Tom Lewis

“Finally,” gushed the Washington Post editorial board earlier this month, “a president takes on America’s epidemic of gun violence.” I rushed to get the story. This should be good — a Democratic president, Democrats in control of the Congress (although just barely, and not of Joe Manchin), new administration with some political capital left, and the National Rifle Association a tattered, bankrupt, smoking hulk, destroyed by the greed and arrogance of its leaders. What better time to get it done?

There’s no mystery about what’s needed to bring this monster to heel, as every other civilized nation has done. We must begin by ignoring the absolutists on either side of the issue, and let people of common sense work the problem the way we worked the problem of regulating cars, which, like guns, are useful machines that can hurt and kill a lot of people if misused. With that as our guide, real gun reform could be straightforward:

1. Register all firearms;

2. License all firearms owners, after a criminal background check, having established identity, knowledge of and competence with, a firearm;

3. Allow those under 18 to handle firearms only in the presence of a licensed family member or instructor;

4. Sell ammunition only to licensed owners;

5. Ban large-capacity magazines and automatic weapons. (Stop arguing about weapons that look like, but are not, military assault weapons.)

 (Here’s a thought experiment for you. Imagine this the other way around — that we treated driving cars like we treat shooting guns, as a sacred, God-given right not to be regulated in any way. No driver qualifications, no speed limits, no safety or insurance requirements, no way to trace ownership. Imagine the carnage on the highway. But hey — freedom.)

Imagine my surprise when I got to the small print in President Biden’s announced crackdown. He’s coming down on homemade guns — kits and computer-printed — that don’t have serial numbers. Wow. There must be hundreds of those. OK, maybe dozens. But wait there’s more.

Extend background checks to cover all gun sales. Wow. That sounds huge. Until you realize that the only gun sales that do not now require background checks are private-person, same-state transfers.

The president was wrong when he said that licensed dealers can sell guns at gun shows without background checks. They can’t. (According to a 2016 survey reported by, prisoners convicted of a crime involving a firearm “had either stolen the firearm (6%), found it at the scene of the crime (7%), or obtained it off the street or from the underground market (43%).” The survey found that 25% “had obtained the firearm from a family member or friend, or as a gift” and 7% from a licensed dealer.) Gun shows weren’t even a blip. But wait there’s more.

Pass a Federal “Red Flag” law allowing the temporary confiscation of firearms from people who seem to be a danger to themselves and others. Sixteen states and D.C. have such laws, and have recorded a minuscule reduction in suicides as a result. No visible effects on mass shootings.

(The shooter in the April 15 FedEx attack in Indianapolis had been subjected to that state’s Red Flag law, and had a shotgun confiscated. So he legally bought 2 assault-style rifles, after passing the background check, and went on his rampage.)

But wait there’s more.

Actually, there isn’t. Appointing a gun czar and tinkering with manufacturer liability don’t rise to the level required to be taken seriously.

Meanwhile in America, as of yesterday, there has been a mass shooting with fatalities on average every day this year. But as the satirical newspaper The Onion observes every time there is a mass shooting: “No way to Prevent This, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

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