By Chris W. Cox, NRA-ILA Executive Director
Like the rest of the nation, all of us at the NRA were shocked and saddened by the tragedy in Aurora, Colo., this past July. We quickly issued a statement that our thoughts and prayers were with the victims, their families and the community, then we respectfully declined any further comment during the time of national mourning.
However, opponents of the Second Amendment were not nearly so reserved. Their outrageous but predictable response was to exploit the tragedy before the police had finished collecting evidence. The Brady Campaign’s new president bragged that “Within 48 hours of the terrible tragedy in Aurora, Colo., a new campaign was launched. … [it] shows just how ready the American public is to address gun violence.” Their “new” campaign consisted of a slick new website and Facebook page, pushing the same, tired gun control proposals they’ve been promoting for decades.
Politicians joined the fray. President Obama himself told the Urban League that “AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals. … they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.” The remark was classic Obama: non-committal and meaningless, but consultant-tested to look good to his political base.
On Capitol Hill, Second Amendment opponents dusted off two proposals to restrict freedoms. In the Senate, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., proposed an amendment to ban the import, possession and transfer of magazines that accept more than 10 rounds, and that are manufactured after the enactment of the amendment. Pre-ban magazines could be possessed by the current owner, but not transferred—even upon the owner’s death. The amendment provides for fines and up to 10 years in prison for violations—double the possible prison term under the 1994-2004 federal ban.
Lautenberg then teamed up with Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., to introduce a bill to ban the online sale of ammunition. Of course, ammunition is ammunition, whether it’s bought online or from a local gun store or “big box” retailer. Do they really think mass murderers will abandon their plans because they have to stop by a store? They also proposed a licensing requirement for ammunition dealers and recordkeeping on ammo sales—both of which were once federal law, and both of which were repealed in 1986 after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms said the requirements had “no substantial law enforcement value.”
Others have suggested limiting the amount of ammunition a person can buy, or reporting purchases they consider “too large.” They have no clue how much ammunition is bought and sold in our country. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that 10-12 billion rounds of ammunition are produced domestically each year, while billions more are imported.
A good summary of arguments against restricting ammunition sales was recently delivered by an unlikely source—the Obama administration’s top U.S. negotiator at the U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty. That statement said, “Ammunition is a fundamentally different commodity. … It is fungible, consumable, reloadable, and cannot be marked in any practical way that would permit it to be tracked or traced. Any practical proposal for ammunition would need to consider the significant burdens associated with licensing, authorizations, and recordkeeping for ammunition that is produced and transferred in the billions of rounds per year.”
The knee-jerk response is not limited to Washington, D.C. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn made his bid for the spotlight by hijacking an NRA-supported bill that had already passed the legislature. He vetoed the bill, then abused his powers to rewrite it as a ban and registration scheme on virtually every detachable-magazine semi-auto rifle and countless pistols and shotguns, with restrictions far beyond the scope of even the Clinton gun ban.
All this exploitation ignores a stark reality. The suspect in the shootings was charged with 142 counts of murder and attempted murder. He also violated hundreds of other state and federal laws relating to firearms and violence. It has been reported that the college psychiatrist who was treating the suspect had notified a “threat assessment team” that she was alarmed by his behavior; but nothing was done.
No gun law in the world can remedy the deficiencies we have seen time and time again in how the authorities handle—or fail to handle—people with dangerous mental illness. Addressing that problem, rather than assailing the rights of the law-abiding, should be the real challenge for lawmakers to face.