Monday, January 11, 2016

Thorner & Ingold: Gun Control: Much to ado about nothing?


By Nancy Thorner & Ed Ingold – 

As we digested events from last week in the light of President Obama’s Executive Order about gun control, it became clear that gun control was secondary to his attempt to marginalize the NRA. There was lots of sizzle, but no steak in the end. Even diverting attention from Gitmo, ISIS, North Korea, China, and the Middle East played a minor, but useful role.

The NRA refused to bite, so Obama was left to debate an empty chair. According to polls, undecided voters weren’t fooled either. They overwhelmingly agree with the NRA and the Republican candidates in opposition to the President. 

Obama’s references to “Smart Guns” were vague and not picked up by the press nor the NRA, but they are available for purchase.  Not popular at the moment, nevertheless, we took the liberty to explain later in our article what Smart Guns are all about and whether it would be advantageous for you to consider one.

Perhaps the most memorable event during this past week was Obama’s confrontation with Tara Kyle at his town hall meeting at George Mason University in Virginia where Obama sat stunned.  When he couldn’t answer her question, he fell back on the old “something is better than doing nothing” trick.


The day after the December 2 assault on a Christmas party in San Bernardino, President Obama appeared on television to denounce “yet another tragic example of gun violence,” and renewed his vows to bypass Congress on gun control if they wouldn’t do as he asked. To Obama’s embarrassment, his FBI director announced that San Bernardino would be a terror investigation, not one of workplace violence as depicted by the President.

By at least one account, supposedly leaked from Obama’s inner circle, the President was outraged to be made a fool by director Comey. Accordingly, Obama, Valerie Jarrett and Loretta Lynch made plans to mitigate the situation. The next day Director Comey conducted a press conference, describing the nature of the investigation, accompanied by Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

While Comey outlined the facts of the case, Lynch restricted her comments to a threat to prosecute anyone depicting Muslims as terrorists. When Comey opened the podium to questions, the video feed was suddenly cut off. Actual video of the remaining conference appeared briefly on the internet the next day, but was deleted within hours.

Scare Tactics:

In order to gain support for his forthcoming announcements, the President mentioned things like using the no-fly list to disqualify gun buyers, which has serious constitutional issues. Re-classifying who needs a license to sell firearms. Streamlining reporting of mental issues (HIPAA issues), banning high (actually standard) capacity magazines and assault weapons based on cosmetic features, and mandating weapons to have electronic safety features tying them to one user.

Actual Announcement:

When the President announced his decisions on Tuesday, January 5, they were basically as follows:

  • Directed the ATF to establish rules for licensing requirements to sell firearms. It was not an order to change the rules, rather a directive to start the rule-process, including public comment and Congressional review, which will last well into 2017.
  • Simplify the rules under which mental health professionals can report issues to NICS without violating HIPAA rules. Technically only involuntary examinations are affected, including court-ordered procedures.
  • Increase the budget for mental health research in violence by $500M (subject to Congressional approval).
  • Ask Congress to allow the CDC to study violence as a public health issue (banned by Congress in 2003, following highly questionable and biased reports).
  • Asked for more funding to study “smart gun” technology, comparing it to seat belts in cars and safety standards for toys. This escaped the notice of the press, and apparently the NRA too.


In an interview with Fox News, former Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, described the President’s actions as “rearranging furniture.”  Generalities were used by Mukasey: 

  • Less than 1% of guns used in crimes were purchased at gun shows (0.7% by FBI statistics). Most guns used in crime come from illegal street sales (40%) and close relatives (30-40%), not subject to background checks.
  • Potentially criminalizes private individuals selling guns without a license, after the fact, depending on the prosecutor, not clear rules.
  • $500M for mental health research was immediately tabled by the administration, without consulting Congress.
  • No mention was made of using the no-fly list.
  • No mention was made of “assault weapon” bans
  • Mental health issues already impose a limit on who can purchase a firearm, but are not reported reliably by many states. Criminal convictions are not consistently reported to NICS either.
  • Over 2/3rds of Obama’s “gun deaths” are suicides, which occur at the same rate in countries like Great Britain and Japan where no guns are allowed at all.
  • More deaths occur on the streets of Chicago in a month than in all  “active shootings” since Obama was elected.
  • The 24/7 news cycle emphasizes incidents like San Bernardino for weeks on end, while ignoring the daily carnage in cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore and New Orleans, all run by  unrepentant liberal Democrats. NYC is still somewhat below the national average (4/100K), but climbing rapidly under DeBlasio’s liberal policies.
  • “Smart guns” restrict their use to a single person, using biometrics or an electron finger ring. The technology already exists, in case someone wants it. The acceptance has been very low, almost zero. While it keeps children from firing the weapon, failure would keep the owner from firing it too in an emergency, like an air bag which won’t deploy or a flashlight gone dead when the lights go out. The political implications are serious. At least one state, New Jersey, requires all guns to have this technology once it becomes available. The Democrats would be quick to spread this across the country, and Bloomberg would sponsor initiatives in states where they are allowed (e.g., Washington and Oregon). It would not have protected the cop in Philadelphia, who was shot with a gun stolen from the police. Any mechanism of the sort is easily disabled in a few minutes. The law would come down heavily on any citizen disabling this feature, but what does a criminal have to lose?

Town Hall Meeting:

Obama held a town hall meeting on Thursday, January 7, at George Mason University in Virginia, moderated by CNN. While packed with anti-gun activists and gun violence victims, a few surprises occurred.

Following a lecture by the President, containing familiar talking points, the meeting was opened to questions from the audience. Tara Kyle, widow of the “American Sniper,” Chris Kyle, who was murdered in 2013, pointed out that homicides are at an historic low, gun ownership at an historic high, criminals don’t do background checks, and federal prosecutions for gun crimes are down by 40% since Obama took office. Why?

Making NRA the Strawman:

The NRA was invited to attend, but declined. In an interview with Fox News, NRA Director Chris Cox explained that they were allowed one pre-screened question, and would be held hostage while Obama leveled one accusation after another. In fact, that is precisely what Obama did anyway – accused the NRA of blocking this or that and of raising panic among gun owners, the classic Strawman approach. While there was a marked increase in gun purchases, the NRA had nothing to do with it. Gun owners tend to keep one ear to the ground, and the President made a lot of noise leading up to Tuesday. The NRA was surprisingly low key throughout the two weeks, waiting to discuss facts not assumptions.

It is clear that the President wants to demonize the NRA as the enemy of public safety. With a budget of about $37M, the NRA isn’t even in the top 100 list of lobbying organizations, but their members (and even more followers) are passionate about their right to keep and bear arms for personal safety. Michael Bloomberg alone spends about $20M a year in anti-gun activities, including $2M alone in the Chicago primary race to replace disgraced Jesse Jackson Jr in the House of Representatives, for a race which normally costs less than $500K. The issue – gun control.

Distracting from domestic and international stumbles: 

Throughout the last two weeks, the President has made nearly daily announcements regarding his gun control agenda. This has captivate the attention of nearly everybody, most important the network and cable news industry. This seems to be a Machiavellian attempt to control the news cycle and divert attention from the political situation in the Middle East. It also kept attention from Obama’s continued effort to close the Gitmo prison. Seventeen dangerous Al Qaeda members are scheduled for release in January, almost unnoticed by the press. By law, the Secretary of Defense must affirm (in writing) that these pose no security problem to the US or its allies. Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel all resigned in protest. Ashton Carter, who majored in Physics and Medieval History, with a career as a technical advisor, seems more … compliant in this regard.

What would work?

Criminals are going to get firearms as long as it is necessary to do what they do. They will go to the streets, suburbs, other states or other countries if necessary, and they won’t get background checks. If you can’t keep guns from the hands of criminals, why not do as much as possible to keep their hands away from guns. Prosecute them under existing gun laws!

As noted, prosecutions for federal gun crimes are down 40% since Obama took office. In Chicago, there are nearly 3500 illegal guns seized each year, but the average sentence served is less than one year. Under federal law, the minimum is 5 years and can be much longer, yet there were no prosecutions under federal law since Obama took office. It’s a lot harder for criminals to get guns in prison (unfortunately not impossible), and the public would get 5 years of relief from that individual’s depredations.

Mr. President, where is your Department of Justice? Is your reticence due to the demographics of violent crime in your home city?

Without waiting for Congress, President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday, January 16, a sweeping $500 million program to curb gun violence in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, which is sure to set up a fight over universal background checks and bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

In Obama’s announcement were a list of twenty-three executive “actions” in which Obama promised to use his presidential powers to act ahead of congressional approval. Most of Obama’s executive orders amounted to fluff, nothing really new, other than to prop up or enforcing existing law, but some are not without merit or beyond scrutiny.

Tucked away in item 18 is a mandate to beef up school security with armed guards. This was a dangerous, radical idea when Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, proposed it a week after the Sandy Hook tragedy, but now has official, if quiet and underfunded, sanction from the President.

Beefing up school security with armed guards has become one of the few substantive items on the President’s list, and a cornerstone of his action plan to protect our children.

There is also an end run around the privacy requirements built into HIPAA (item 2, “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act”), which was enacted on August 27, 1996, to protect health insurance coverage for workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs. Now Obama wants addressed unnecessary legal barriers that may prevent states from making personal health information available for HIPAA backgound checks.

With 2,700 pages, the new healthcare law gives the president near-dictatorial control over your healthcare, but who would have guessed that privileged conversations with our physicians would be so tempting to this President? If Obama gets his way doctors across the county could play a key role in his new gun control initiative by asking what type and how many guns do you have in your house?

Order 16, as summarized, simply states federal agencies will “Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.” Already causing significant controversy, the Administration is planning to offer guidance clarifying that the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), doesn’t prohibit or otherwise regulate communication between doctors and patients, including about firearms.

In a strange twist of fate, Obamacare contains an amendment (Sec. 2716, part c) which specifically forbids the Federal government from collecting data on firearm and ammunition purchases for lawful use, added as an accommodation to the NRA , which the President would dearly like to do.

Despite bold predictions by Vice President Biden, the wording in item 6 shows that Obama is doing “the crayfish” on this issue. In Louisiana terms, that’s pretending to “face” the problem while slowly backing away. Item 6, instructing FFL’s how to conduct background checks for private sellers, simply reiterates what FLLs do on a daily basis. Current law does not require background checks in private sales of firearms, only those conducted through FFL’s. Although the President did ask Congress to change the law, he made no attempt to do it by executive order.

Authorizing the CDC (Center for Disease Control) to investigate the cause and effect of gun crimes is another blind alley (item 14). In a 1995 study, the CDC concluded that gun laws, including the AWB and gun-free school zones, were ineffective.

The New England Journal of Medicine published an anecdotal article which posed that owning a gun was more dangerous to the owner than to an assailant. This study was faulty in several ways: (a) The ONLY way you can be injured with your own gun is if you own one. (b) 65% of all homicides with guns are suicides, yet the vast majority of suicides use drugs or suffocation. (c) According to criminologist Gary Kleck, more than 93% of all instances where a gun is used for self defense go unreported – no shots were fired or the defender would be in more trouble than the offender if reported (e.g., Chicago, NYC or Maryland). Of those incidents reported, shots were fired in only one time in one hundred.

The President also wants to aggressively prosecute illegal guns sales and gun running (item 13). Perhaps Obama should take care of his own house by first seeing to it that gun-walking Eric Holder and the top 6 appointees in BATF are suspended and brought to trial. Order 13 is nothing more than a pledge to enforce existing law. Prosecutions for falsification of background checks (form 4473) are almost non-existent. Connecticut has a record of only one prosecution since 1968. Even New York, the “shining example of gun control” only recently prosecuted the purchaser of the weapons used by ex-con, William Spengler, to kill two volunteer firemen and wound two others.

Calling for “universal background checks” is a matter for Congress to address, which even the President acknowledges. It is widely claimed that 40% of all gun sales are made without this safeguard. However, this figure is false, promoted mainly by the organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, headed by Michael Bloomberg of NYC.

The correct figure is closer to 6%. The erroneous statistic comes from interpretation of data collected in 1991, before background checks were instituted in the 1994 Gun Safety Act (aka AWB). A survey was taken of 251 gun purchasers, asking whether they bought firearms from a store or private dealer. It was later assumed that only stores conducted background checks. In fact, transactions through a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) use the same forms and NICS checks as brick-and-mortar stores. All Internet sales and nearly all gun show sales involve an FFL. Many sales are between close relatives and through inheritance, which are exempted in both existing and Obama’s proposed regulations. The face to face sale between strangers is only about 6% of the total, not counting illegal transfers which won’t change regardless of the law.

Several items address gun safety issues, including item 15, which implies a renewed interest in “personalized” or biometric systems, which are expensive, unreliable and cannot be easily retrofitted. The most expensive tool is one that won’t do the job, and a “safety” system that disables the weapon in the time of need is downright dangerous to the owner. As for safety, nearly as many children (thirty drown by falling into mop buckets each year than by gun accidents (about forty). Being struck by errant gang shootings does not qualify as an accident.

Modern firearms are inherently “dangerous” when used properly, in once sense of the word. Otherwise, why would they exist. Truly accidental discharges are almost unheard of. A better term is “negligent” discharge. They can be dropped, kicked or otherwise abused without firing. You must deliberately (or injudiciously) pull the trigger. They won’t go off in a hot car – it takes a temperature of nearly 400 deg F to sizzle powder – pizza oven temperature – even then with more of a whimper than a bang.

In order to protect 2nd Amendment rights, the first priority of concerned citizens must be to persuade your Congressmen to eschew new restrictions on so-called “assault weapons,” and “high capacity” magazines, which under Feinstein’s proposal would include over 80% of handguns and rifles in common use.

Since fewer than 1000 homicides (1%) are committed each year with assault rifles, out of 30 million in circulation, by people who routinely ignore laws, nothing is gained by removing these guns from the vast majority of owners who have them for sport and self

What will work? Make the background checks more effective, and prosecute false statements. Make sure adjudications of mental illness, where the patient is likely to hurt himself or others, is reported to the NICS database (opinions don’t count unless supported by evidence and subject to challenge). Eliminate or limit most gun-free zones, including malls, theaters and most government buildings, which serve as “soft targets” for criminals. Lawful possession and carry should be licensed on a “shall issue” basis. Prosecute those who commit assaults, robberies or carry guns in schools unlawfully as ADULTS. The President seems averse to the latter, considering his voting record in his rare appearances on the legislative floor.

If universal background checks are required, a reasonable process should be established for private, non-FFL sales. Exchanges between family members and inheritances
should continue to be exempted.

It was noted on Friday, January 18, that Obama is mobilizing his campaign organization to pressure Congress and the public into supporting his gun law proposals. We foresee a series of speeches against a backdrop of worshiping supporters, highly publicized protest marches and a blizzard of TV ads. Obama will get a lot of favorable coverage from the main-stream media, but Congress will not likely be impressed. Obama’s appearances will be in areas which voted for him, large cities and such, which compose the Obama “choir”. It is doubtful that Phoenix will be on his tour, nor Salt Lake City or Indianapolis.

Since the press won’t check facts, it’s important for those of us who are concerned about the direction of our nation to continue to build our case with lawmakers, pro and con, on the key issues. We need to rally our supporters in Congress, and shake the confidence of our opponents. We are not in a position to make compromises. Our opponents won’t give an inch, and we shouldn’t make their job any easier.

There is no solution more likely to achieve positive results against violence than vigorous enforcement of existing laws, which is sadly lacking, nor any solution less effective than one directed at millions of law-abiding gun owners.

Published at Illinos Review on Monday, January 21, 2013.