Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to reveal his gun control proposals Tuesday. Based on the reporting I've seen as of today, I'm not optimistic. But my pessimism probably isn't about what you would think.
It's not that I believe that Biden's proposals will not pass; rather, I'm concerned that they won't be worth passing.
It's no revelation that the national gun control groups, like the Brady Campaign, are weak. Given their strategic cluelessness and lack of vision, they deserve to be.
On the other hand, the National Rifle Association has done an incredible job of puffing itself up to appear powerful, and in politics perception is reality. But the truth is that the NRA is powerful only because people think it is. Once that balloon is popped, it will fall harmlessly to the ground.
Just don't count on the Brady Campaign to do the popping. They even note in a recent press release that some of their proposals have overwhelming support among NRA members. Folks, if the test of your proposals is that they have the support of NRA members, than you've put yourself in a very small box from the start. It's like saying the chicken coop protection measures have the full support of the foxes.
Since the Newtown gun massacre, I've been disappointed but not surprised at the bungling of the issue by the gun control groups. Unaccustomed to being paid attention to, they seem like deer caught in the headlights of national attention. Presented, tragically, with the opportunity to move the parameters of this debate toward measures that would be meaningful, the groups are instead muddling around with weak, ineffective ideas.
They are even making the case to an Obama administration, finally willing to take on the scourge of assault rifles, that they shouldn't offend the NRA with that sensible law. Instead, they are pressing for the possibly achievable but mostly useless measure of universal gun registration.
No doubt the gun show and Internet loopholes, which allows 40% of all gun sales to go unregistered, should be closed. But this will do little to lessen gun violence in America. Guns only need to be registered once. So, millions of guns would get registered at gun shows, and then they'd be sold over and over again in private transactions without registration.
Another useless proposal tied to registration is more thorough background checks. Nancy Lanza was found to be of sound mind and a law-abiding citizen when she bought the guns that her son used to kill her and twenty-six young students and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The problem is that most people are law-abiding and of sound mind when they purchase their weapons. But people change. They become depressed or mentally ill or just angry, and they use their legally obtained guns to kill themselves or others. Or, as in the case of Newtown, their guns are easily accessible to family members who go off the wall.
So, registration and background checks are nice, but they can actually be harmful if we are allowed to kid ourselves into thinking they are substitutes for what actually needs to be done.
The only real answer is to reduce the number of guns in circulation. Three hundred million guns and counting is a public health threat, a disease, a virus that needs to be knocked back. This can only be done by cutting off the supply -- by shutting down production of semi-automatic weapons and hand guns, making it illegal to sell them to anybody but the government, making it illegal to own semi-automatics, and making it expensive to own a handgun. Last week, I outlined a proposal along these lines.
Look, do I think that proposals as strong and effective as the ones I'm talking about have a ghost of a chance of passing in this Congress? Of course not. But we won't ever get meaningful gun control until we have the guts to talk about it, and to be honest about what will really work. We need to set an agenda before we can pass an agenda.
But the timid gun control "movement" is starting off by compromising with itself and cowering to the cowardly NRA. So, they'll end up having to fight hard and spend all the political capital they have on measures that have no chance of actually reducing gun deaths. Also, you can bet that even those pitiful plans will be watered down in the end.
The result will be a bunch of crowing in a few years by the NRA when these useless proposals surprise no one by having no impact at all on gun violence.
An effective gun control movement would take a page from the NRA's playbook. The NRA has pursued an effective strategy for decades, by fighting even the most timid and sensible of gun control measures as if it's a repeal of the Second Amendment. By doing this, they have pulled the debate so far to the right that the gun control measures that might actually work can't even be mentioned.
This dynamic will not change until the gun control groups start laying out an agenda that is bold, forceful and ultimately effective. They can't do that by compromising with themselves before the debate even begins.