changes will come. I don’t think significant changes will come without a real fight and continued pressure on Congresspeople and a continual discrediting of the lies and deception being promulgated by the NRA and other gun-rights groups. In Philadelphia and elsewhere sales at gun shows and gun shops have sky rocketed because of people’s frenzy and fear that someone all rights to own and use gun will be taken away. I don’t see that happening, nor do I worry about it. What concerns me is that those of us who see a major source of the problem as the fascination with violence at the heart of our culture must be committed to a long, arduous process of transformation that will require dedicated efforts to keep the truth and reality of guns’ destruction before the public and more importantly, our representatives in Congress and the White House.
So I took the letter that Rep Meehan sent me turned it over and wrote my response to his response asking why he has not come out in support of the assault weapons ban. The campaign for commonsense gun legislation continues.