Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) held a media event this morning to announce her new gun control bill, which she introduced in the Senate later in the day. In her bill, she has listed specific rifles, shotguns, and handguns which she has designated “assault weapons”.
The proposed bill would ban the sale, transfer, importation or manufacturing of about 150 named firearms, plus certain rifles, handguns and shotguns fitted for detachable magazines and having at least one military characteristic. It would also change the definition of what constitutes an “assault weapon”. It would ban firearms with “thumb-hole stocks” and “bullet buttons”, and the importation of both assault weapons (as defined) and large-capacity magazines that contain more than 10 rounds.
Feistein’s bill has already begun to stir up a new round of controversy over gun control.
The merits of the bill itself will be discussed in another article. This commentary is specific to the event that preceded the filing of the bill.
Theater for the Masses
The first device was the display of several scary-looking “assault weapons” to support her message (below). To people unused to guns, the array of large, black weapons might indeed look ‘scary’. In reality, they were just various types of semi-automatic rifles, none of which were either military weapons or automatic “machine guns”, which are illegal in civilian hands. As mentioned here only a fully automatic weapon can “spray” the target with a barrage of bullets, as Feinstein declared today. With a semi-automatic gun, the only kind that civilians are allowed to own, the shooter must pull the trigger every time he wants to fire a round. Despite Feinstein’s assertions, neither handguns nor shotguns are “assault weapons.
The second theatrical device she used was to invite both political proponents of the bill and victims of gun violence to say a few words. Each of the politicians who spoke at the event brought up the tragedy of Sandy Hook and instead of presenting intelligent, thoughtful statements in support of the bill, each one evoked the heart-breaking images of the bullet-riddled bodies of small children and the unbearable grief of the families who survived them.
Sandy Hook was a shocking event, and no words can overstate the senselessness of the tragedy or the scope of the loss. Violent death, however it comes, is dreadful and gives rise to the fiercest of emotions. But the issue of gun ownership is so basic to what America is all about, that it is absolutely essential that the subject be discussed calmly and dispassionately, without the dramatics and heart-rending narratives we heard today.
What was not mentioned this morning were two very significant issues:
1) That most gun violence occurs at the hands of people who possess the weapons illegally. The guns were either stolen, or they come from the street through the dark industry of illegal weapons trafficking, closely aligned with drugs and gang activity.
2) That a few, like Seung-Hui Cho, who carried out the Virginia Tech massacre, slipped through the cracks when local laws prohibited health care professionals from reporting his well-known bizarre and frightening behavior to officials, which would have made it impossible for him to acquire the weapons and ammunition he used to kill 32 people and wound 17 others.
The “gun safety” groups who were represented at this morning’s event, don’t, in reality, promote gun safety but rather gun control. The clearest proof of Feinstein’s lack of knowledge about guns can be seen in the photograph at the top of this article, where she stands in a crowded room, holding a rifle with her finger firmly on the trigger (see detail at right). Had she had even the most basic firearms training, she would know that the only time you put your finger on the trigger is when you are ready to shoot something. At all other times, when holding a gun, the index finger lies straight, along the side of the gun, above the trigger. Any one of the representatives of the so-called “gun safety groups”, had they known anything about real gun safety, would have intervened immediately or run from the room.
A final wrinkle that may convince legislators not to support this bill is the response from local law enforcement around the country, which is beginning to seriously resist the federal government’s move towards severe gun control. Citing the Second Amendment, which states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” there is a growing consensus that the such severe restrictions as are now being proposed are unconstitutional. (This amendment to the US Constitution was upheld twice recently by the Supreme Court: in the 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, and in the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in McDonald v. Chicago.)
In any case, it looks as though Feinstein’s bill is going to have a rough time getting passed, largely because of the huge backlash from the American people. Even Senate majority leader Harry Reid expressed a reluctance to support Feinstein’s bill, marking a possible break with the President as he considers the political impact on Democrats in his own state in less than two years.