Do something about guns.
In his statement on the Charleston shooting, President Barack Obama called on congressional leaders to “come to grips” with their positions on guns, because “it is in our power to do something about it.” This is a refrain we hear after every gruesome mass shooting. Today, Eugene Robinson writes that “the one thing about which there can be no debate is that he had a gun.” The only way we can change things is to hold “presidential candidates of both parties accountable” to do something about them.
Earlier this year, Dylann Roof was arrested and charged for felony possession of the prescription-only drug Suboxone. His case is still pending. Federal law prohibits people with pending felony charges from obtaining firearms. Yet, here’s how a glaringly misleading Washington Post headline characterizes this federal prohibition: “The legal loophole that allowed Dylann Roof to get a gun.”
The piece, you may not be surprised, doesn’t offer a single “legal loophole” that allowed Dylann Roof to obtain a gun. It only offers up examples of laws that Roof ignored. And, as my colleague Sean Davis has argued, lack of gun control laws didn’t cause the Charleston shooting.
Though we don’t know yet where the gun Rood used came from, it was almost surely illegally in his hands. There is zero evidence Roof had a concealed carry permit issued by the state, and such a permit is required in order to possess any time of firearm in public (open carry is banned in the state). South Carolina law also prohibits drug addicts from obtaining or possessing firearms, and numerous news reports suggest Roof was likely addicted to both prescription and illegal narcotics.
Some reports allege that Roof’s father gave him a .45-caliber pistol for his birthday earlier this year (in order for this type of purchase to be legal, Dylann Roof would have needed to undergo a background check via the dealer from whom the weapon was purchased before taking possession or ownership of it). This kind of gift is prohibited by law, and the father could face up to 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine. Not to mention, as Charles Cooke points out at NRO:
Even if we presume that the problem was that the killer wasn’t picked up by the system (it wasn’t), Obama’s much-vaunted “universal background check” proposal would not have applied here, either. “Toomey-Manchin,” the failed bill that contained the measure, explicitly exempted all transfers between family members and close friends — not, you will note, because it contained a “loophole” or a “typo” or an “oversight,” but because such exemptions were deemed to be “common sense.”
One of Roof’s friends claims that he stole the gun from his mother. Also illegal. Going into a church with a gun without permission was also illegal. Roof didn’t care about the law. Violent criminals rarely do.
CNN is now reporting that Roof purchased the .45-caliber gun last April at a Charleston gun store. If this is true, it would mean that either someone gave it to him illegally (the owner could lose his store and face criminal sanction), or it could mean the very background check system demanded by gun controllers didn’t work.
Here is Obama’s gun control initiative. It consists of 23 executive actions and three presidential memoranda. But not a single one of these proposals would have stopped what happened in Charleston, or for that matter, most of the mass shootings we’ve seen in this country over the past few years.
What law could Congress pass to stop the next Roof? Just saying “Do something about guns” is a vacuous political assertion. It’s an old argument, but the fact is that these killers prove gun control laws rarely stop criminals (it’s noteworthy that Roof was apprehended not by pacifists with happy thoughts and outstretched arms, but by law enforcement officials with firearms at the ready). The only way to stop these kinds of shootings is to confiscate all guns—a nonstarter politically, unfeasible in reality, and, by the way, completely unconstitutional.
Considering the instances of mass violence in nations that do have strict gun laws, this seems to be a futile discussion anyway. None of the gun control discussion takes into account the countless alternative ways someone like Roof, a killer who clearly does not care about legal consequences, could have gotten his hands on a gun if he was motivated.
If your contention is that we have to do something, and that the something you propose does nothing to actually prevent mass shootings, then you’re just using a tragedy for a broader political agenda.