What the Hell Do Background Checks Have to Do With Sandy Hook?


Office of Joe Manchin

Here is how Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) explains the motivation for the background check legislation that he and Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) unveiled today:

Nobody here in this great Capitol of ours with a good conscience could sit by and not try to prevent a day like that from happening again. I think that's what we're doing.

By "a day like that," of course, Manchin means December 14, when Adam Lanza murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The Manchin-Toomey bill would require background checks for people who buy firearms from private sellers (i.e., sellers who are not federally licensed dealers) at gun shows or anywhere else if the transaction is initiated online. Since Manchin describes that requirement as a response to the Sandy Hook massacre, you might reasonably surmise that Lanza bought the rifle he used in the attack from a private seller at a gun show or after seeing it advertised online. But you would be wrong, since the rifle belonged to Lanza's mother, who purchased it legally from a federally licensed gun dealer after passing a background check. And if Lanza had tried to buy a gun on his own, it looks like he also would have passed a background check, since it seems he did not have a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record, which is typically the case for mass shooters.

Hence it is hard to see a logical connection between the Newtown murders and the proposal offered by Manchin and Toomey. But that does not matter, because it makes them feel as if they are doing something to prevent such crimes. And isn't that what laws are for, to make legislators feel better? President Obama certainly seems to think so. Notice that Manchin implicitly endorses Obama's view that anyone who fails to support new gun controls does not have "a good conscience."