We’re all still digesting what it is the White House’s plan on gun policy is, but here’s my initial assessment, not having gone through what technical language is available.
President Obama’s 23 executive actions generally take positive steps towards stopping gun violence – such as improving the background check system and increasing enforcement of gun crime – though I have federalism or privacy concerns about a few of them.
His legislative proposals, however – banning “assault weapons” and restricting magazines to 10 rounds – are feel-good measures that fail to abide by the principle that should guide any lawmaking in this area: keeping guns out of the hands of those who would do ill while protecting law-abiding citizens’ constitutional rights to armed self-defense. The guns that the Newtown shooter used, for example, complied with Connecticut’s extremely strict “assault weapon” ban and, in any event, the vast majority of murders are committed with handguns.
On both sets of actions, the devil will be in the details: How will the relevant executive branch officials and agencies implement the new actions? Will the proposed “assault weapon” restrictions ban ordinary rifles that simply come with a pistol grip or other cosmetic feature (like the New York law that Gov. Cuomo signed earlier in the week)? And that’s before we even get to the feasibility of getting anything through Congress or whether the president is willing to negotiate to get at least some of what he wants.
Finally, this national action isn’t the end of the story: our constitutional structure leaves to states most of the power to regulate in this area. On that score, and befitting a federal system meant to reflect different political preferences, states have been moving in different directions – from allowing concealed-carry to increasing tort liability to posting armed guards in schools. So long as states and local authorities don’t violate individual Second Amendment rights, the federal government ought to encourage that kind of policy innovation.
See also Tim Lynch’s podcast on Obama’s gun control agenda.