Vice President Joe Biden, the Obama administration's point man on gun control, says he will be ready to unveil his recommendations by Tuesday. Biden describes his task this way:
"There has got to be some common ground, to not solve every problem but diminish the probability” of other mass shootings, he said. "That's what this is all about. There are no conclusions I have reached."
That last part is hard to believe, especially since President Obama already has said he supports a new "assault weapon" ban, a limit on magazine capacity, and background checks for all gun transfers (not just those involving licensed dealers). But if the goal is to make mass shootings less likely, it is hard to see how any of those policies will accomplish it. A mass shooter is much more likely to use a semiautomatic handgun than an "assault weapon," which in any case is an arbitrary category defined by scary looks rather than killing capacity. Anti-gun activists are keen to obscure that reality, as in this letter to Walmart from what The New York Times describes as "a coalition of liberal organizations":
Assault weapons of all brands and models continue to adorn your shelves, from Sig Sauer M400s to Colt LE6920s. We know the horrific capacity of these weapons to wreak havoc on our communities because we have witnessed it firsthand. They have no place in our streets and in our homes, and we strongly insist that you honor your 2004 pledge to ensure they have no place in your stores either.
In what sense do the defining characteristics of "assault weapons," whether under the old, expired federal law or under the new, supposedly improved version that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) keeps threatening to introduce, make them uniquely capable of killing people? No one ever says, because there is no good answer. Perhaps Feinstein should modify her new definition of "assault weapon" so that it includes "capacity to wreak havoc" along with folding stocks and pistol grips. And if these guns "have no place in our streets and in our homes," why does Feinstein's bill let people keep them?
Limiting magazine capacity sounds like a more plausible approach, but only if you 1) assume that the seconds needed to switch magazines make an important difference in attacks on defenseless schoolchildren and moviegoers, and 2) wish away all of the millions of "high capacity" magazines already in circulation. And while a background check could conceivably prevent a would-be mass murderer from legally buying a gun, that is true only if he has a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record, which is generally not the case. (The one arguable exception that springs to mind is the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, but the issue there was incomplete records, as opposed to a private transfer that did not involve a background check.) In the Sandy Hook massacre, the event that supposedly demonstrated once and for all the need to adopt the same policies that gun control advocates have been pushing for years, the shooter used his mother's guns, so a background check clearly would not have stopped him. Since Biden has defined the administration's goal as preventing future Sandy Hooks, his recommendations should be judged on that basis.
Will there be any surprises? Biden reportedly is considering a law that would confiscate guns from people who call them "babies." The bill could also cover other terms of endearment, such as sweetie, darling, and precious, although Biden has not reached any conclusions yet.