June 13, 2022

The Senate, Guns, and Red Flags About ‘Common Sense’

A bipartisan group of senators has agreed to a “framework” of measures to address mass shootings.

Disarming the people is “the best and most effectual way to enslave them,” warned Founding Father George Mason. Likewise Noah Webster said, “Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed.” Put another way, Justice Joseph Story, appointed to the Supreme Court by the Constitution’s author, James Madison, wrote, “The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of the republic; since it offers a strong moral check against usurpation and arbitrary power of the rulers.”

In other words, the Second Amendment exists to spell out our preexisting God-given right to Liberty. The people keep and bear arms primarily to keep tyranny at bay. That right is not negotiable.

Keep that in mind when you hear Democrats pontificate about “commonsense” gun restrictions. That is what should send up red flags.

Nevertheless, over the weekend, 20 senators — 10 from each party — reached a compromise on a framework for legislation meant to address the recent spate of mass shootings. “Families are scared,” they said in a statement, “and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities.” Much of their work rightly focuses on mental health and school security, but The Wall Street Journal says it also “pav[es] the way for the broadest federal legislation on guns in decades.”

The gun-related components of the yet-to-be-written legislation fall into three primary categories. The senators want to stiffen penalties for straw purchases and firearms dealers evading licensing requirements; extend background checks for gun purchases by anyone under 21 to include juvenile records (notably, they don’t raise the purchase age, as many Democrats want); and incentivize states to maintain or create red flag laws. Nineteen states and DC currently have such laws.

The last item is the most concerning. “Red-flag laws are ripe for abuse,” noted Eric Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America. “They throw due process out the window and violate people’s rights by punishing them for what they might do.” Theoretically, it’s possible to implement these laws while protecting due process, but violations are very hard to thwart — especially in states run by anti-gun zealots. Given the vagueness of the framework, though, we’ll reserve judgment.

The fact that 10 Republicans joined the effort likely means it has the votes to pass the Senate. Those Republicans are Roy Blunt (MO), Richard Burr (NC), Bill Cassidy (LA), Susan Collins (ME), John Cornyn (TX), Lindsey Graham (SC), Rob Portman (OH), Mitt Romney (UT), Thom Tillis (NC), and Pat Toomey (PA). Four of the 10 — Blunt, Burr, Portman, and Toomey — are retiring.

The compromise received mild praise from both sides of the aisle. Joe Biden, who had been uninvited from talks by Democrat senators, said, “Obviously, it does not do everything that I think is needed, but it reflects important steps in the right direction.” Biden recently made abundantly clear how far he’d go to infringe the Second Amendment.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The principles they announced today show the value of dialogue and cooperation.” He added that he continues to “hope their discussions yield a bipartisan product that makes significant headway on key issues like mental health and school safety, respects the Second Amendment, earns broad support in the Senate, and makes a difference for our country.”

Ultimately, the framework seems largely unobjectionable on the merits, though Scott McKay argues, “The structural [problem] is that nothing in here should be the federal government’s responsibility.” The unobjectionable part is also just the rub. Democrats hoping to avoid a Republican wave this November may be hesitant to play their “gun violence” card on legislation they view as weak sauce. After all, what are the chances anyone comes back to the table for further legislation after passing this bill? Then again, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “more is needed,” she predicts passage in the lower chamber. Perhaps the appearance of moderation and compromise will give Democrats a way to tout an accomplishment without alienating independents any more than they already have.

Regardless, there’s little in the Senate agreement that addresses the underlying cultural rot that creates such evil assailants. Ban AR-15s or trim around the edges of mental health, and Congress won’t fix what truly ails America.

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