2015: The Year in Gun Politics
Public murders committed with guns are used to try to drive gun policy, even though gun policy is powerless to prevent them.
The politics of guns in 2015 was largely shaped by a series of newsmaking horrible multiple-casualty murders in public places. Each one inspired Democratic Party politicians, including President Obama and frontrunning 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, to call for a similar set of what they now call "common sense gun safety" laws ("gun control" has lost its luster since Al Gore's 2000 presidential loss).
And from Charleston to Louisiana to Roanoke to Oregon to San Bernardino, we find that neither existing nor proposed tougher laws did or would have done anything to stop the hideous crimes from occurring.
That fact hasn't stopped Obama from talking up potential executive action to, say, impose national universal background check laws (which would apply not just to existing licensed federal firearm dealers, like now, but every exchange of ownership of a weapon), or Hillary Clinton to float trial balloons about Australia-style buyback confiscations.
Reviving the useless "assault weapon" (certain arbitrarily defined semiautomatic rifles, of the sort that are responsible for practically no murders) ban of 1994-04 is also a live political topic again. The Democrats tried to use fear of domestic terrorism post-San Bernardino to give the attorney general the power to bar anyone she deemed a terror suspect (but not enough of a suspect to actually detain or charge with anything) from exercising their Second Amendment rights, a move defeated along purely partisan lines by Senate Republicans.
But while all these ideas are being floated, none seem realistically close to happening.
[UPDATE: Within an hour or so of posting this originally with that last sentence, I learned the Obama administration slipped out the news on New Year's Eve that, as CNN is reporting:
President Barack Obama is expected to announce in the coming days a new executive action with the goal of expanding background checks on gun sales, people familiar with White House planning said.
Described as "imminent," the set of executive actions would fulfill a promise by the President to take further unilateral steps the White House says could help curb gun deaths.
Remember, more background checks would have done nothing to stop any of the public atrocities that allegedly inspired the move. Indeed, I'd be interested if the White House could deliver verifiable numerical facts about how many gun murders in the past few years could reliably have been prevented by such background check law expansion, even if they assumed the insane: that indeed no one ever would sell a gun citizen-to-citizen without a background check if there were a law against it.
[Back to original post]
An ATF attempt to ban a certain common variety of AR-15 ammo as allegedly "armor piercing," though it was not according to the agency's own statutory definition, was abandoned (at least for now) after public outcry back in March.
In the courts, the Supreme Court continued its post-2010 trend of ignoring gun-related cases, even though it left unanswered many question about how its Heller doctrine should be applied to a plethora of state and local laws restricting citizens' Second Amendment rights. The Court in December, over disagreement from Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, declined to hear Friedman v. Highland Park and thus let stand a local Illinois "assault weapon" and large magazine ban.
In May it similarly declined to take up Jackson v. San Francisco, a case challenging the city's requirement that handguns at home be kept locked such that they are never available for instant use—a law that Heller watchers considered clearly illegitimate under that case's ruling.
In lower court gun rights action, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld most of New York and Connectictut's post-Newtown bans on certain "assault rifles" and large capacity magazines. On the brighter side, in Mance v. Holder, a Texas federal District Court overturned the federal interstate handgun transfer ban as unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.
Social scientists and those cloaking their politics in a pretense of social science continued to produce results they claimed proved the public safety efficacy of gun laws, from specific ones such as universal permit and background check requirements for gun buying to the mere existence of ill-defined more and stricter gun laws. As usual their results didn't hold up to close scrutiny.
Politicians such as California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is advocating adding even more to California's already extremely stringent gun laws (the state already has pretty much all the things that the "common sense gun safety" folk want to impose on the nation), including a confiscation of some existing large-capacity magazine, should note that states like New York and Connecticut who have tried similar retroactive registrations or restrictions of previously legal weapons are seeing vast citizen civil disobedience.
There are always attempts to bedevil the rights of innocent gun owners, and some states are and continue to be less pro-Second Amendment than others. In unfortunate cities such as San Francisco such regulations have driven out all retail weapon outlets as of 2015. (In the meantime, Texas switches to an open-carry policy for legally owned weapons.) And the Obama administration is trying to bar people on Social Security who have a fiduciary handling their personal affairs from legally buying guns now.
But despite the clear desire of a class of Democratic Party politicians, no enormous amount of additional concrete damage to Second Amendment rights happened in 2015. The American people continue to like it that way, and continue to add to their personal supply of weapons in record numbers, such as the likely 185,000 single-day Black Friday gun sales figures. Although 2015 also featured great brouhaha over mostly bogus claims of an epidemic of public mass shootings, national murder rates in latest available year to year figures continue to go down.