By Jacob Sullum – As I noted earlier, President Obama professes to be worried about a lack of trust and empathy in the gun control debate, even as he accuses his opponents of blocking life-saving legislation out of sheer partisan perversity. Here are a few other ways in which Obama’s speech in Denver sows mistrust:
He conflates a failed background check with stopping a criminal from obtaining a gun. “Over the past 20 years,” Obama says, “background checks have kept more than 2 million dangerous people from buying a gun.” That claim is based on two faulty assumptions: 1) that everyone who fails a background check is dangerous, which plainly is not true, given theridiculously broad categories of people who are legally barred from buying firearms, and 2) that a criminal intent on obtaining a weapon will give up if he cannot get it over the counter at a gun store, rather than enlisting a straw buyer or turning to the gray or black market.
He falsely equates “assault weapons” with military guns. Obama inaccurately calls one of the guns used in the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, massacre an “assault rifle,” which is a military weapon capable of firing automatically. He calls the guns he wants to ban “weapons of war,” again implying that they fire continuously, when in fact they fire once per trigger pull, like any other semi-automatic firearm.
He says there is no logical connection between “universal background checks” and gun registration. “We’re not proposing a gun registration system,” Obama insists. “We’re proposing background checks for criminals.” But there is no way to enforce a background-check requirement for every gun transfer unless the government knows where the guns are. Federally licensed gun dealers are readily identified and can be required to keep sale records. Individual gun owners who might dare to sell their property without clearance from the government cannot be identified unless the government compiles a list of them. Hence Obama’s assurances amount to saying, “Don’t worry. We will make a big show of passing this new background-check mandate, but we won’t really enforce it.”
He pooh-poohs the idea that there could ever be anything adversarial about the relationship between Americans and their government:
You hear some of these quotes: “I need a gun to protect myself from the government.” “We can’t do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away.”
Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. (Applause.) They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It’s a government of and by and for the people.
One of the constraints on the federal government is the doctrine of enmuerated powers, which says every act of Congress must be justified by a specific constitutional grant of authority. Where is the clause that empowers Congress to say how many rounds you can put in a magazine or whether your rifle can have a barrel shroud?
Furthermore, as Obama surely has heard by now, there is this thing called the Second Amendment, and it is hardly frivolous to argue than an arbitrary and capricious piece of legislation like the “assault weapon” ban Obama supports would violate the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
Yet to Obama’s mind, anyone who makes such an argument is one of those “people who take absolute positions” and therefore can be safely ignored. After all, the government is us.