Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) appeared on the Steve Cochran show on WGN Radio this week fresh off his U.S. Senate debate with State Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) Wednesday night. The topic of gun control came up:
Steve Cochran: “As you know, cuz you and I have known each other for a long time, I absolutely believe in the 2nd Amendment and the right to own a gun and do it appropriately, and the vast majority of people do. But an interesting moment of the debate came up over assault weapons last night and you brought up a point which actually got an earned laugh from the crowd as well. But the 2nd Amendment was not designed with the idea that I can keep an assault weapon and it’s a ridiculous premise to extend it out to that.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.): “Well it is. Look, just take an example: Ferguson, Missouri. Big question, what in the world does the police department need with an army combat armored vehicle? Well, we live in a world and a country where some people believe that military assault weapons are everyone’s individual right. And so I think police departments seem to be going too far, but their response to me is, ‘You seen what they’re selling in these stores?’ You know, we’re up against a well-armed public and suddenly some of these folks end up with criminal uh… (unintelligible) and off they go, at the expense of police.”
Steve Cochran: “Yeah and the arguments just break down to these nuance things that just come back to ‘I deserve to be able to protect my family, my house,’ well yeah, okay, you do. And there’s ways to do that that don’t involve an assault weapon or clip that’s big enough for an assault weapon. It just doesn’t seem to be a hard argument. Is there a chance that in a non-midterm year that there’ll be any legislation moved on that?”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.): “We came within five votes of passing universal background checks which I think is just common sense.”
Steve Cochran: “Come on, it’s just common sense!”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.): “It is common sense. Everyone should do their level best to keep guns from being sold to convicted felons and mentally unstable people. How about agreeing on that? Well, we couldn’t get it. We fell five votes short. And maybe there’s a chance in this next cycle to have another swing at it. The sad reality is that it takes a heart-breaking gun tragedy for us to even bring the issue to the floor. It is so politically sensitive. But it’s time to do it.”
You can listen to the whole interview here (Durbin’s segment starts at the 18 minute mark).
Where to start?
Let’s begin with Durbin’s claim that police departments are combat armored vehicling up because Americans left and right are allegedly arming themselves up like we’re living in “The Walking Dead.”
As Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) annual wastebook has illustrated in the past, police jurisdictions across the country are using a defense department program to receive some of the military’s surplus armored vehicles. At a cost of $500,000 each, taxpayers have “gifted” $82.5 million in surplus Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) tactical vehicles in the past year to law enforcement agencies in 165 communities, including dozens of rural and sparsely populated regions. Intended for large-scale emergencies, MRAPs are equipped with machine gun turrets, bulletproof glass, and armored siding. From Bates County, Missouri to High Springs, Florida, local law enforcement agencies in rural and small-town communities are being equipped with the same military-grade tools that troops utilized to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some local residents have objected, noting that the weapons seem out of place here at home. But as one recipient county sheriff remarked, “It’s intimidating, and it’s free.”
As for keeping guns from being sold to convicted felons and mentally unstable people, there are already thousands of gun laws in the books written to explicitly do that. Taking the Sandy Hook mass shooting, for example, Durbin acts as if the guns were sold directly to Adam Lanza. They weren’t. Every single firearm in that house was purchased, registered and owned by Nancy Lanza, Adam’s mother. Adam took the two handguns and the semiautomatic rifle to the school.
It’s a similar occurrence that happens in Chicago, in which convicted felons use their girlfriends or a family member to purchase handguns that existing gun laws would otherwise prevent from happening.
The “universal background check” bill that Durbin is referring to would have expanded checks to cover all firearms sales at gun shows and over the Internet, but would have exempted sales between friends and acquaintances outside of commercial venues.
In other words, that has nothing at all to do with the problems directly associated with Sandy Hook: preventing mentally unstable people (or convicted felons) from obtaining weapons.
Anytime someone buys a gun from a federally licensed gun dealer, that dealer is required to run a check on the buyer by submitting the name to a federal database. That database consists of criminal records and mental health records as provided by federal and state courts and agencies.
But even the federal database isn’t fool-proof. For example, the Virginia Tech shooter, who killed 33 people and himself in 2007, had passed two background checks because Virginia didn’t submit his mentally ill status to the database.
And it’s important to note that some of the objections to the law that Durbin couldn’t pass don’t come simply from the National Rifle Association (NRA), but from mental health professionals who cite patient privacy laws. Furthermore, it’s not as easy as Durbin makes it sound. For instance, what’s the defintion of “mentally ill”? If you go to your doctor and say you need counseling because you lost your job or are going through a rough divorce, should you automatically lose your Second Amendment rights? What about if you’re on medication, go to counseling, are deemed “better” by a mental-health professional? Do your gun rights get restored?
Out point is it’s not that simple.
But enforcing existing gun laws is not politically profitable for politicians like Durbin. That takes too long. It’s not a “quick fix” that happens overnight where you can make photo ops and pressers the next day. It’s within their interest to make the public think government is the answer to all of life’s problems. So they simply pass more laws while the national spotlight is on them to make it look like they’re “doing something,” because more laws will naturally prevent criminals and the mentally ill from killing anyone again, right?
There. We “banned” assault weapons. We supported background checks. We made high ammunition magazines illegal. Problem solved.
Then nobody bothers to follow up on the enforcement. And when the next shooting gets publicized by the sensationalist media, “we gotta do something” again…
If only we could just make it illegal to kill people. Is that a law yet?