5 Things You Need To Know About Biden’s Gun Control Plan

Gun control.

It’s an issue that has seen little action by the White House in a long time, mostly because of the supreme influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA) over almost all Republican members of Congress, as well as a fair number of Democratic Congresspeople.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14 has changed that: President Obama has charged Vice President Joe Biden with the task of developing specific proposals for stemming gun violence. A group led by Biden has been working hard to talk to all interested parties and come up with measures backed by key law enforcement leaders.

From The Washington Post:

Vice President Biden said Thursday he sees an emerging consensus around “universal background checks” for all gun buyers and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines as he completes the Obama administration’s broad study of ways to curb the nation’s gun violence.

But the National Rifle Association, a participant in an afternoon meeting with Biden, strongly rejected what it called “an agenda to attack the Second Amendment” and indicated it would have nothing more to do with the vice president’s task force on gun laws.

Well, no surprises there.

Biden has announced that he will present President Obama with a package of recommendations by Tuesday, January 15. What will the VP include in his proposals? Here’s an inside look at the five issues most likely to be up for debate.

1.  Assault Weapons

The most high-profile issue on the gun issue is the question of whether of reinstate a ban on assault weapons, which was initially passed in 1994, but was allowed to expire in 2004.

If you are 21 or older, it is legal to acquire a handgun from a dealer federally licensed to sell firearms. At age 18, you can buy a rifle or a shotgun from such a dealer. In most states, you must be 21 to buy an assault weapon. However, the law varies widely from state to state, which is why a federal law is necessary.

When Adam Lanza (age 20) blasted into Sandy Hook Elementary School, he was carrying a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle and several high-capacity magazines. Although it is unclear where the AR-15 used by Lanza (and registered to his mother) was purchased, Walmart shoppers are very familiar with it, since it’s on sale at about 1,700 Walmart stores nationwide.

In fact, Walmart is the biggest seller of firearms and ammunition in America.

Here’s one anecdotal story of how easy it was to buy an assault weapon in Westchester, NY:

I said, “Fine, ring me up” and handed over my driver’s license so the salesperson could make a copy. Then I sat down in front of a computer, and filled out a form, answering a few basic questions: Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Do you have a substance abuse problem? About two minutes later the salesperson said, “You’re good to go.” and handed me an AR-15. It cost about $900 and it took less than five minutes. (The Daily News)

Surely Biden will suggest reinstating the ban on these weapons, whose only purpose is to murder.

2.  Limits On High-Capacity Ammunition Magazines

Along with assault weapons come high-capacity ammunition magazines, another item likely to be high on Biden’s list.

It is ridiculously easy to get a hold of these. Magazines are currently available with capacities of 100 and more, and high-capacity magazines have been used in every recent mass shooting.

Proponents of the ban say high-capacity magazines play a prominent role in mass shootings, and restricting access to them will eliminate the power of killers to slaughter as Lanza did at Sandy Hook. According to them, mass shooters usually acquire their weapons legally, so limiting access to such magazines would prevent such tragedies in the future.

Democratic Representatives Carolyn McCarthy of New York and Diana DeGette of Colorado have already reintroduced legislation to ban the sale or transfer of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

Will Biden take a lesson from Australia, where, after the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania in 1996, governments across Australia resolved for all jurisdictions to introduce laws to restrict the sale of ammunition to licensed gun owners and to place limits on the quantity of ammunition that could be purchased in a given period?

I hope so.

3.  Universal Background Checks For Gun Buyers

The Washington Post reports that the White House is likely to push for universal background checks for gun buyers. Proponents suggest that although this is not a cure-all, it is probably the gun-control policy most likely to make a difference.

Background checks began in the 1990s.

Under current law, licensed firearms dealers are required to run instant background checks on all buyers. But once an individual person owns a gun, he doesn’t have to do this when he sells it. So the police can trace a crime gun to its original buyer — dealers are required to keep sales records for 20 years — but if that person says he sold it to a stranger through a classified ad, the trail goes dead.

Universal background checks would help to hold people accountable for giving guns to criminals. When the police traced a gun to the original buyer, that person could no longer simply say he didn’t have it anymore, or he could be accused of making an illegal transaction.

Another issue is that there is incomplete data in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, which is intended to prevent those ineligible, including felons and people who have been committed to a mental institution, from acquiring firearms. However, only 12 states regularly provide data to NICS, with another 28 doing so occasionally.

Almost everyone (except the National Rifle Association, of course) agrees on the importance of universal background checks, which are likely to be near the top of Biden’s list.

4.  Mental Health Reporting

Keeping track of those who should not own a firearm owing to their mental state is challenging. President Obama has stated that he will not simply seek new restrictions on guns and ammunition, but also that he will also look for proposals to address concerns about mental health reporting.

As noted above, NICS data is woefully incomplete. It’s also true that the nine most recent mass shootings were carried out by assailants with mental health issues, but they had not actually been committed to an institution. So there are two issues: one is to make sure that NCIS is a useful and complete database; the second one is to broaden the scope of those classified as having mental health issues.

Since 1968, federal law has prohibited the sale of guns to anyone declared mentally unfit. But first, a court has to decide someone is unfit—a very high standard.

In addition, a mentally ill person who has been banned from buying a weapon can circumvent the system by using an unlicensed dealer at a gun show, in his neighborhood or through classified ads, because no background check is required for such transactions.

5.  Impact Of Violent Images In American Culture

Just how to measure this impact is a controversial issue, but Biden is taking it seriously and on Friday Biden consulted with some leaders in the video game industry.

From Huffington Post:

Mark Fisher, the interim president of the Electronic Merchants Association, a Silicon Valley trade group, dismissed the idea that video games contribute to violent behavior and questioned whether anything could be done to regulate violent video games anyway.

Fisher noted that video games already carry voluntary age advisories in the form of ratings including “Mature” (M), which suggests that the games are “suitable for person age 17 and over,” and “Adult Only,” which signifies that the games have content that “should only be played by person 18 or over.” And he cited a recent Federal Trade Commission report asserting that video game retailers enforce the ratings “most vigorously.”

This will be a tricky one to resolve: there are many varying opinions of the influence of violent games on children, and in any case, the Supreme Court in 2011 struck down California’s ban on the sale of violent video games to minors, determining that
violent video game restrictions violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Let’s hope the country is finally ready to make some changes on this crucial issue.


Related Stories:

Why Gun Control Legislation Will Likely Pass Supreme Court Review

Gun Control is Totally Racist Against Guns, Say Former NRA President

After Mass Shootings, Lawmakers Are All Talk, No Action


Photo Credit: Fear And Loading


Nick Andrews
Nico Smart3 years ago

Again, Cheryl, your comments make no sense and are completely off base.

Cheryl F.
Cheryl F3 years ago

Eliott Rodgers - another person with mental/emotional problems that was able to go and purchase guns and look what happened.

When are the lives of innocent people going to become more important than the money the NRA gives to politicians?

janice letellier
janice l4 years ago

criminals are not law abiding citizens. Do you actually think that any laws or background checks are going to effect a criminal from getting a gun or bomb or any other thing he needs to kill.

Bill Spurlock
Bill Spurlock5 years ago

@ David C.
I certainlly would. I sent you a message with my work email addy. Please let me know if you didn't get it. Thanks!

David C.
David C5 years ago

@Bill S

I fear I have misinterpreted your posts and am truly sorry if I ignored an attempt at a real dialog. If you really do want an honest exchange, let's continue the discussion off line. I don't think a good discussion on such a controversial topic is possible on line. Too many doctrinaire side tracks.

I'll send you a personal message. Respond to it if you wish to continue.

Bill Spurlock
Bill Spurlock5 years ago

@ David
So, no real point then. No suggestions, just meandering, wearisome rhetoric. I dismissed you once before. Shame on me for re-engaging but I thought common ground could be achieved. I'll conclude that you just aren't up for it. Again, good luck to you.

David C.
David C5 years ago

@Bill S

You are mindlessly providing anecdotes, one by one, a Chinese water torture approach. My point is ludicrously simple. A single anecdote, or 10 or 100, pales in comparison with the crime level in the US i.e. you prove nothing on the effect of guns in reducing crime by recounting single events when there are millions of crimes each year. Number of anecdotes is a small number, number of crimes is a big number.

You made a crack about my using 2009 data, asked when I’d update to 2010. It was a singularly stupid comment but I chose to be polite. I said crime in 2010,2011,2012 will still be big numbers compared to your tedious anecdotes. Only if there was a massive change, like a 99% decrease in crime rate, would number of anecdotes become even of the same order of magnitude as crime.

I’m sorry I overestimated you Bill, but we all make mistakes.

Perhaps you would tell me what is the point of your stories. I’ve already stipulated that weapons can protect a family or business or ...

Bill Spurlock
Bill Spurlock5 years ago

@ David C.
Are you sure you are addressing the right person? Seems that you are confused about who said what. Maybe you are juggling too many forums.

I deal with numeric data daily. Not sure where you got the 99% figure or the difference between $1 and $1000 but it wasn't from me.

I know no gun rights proponents who favor a criminals easy access to guns. As to wide-spread access to guns, those in the camp that would leave it at that without advocating training, safety and responsibility do not speak for me.

Perhaps you and I could find common ground I knew where you stand on this issue. If you have expressed what you feel would be good solution to our problem I have missed it.

David C.
David C5 years ago

@Bill S

I'm sorry. The post addressed to David S was for you. I was thinking about a David on another thread when I wrote.

David C.
David C5 years ago

@David S

Really David, If you don't know the difference between $1 and $1,000, or if you think crime has declined by 99% in 2 or 3 years, there's not much I can do. Crime have indeed trended down over the past 20 years. A small change, say 10%, since 2009 hardly changes my point, instead of 10,000 vs 3 it would be 9,000 vs 3. You're not used to dealing with numeric data? Incidentally, preliminary data indicate violent crime ticked up in 2012.

I do not now, and have never in the past disputed (a) the law of the land is that guns may be kept in the home for self defense, (b) that guns can scare off or kill/injure intruders who would do you harm. However, guns can also do harm to those that live in the house. My position is that whether or not you keep an gun is a personal decision based on individual risk/benefit. Several factors enter into that balance, for example, the level of crime in your neighborhood.

Risk/benefit also applies to the general level of crime, particularly gun crime in the country as a whole. Some pro-gun people maintain that the benefit of wide gun ownership, of allowing criminals easy access to guns, always exceeds the risk. You tell us anecdotes, single events, to prove benefit. In a country with 1 million violent crimes, 9 million property crimes per year, a single anecdote, even thousand anecdotes, isn't compelling.