WASHINGTON – Here is an interesting (front page) headline from The Financial Times: Obama prepares to impose controls on gun sales in effort to tackle violence, (January 2 – 3, 2016). On the face of it, this sounds reasonable. In a country where there is a great deal of gun violence, more stringent background checks on would-be gun buyers would prevent people with criminal records from purchasing guns.
The FT article goes on to discuss what kind of options President Obama may have if he wants to act alone, via executive order, since this Republican Congress will be hostile to any new laws that may end up restricting gun ownership.
That said, the whole issue is completely preposterous. Guess what, leaving aside any new, more stringent screening on would-be new gun buyers, in today’s America there are anywhere between 270 and 310 million guns in circulation.
This is an approximation that includes both legally owned and illegally owned guns. When it comes to privately owned firearms, the US ranks N.1 out 178 countries. in 2014, 31% of all US households had one or more guns.
Between 270 and 310 million guns
Got that? Anywhere between 270 and 310 million guns already in the hands of US citizens. This comes to an average of almost 1 gun for every American, including babies and old people in nursing homes, (US population: about 326 million).
Given this context of almost absurd levels of gun ownership, do the FT editors really think that President Obama can “tackle violence” by creating more stringent background checks on future purchases? And what about the 270 million (or more) guns already in private hands? We just make them disappear?
The FT should know better. Any new presidential initiative that would somehow affect gun ownership at this stage amounts to political posturing. Given America’s “gun saturation”, Obama knows that whatever he does will have essentially no impact on future rates of gun violence. But he is going to try “to do something” anyway, because he wants to please a section of the Democratic Party. And he wants the moral high ground for himself and for the party.
The sad truth is that most Americans (Including many Democrats) are wedded to the notion that owning a gun is some sort of birth right, (enshrined in the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution).
Until this gun culture changes –and there is no sign of this– there is very little that any US President will be able to do. (In case you are wondering, confiscating all or even some privately owned guns would be unconstitutional, just like prohibiting any future guns sales).
Therefore please avoid the nonsense of headlines that convey the impression that new controls will have any impact on reducing gun violence. They will not. And the FT editors should know this.