Hillary Clinton Reacts to Gun Tragedies with Old Policy Proposals

More background checks, more assault weapon bans, more suits against gun makers and sellers, and expanding group of people to whom gun ownership bans apply.


Hillary Clinton in a "town hall" political rally in New Hampshire this morning laid out her latest gun control, er, sorry, common sense gun safety agenda. 

The biggest emphasis in her prepared remarks (and the only issues stressed in her current website issue page) were on more universal background checks to close "gun show loopholes" and loopholes involving the government failing to complete its background check in the required time.

She also stressed re-banning certain types of guns because of their scary cosmetic features, generally knows as the "assault weapon ban" which we have already seen come and go with predictably nearly no effect on violent crimes committed with guns. 

These are likely the same "common sense gun safety" (get prepared to hear that phrase an awful lot in the presidential campaign season) Obama had in mind during his post-Oregon-massacre speech, but he was either too lazy or too savvy to name, the latter for fear people might realize, hmm, those laws would not have prevented Oregon from happening.

Indeed, nothing short of a complete ban on firearms ownership (and somehow confiscating the 300 million existing ones) or predicting future misbehavior and using that to bar gun ownership in the past might, and neither seem common sense or reasonable to most Americans. Remember gun banners: even if you see zero right for anyone to be able to defend themselves with the best means available, the guns already exist, and laws do not dissolve metal.

I won't at all be surprised if something like a "universal background check" law does pass in the near future, though probably in the beginning without the federal gun registry that the National Institute of Justice admits is necessary for such laws to actually be thorough and effective. We have enough gun owners in America and enough people who believe in a basic right to gun ownership, combined with a clear record of gun registration leading to gun confiscation, that in the short term that won't work.

It is understandably much easier to police sales regulations on licensed dealers who already are legally "seen" by the state and have natural and easy places where the state can find and examine them, and punish them if seen necessary. Random private citizens selling or transferring guns are far harder, well nigh impossible, to police, though I suppose there will be some incentive to make such unlicensed dealers think twice if they fear fines or punishment if a gun they sold illegally is later used in a crime, but it is by no means a foolproof means to curb gun violence.

Thus, if a universal background check law passes so everyone is legally required to run checks before selling or transferring a gun to anyone, people will continue to use weapons to harm other people in hideous ways that make national news. Then people like Hillary will call for more "common sense" laws that either won't do much or will seriously restrict innocent people's ability to defend themselves and their families.

Clinton also this morning, in the question and answer session, got to decry the fact that we don't do enough "public health" research into guns (Jacob Sullum has explained at length why turning gun violence or safety into an allegedly objective "public health science" issue is politically controversial and by no means just about "science") , slamming both current bans on government financed Centers for Disease Control research on gun violence and a Florida law that does not allow doctors to ask patients or parents about their gun ownership, which they allegedly want to do in order to pass on common sense gun storage safety advice to parents with guns and kids in the home.

There should be no laws telling a doctor he can't ask a patient or parent anything, as long as the doctor has no power to pass on that information to legal authorities in the name of "public health." But this is mostly a cultural issue and likely not one of great legal or political importance, but it signals to those who need the signalling that the person who says it is "taking gun violence and gun safety seriously." There is already plenty of "anti-gun" public health research happening even with that CDC ban.

The Wall Street Journal, quoting a Hillary aid, mentioned some more policies that she will be pursuing, and how she plans to do so in some cases by executive order:

….calling on Congress to overturn a 2005 law that bars victims of gun violence from suing gun manufacturers. Mr. Sanders supported that law when he served in the House.

Mrs. Clinton also backed proposals to bar gun sellers from completing sales if background checks are still under way. Under current law, sellers are allowed to complete a sale after three business days even if a background check hasn't cleared….

Mrs. Clinton's newest idea is to use executive authority to expand the definition of who is "in the business" of selling firearms to include any person trying to sell a significant number of guns, a Clinton aide said….

Current law allows someone who owns guns as a hobby to sell them without conducting background checks, and defining who technically is in business is complicated…..

The Clinton aide said the former secretary of state would also seek to expand the definition of a domestic abuser who is prohibited from buying a gun to include people in dating relationships and convicted stalkers.

The problem with all laws about prohibiting certain classes of people from legally owning guns, whether drug users, those who have been committed, even felons, is that they will far, far, far more often rob someone of a core right who would never have misused a weapon to harm people than they will prevent gun violence. But recognizing that point requires respecting why people want a right to own weapons for self-defense or recreation or hunting in the first place, and most people advocating gun control don't, really.

As for liability from being sued for gun makers and sellers, while those in the gun business should be liable for flaws in the product they sell based on negligence, such flaws generally are not at play in gun violence, Hillary's alleged topic. It would please her and her constituents to have deep pockets to sue when someone causes chaos and harm by their own misuse of the product, but such misuse is not the fault of the people making and selling the guns. Reason contributing editor Walter Olson has explained at length why existing legal protections for gun manufacturers and sellers against liability suits make sense and have no nexus toward actually preventing gun violence, as opposed to punishing a politically vulnerable target.

Hillary called often for more grassroots action to give cover for what she apparently intends to do by executive order, and called out the NRA openly as the enemy. The politics of gun control haven't gone well for the controllers in the past 15 years, and it isn't clear they will anytime soon.