Mass shootings always bring calls to do something. This time it’s background checks and red flag laws, but as Dan O’Donnell writes, these will do next to nothing.
August 7, 2019
Special Guest Perspective by Dan O’Donnell
One of the most tiresome and predictable refrains in the wake of a national tragedy is a call to “do something.” Generally speaking, this nebulous “something” is never clearly defined but nonetheless failure to do it is perceived as unacceptable.
And that something has to be done immediately. We can’t take a few days or even hours to mourn—and we don’t dare offer our thoughts and prayers—that time is long past. We have to act. We can’t just do nothing. We have to do something.
In the wake of mass shootings, that something usually involves a lot of blaming of Republicans for doing nothing or standing in the way of something being done to save innocent lives. The presumption, of course, is that this something will actually do something; but we wouldn’t know because Republicans always insist on doing nothing.
It’s so banal that Republicans will even be blamed for doing nothing before they have a chance to do anything.
“Wisconsin Republicans show no signs of tackling gun violence after massacres in Texas and Ohio,” blasted a screaming headline in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In what can only be described as quite possibly the single most biased news article in the paper’s long history of biased news articles, reporter Patrick Marley gravely intoned:
As Ohio’s governor called for new laws to prevent gun violence, Wisconsin officials showed few signs Tuesday of doing anything.
For the second day in a row, Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature offered no plans to prevent mass shootings.
They agreed to meet with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on the issue next week but made clear they remain cool to popular proposals on guns that they have long rejected.
It was the latest sign that the gridlock gripping the Wisconsin Capitol would likely lead to no action on gun legislation, even after 31 people were gunned down in Ohio and Texas over the weekend.
Not only will Republicans be blasted for doing nothing; they’ll be blasted for looking like they’re about to do nothing.
Governor Evers, by contrast, wants to do something. Casting him as a hero for merely sounding like he is going to do something, Marley and co-author Molly Beck quoted him at length:
Gov. Tony Evers called on Republicans in the state Legislature to take up legislation requiring background checks for all gun purchases in Wisconsin in the wake of two shootings within 24 hours in Texas and Ohio that left dozens dead and more than 50 wounded.
“It’s happened in Wisconsin so we can’t pretend it is only something that happens in Texas or other places across the country,” Evers told reporters at a news conference in Wauwatosa.
“When we see people by the scores being murdered because of their heritage, a proud heritage that our country should be embracing instead of pushing back on, that’s a problem,” he said. “We as a state and country have to take a stand and I believe (the) Legislature is part of that and I think we need to look to them and us for leadership.”
The somethings Evers (and his press secretary Marley) is calling for are universal background checks and a red flag law, which Attorney General Josh Kaul proposed in his inaugural address in January.
Such a law, which would allow for the confiscation of firearms without due process of law, is blatantly unconstitutional. It allows for the government to seize private property without due process of law and, even worse, allows the government to brand a citizen a dangerous threat to himself and others without ever affording him the opportunity to defend himself before a judgement is rendered against him and punitive action is taken.
Next to this, universal background checks sound like a great idea, until one looks a little closer at them and realizes that they will do nothing more than allow those who pass them to say that they did something.
A universal background check law requires background checks for all firearm purchases and transfers, not just sales by licensed gun dealers. The theory behind them is solid enough—preventing lawfully-obtained guns from getting into the wrong hands—but in practice they are all but useless.
In the days after the El Paso and Dayton shootings, it was claimed that America had suffered 250 mass shootings in the first 219 days of 2019. This wildly misleading claim comes from a database of mass shooting incidents compiled by the Gun Violence Archive.
It found that by far the state with the most mass shootings in America this year was California, which already requires background checks for private gun purchasers. Chicago alone has had 20 mass shootings in 2019—twice as many as any other city in America. Illinois also requires background checks for private gun purchasers.
Clearly, universal background checks in those states haven’t done much to stop mass shootings there.
This is in line with the findings of the Rand Corporation, which last year conducted quite possibly the largest-ever study of gun violence in the United States and determined that “evidence for the effect of background checks on mass shootings is inconclusive.”
Likewise, a 2017 study on the effectiveness of universal background check laws in Colorado and Washington State found that they did nothing to curb gun violence “because citizens simply decided not to comply and there was a lack of enforcement by authorities.”
Shockingly, a study of 100 urban counties from 1985 to 2015 published in the Journal of Urban Health even found higher gun homicide rates after the enactment of universal background check requirements.
It turns out that one of Governor Evers’ proposals might do something after all.
Doing something, though, isn’t really the point. The efficacy of proposals made in the aftermath of tragedy is never really considered. The possibility of doing something is merely weighed against the supposed cost of doing nothing.
This is a rather myopic way of debating public policy, but then again good policy rarely results from the emotionally-charged, logically barren push to do anything just to say we did something.