On Thursday, February 25th, a gunman killed three civilians and injured an additional 14 in Kansas. You may have seen a headline about it or maybe your news aggregation of choice mentioned it in between the latest campaign update. More likely, it's just another rampage that's getting swept under the rug. It's only about a month and a half into the year and America has already seen 35 mass shootings. This number is harrowing, given the short amount of time that we’ve spent in 2016, but these tragedies are failing to garner significant publicity.
In the past decade, this brand of carnage has become commonplace. You see a blip on your newsfeed and you keep scrolling. Tragedies like the Virginia Tech shooting once demanded international attention, but each new massacre washes the shock factor away to a disturbing degree. With Congress constantly turning against itself to prevent passing legislation on the matter, the masses are losing interest and moving on to the next pressing debate. Yet, families like that of Daniel Barden, a Sandy Hook victim, have devoted their lives to giving speeches and petitioning to strengthen national gun control laws, fueled by their firsthand experience with devastating consequences.
The Bardens didn’t start a nonprofit foundation in their child’s name, like many other victims' parents. Instead, they sought a more immediate change by lecturing at conventions, speaking at Tea Party rallies, and marching through the halls of Congress to reveal their story to any lawmaker who would listen. Four times in 2013 alone, Mark and Jackie Barden journeyed to Washington, D.C. to meet with senators and discuss a bill that would require universal background checks for gun purchases. When the measure came up for a vote in April of 2013, the Bardens traveled again to Congress with their two remaining children and watched the legislation fail.
It's no secret that passing any policy measure is a slow and painful process. This process takes time. This process allows desperate and violent citizens to abuse the system to obtain firearms. With his time left in office dwindling, President Barack Obama could leave his term without touching the hot-button subject of gun control, but he's got another option up his sleeve. By enlisting executive action, Obama can circumvent the stagnant system to ensure that proper measures are taken to prevent gun misuse, saving countless lives in between now and 2017 and saving countless families a lifetime of grief.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was created by Congress to prevent guns from being sold to prohibited individuals. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the background check system has prevented more than 2 million guns from falling into the wrong hands. However, a “gun show loophole” currently exists wherein small sellers, frequently at gun shows, can maneuver around these restrictions because of the low quantities that they sell, their location, or through Internet transactions. In fact, while retail sales of firearms came to an appraised $3.1 billion in 2015, industry analysts say that as many as 40 percent more firearms might have been sold through private transactions that weren't subject to background checks.
Jack Stahan, a small-time firearm trader, contests that those engaged in the business of selling firearms are not going to pursue a license if they don’t have to because of the financial benefits. Strahan does business at gun shows, in addition to through Facebook, without a dealer’s license. He doesn't possess official records and doesn't run criminal background checks on anyone who purchases his products. This neglect is unsettling and unaffected by recent efforts to enforce transaction legitimacy. A study of unlicensed sellers on Armslist.com found that 4.3 percent of firearms ads posted on the site in the year through mid-October came from dealers only selling 25 to 150 guns a year.
Firearm sales don't need to be risky business. In a press conference on January 5th, President Obama outlined his plan to utilize executive action to expand and strengthen the background check process. Background checks would be broadened to cover violent criminals who can currently hide behind trusts, corporations, and cutouts in order to purchase the most dangerous firearms. This movement would also require anybody selling firearms to obtain a license and systematically conduct background checks, even over the internet and at gun shows. Failure to comply with these standards would result in criminal prosecutions, narrowing this “gun show loophole” that exempts many small sellers from keeping formal sales records.
Republicans are labeling the move for executive action as “wrong” and “illegal,” constantly citing the Second Amendment in angry threats to fight against the action in the courts. House Speaker Paul Ryan asserted that the President doesn’t value legal gun ownership, stating that, "[Obama] knows full well that the law already says that people who make their living selling firearms must be licensed, regardless of venue. Still, rather than focus on criminals and terrorists, he goes after the most law-abiding of citizens." With respect, these allegations sound like the irrelevant cries of a child fearing the loss of a toy. When looking at the actual changes that the President seeks to enforce, no law-abiding citizen would face negative impact. At most, firearm sellers face the inconvenience of filing thorough checks, which is a mild burden in the name of national safety.
While it’s difficult to guarantee that these gun-safety measures will result in ironclad implementation, it's a step toward positive change. Obama acknowledges, "Each time this comes up, we are fed the excuse that common-sense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that, or the one before that, so why bother trying.” However, he rejects this perspective, urging America to understand that “we can't stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world. But maybe we could try to stop one.”
To alleviate this wound on our nation, we need action. Executive action would terminate the existing leeway that provides loopholes for gun purchase. The longer that this issue is left to fester, the more lives are lost to this issue. Executive action is the most efficient way to impact this growing concern, but recent misunderstandings have fostered dangerous right-wing pushback, threatening to prolong this issue further as the body counts rise. Pushback also applies pressure on the following president to potentially repeal any change. Therefore, it's essential to understand the motivation and implications of this move. Executive action is solely under consideration with the hopes of strengthening the current regulations to prevent the loss of as much bloodshed as possible. Legislators must come together on this issue in the best interest of the nation, instead of coming at each other with guns blazing.