The pen is mightier than the sword but whether or not it can make guns safer in America has yet to be seen.
An emotional President Barack Obama, at one point wiping tears away, unveiled his plan Tuesday to tighten control and enforcement of firearms in the U.S., using his presidential powers in the absence of legal changes from Congress which, he said, had been “taken hostage by the gun lobby.”
Obama insisted it was possible to uphold the Second Amendment while doing something to tackle the frequency of mass shootings in the U.S. that he said had become “the new normal.”
“This is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns,” Obama said during a ceremony in the East Room. “You pass a background check, you purchase a firearm. The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules.”
The main effort of his executive action includes stronger background check requirements, not just for registered gun dealers but “anyone engaged in the business of dealing in firearms,” he said. That includes sales from the internet and gun shows. He also pledged an additional $500 million for mental health services, to ensure treatment is accessible nationwide and that anyone prohibited from owning a weapon because of mental illness is documented in the National Instant Background Check System.
“I hate to admit it, but universal background checks are actually a good thing,” Mitch Stanley, of Stanley’s Guns and Ammo in West Unity, said in a phone interview Tuesday morning.
“I’m a dealer and I have to do background checks wherever I sell,” Stanley said. “If I go to a gun show and the people in the booth next to me aren’t registered dealers, they don’t. (It) kind of defeats the whole purpose, when over half the people at a gun show aren’t dealers and don’t have to.
“Right now, as long as people got money, they can get anything they want at a gun show and believe me, many, many people are selling guns to make profit but they aren’t registered dealers,” he said.
“A lot of customers go to shows because they know their purchases won’t be tracked.”
Under the new order, anyone who “engages in the business of selling firearms” without a federal license could be fined up to $250,000 with a five-year prison sentence.
Similar penalties go into effect for licensed dealers who fail to conduct background checks prior to completing a transaction.
Dean Rieck, executive director of the Buckeye Firearms Association in Columbus, also agreed with the concept, but not the content or methods behind it.
“The idea to speed up background checks isn’t bad,” Rieck said in a press release following the ceremony.
“But most of the president’s proposals open the door to abuse and arbitrary persecution of law-abiding citizens while ignoring the reality that criminals don’t abide by the current rules and won’t abide by modified rules either.”
Untracked gun show transactions aren’t the problem because “less than one percent of crime guns” were obtained from them, Rieck said.
“The attempt to close this fictitious loophole by requiring background checks for sales by those who may engage in as few as two transactions, serves only to intimidate law-abiding gun owners. It has the potential to make criminals out of hobbyists instead of catching actual criminals.
“I don’t fault anyone for wanting to reduce crime,” Rieck said. “But the fact is, these executive actions demonstrate a lack of understanding about where criminals get firearms and they serve only to erect road blocks for ordinary people to exercise a constitutionally protected right. These proposals will not affect crime in any way.”
Williams County Sheriff Steve Towns was a bit more cynical.
“It all a publicity stunt,” Towns said. “It doesn’t change anything we do and it will only be in effect as long as he’s in office.
“The only thing he got right in that whole thing was trying to take care of mental illness,” Towns said. “Every mass shooting we’ve had, there’s always a mental health issue behind it. With true mental illness, you find out a lot of them slip through the cracks.
“That’s one problem that needs to be addressed, not guns or the Second Amendment.”
While mass shootings make headlines and capture national attention, drug activity and gang violence lead to a lot more gun-violence on a daily basis, Towns said.
“If we can deal with those things and take them out of the equation, we’re no worse than any other nation,” Towns said. “Gangs, drugs and mental illness. All three need to be addressed and targeted before bad things happen.
“The things he put in place today don’t address drugs or gangs and they won’t stop mental illness killings,” Towns said.
“It will all be reversed under a different President because he over-stretched executive power. That’s not the way the system is supposed to work but we’ve seen a lot of that over the last seven years.
“It will be good to move past this type of governing.”