Last week, a man in Kalamazoo, Michigan went on a shooting rampage, killing six people seemingly at random.
The suspected shooter is a man named Jason Dalton, who reportedly owns several firearms. Up until this point, Dalton had no criminal record and has apparently never been adjudicated mentally ill. In legal terms, this means that Dalton would have had no problem passing a background check to purchase his firearms.
Despite this fact, President Obama took time this week to suggest that his gun control measures make it more difficult for would-be spree shooters to acquire firearms.
Speaking to the National Governor’s Association, President Obama claimed:
As many of you read, six people were gunned down in a rampage in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Before I joined all of you, I called the mayor, the sheriff, and the police chief there, and told them that they would have whatever federal support they needed in their investigation. Their local officials and first responders, by the way, did an outstanding job in apprehending the individual very quickly. But you got families who are shattered today.
Earlier this year, I took some steps that will make it harder for dangerous people, like this individual, to buy a gun.
There is no support for that statement.
As I detailed last month, President Obama’s executive actions on guns amounted to a lot more pomp and rhetoric than substance. Reforms included a “clarification” of who the federal government will consider “engaged in the business” of selling firearms and thus who is required to perform background checks, some alterations to the way heavily-regulated items like machine guns and suppressors could be obtained, and a loosening of privacy protections on the sharing of mental health information between states and the federal background check system.
There was no reason at that time to believe that President Obama’s executive actions would have any substantial effect on mass shootings or the rate of gun crime generally, and that remains the case today.
It’s a truism that a person who can pass (or has already passed) a background check will not be prevented from acquiring a firearm by expanding the categories of consumers required to undergo checks.
Spree shootings are a tragedy, and policymakers should be open-minded about how to solve such a horrifying problem. But any good policy must be rooted in logic and evidence rather than appeals to emotion and a general sense that “we have to do something.”
Far from proving President Obama correct about background checks, tragedies like this emphasize the same flaws in President Obama's logic on gun crime and mass shootings that we've highlighted in the past:
For all the pomp and ceremony, nothing in the president’s proposals is going to put a dent in U.S. gun crime or even substantially change the federal legal landscape.
The most disappointing aspect of the proposals is that there is so little in them to suggest that President Obama is willing to address any of the major drivers of gun crime in America. The sad irony is that President Obama could do far more to protect American lives and clean up our streets by ending the drug war than by expanding background checks. Criminals, from gang members to spree shooters, have no trouble passing checks, finding straw purchasers, or simply buying guns on the inherently unregulated black market. As long as there are hundreds of billions of dollars changing hands in the illicit drug market every year, the black market for firearms and the violent competition for market shares will continue to claim thousands of lives annually and make a mockery of the idea of gun control.
Gun crime is a serious problem, and it deserves attention. Unfortunately, these proposals do not offer effective solutions.