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Irrational fears of sensible gun laws

Jan 5, 2016

President Obama yesterday announced a series of executive orders aimed at enforcing existing laws and lowering the death rate. You might think that was common sense policy.


You might, that is, if you lived in a country known for sanity, like Canada. But instead, the President’s announcement caused Michigan’s Republican National Committeeman to demand his impeachment, and set off a howl throughout the entire opposition party, which likes to pretend it is in favor of law and order.

Now, it has been very clear for seven years that anything the President comes out in favor of, probably including God, would meet Pavlovian, knee-jerk opposition from the GOP.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan let that slip yesterday, when he said that anything the President proposes would be “a dangerous level of executive overreach.”

But you knew this was going to be especially nasty, because the President is going to use the powers of his office to crack down on illegal gun sales. Specifically, his administration wants to ensure that those “engaged in the business” of dealing in guns comply with the law and get a federal license. That’s important, because licensed dealers are required to perform instant background checks on anyone to whom they sell firearms.

Too many of these dealers, as everyone in law enforcement knows, have been evading this requirement by pretending to be nothing more than collectors and making their sales not from stores, but at gun shows.

Now you would think most people would be strongly in favor of background checks, if only to prevent ISIS militants and convicted mass murders from adding to their arsenals.

In fact, nearly nine out of ten Americans are – including almost 70 percent of gun owners who belong to the National Rifle Association. But it seems to be the policy of some politicians to cater to people even more extreme than that.

Dave Agema is a good example. He thinks America is threatened, not by the guns that murder so many of us every year, but by gay people and Muslims. He has posted things on social media indicating that most gays are attempting to kill us all by spreading venereal disease and intestinal parasites, and seldom misses a chance to convey hatred of Muslims.

But guns are mystical and sacred to him. Yesterday he asserted that any attempt to control guns always leads to their confiscation and tyrannical dictatorship, adding that

“when the government fears the people, we have freedom.”

Currently, that freedom is costing us 30,000 firearms deaths a year, which is about a thousand times more than in Japan, which is a happily vibrant democracy.

More than thirty people will be shot and murdered today in this country. That happens every day. The president himself said what he is ordering won’t do much about that. “It’s not going to prevent every mass shooting,” or keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal.

But it may help save a few lives. Most of us are willing to put up with state “tyranny” to prevent someone from poisoning our drinking water or stealing our property.

If President Obama’s sensible attempts to enforce our too-weak existing gun laws are tyranny, well, give me tyranny. That sounds a good deal better than senseless death.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.