Is the NRA really against gun control?

US Gun Law Reform: Obama Fighting the NRA


Together with Vice President Biden, Obama presented a comprehensive gun control package on Wednesday. The proposals aim to prevent future rampages like the one in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a mentally disturbed man shot and killed six adults and 20 young school children. Robert Peres doubts that the president will be able to get his way through with his plan.

In his tearful speech shortly after the massacre, US President Barack Obama spoke of using "the full power of his office" to prevent such tragedies in the future. He convened a commission headed by Vice President Joe Biden, which, after extensive hearings, was to submit proposals on how the gun mania could be contained. He wanted to make tougher gun laws a "central issue" in his second term, the president said. The result presented here is very ambitious by American standards; whether it is also enforceable is another question.

The US media speak of the largest anti-weapons legislative initiative in generations. At the same time, the American gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), practically declared war on Obama and released a video claiming he was an "elitist hypocrite" who had his own children protected by armed security officials, but all other Americans Does not want to grant children this protection.

Mere revival of abolished bans

On closer inspection, however, Obama's proposals seem by no means extreme. It's not about taking the Americans' weapons. For example, the sale of semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines with more than ten rounds of ammunition is to be banned. In several of the larger attacks in recent times, weapons were used in which the perpetrator can fire up to a hundred shots in quick succession. Both proposals are only intended to revive bans that were abolished under pressure from the gun lobby under President George W. Bush and do not affect weapons and magazines that are already in circulation.

Furthermore, special ammunition for private individuals that can overcome bulletproof vests is to be banned. Another important point of the initiative is the tightening of the background check of gun buyers, which is now to be extended to purchases at gun shows, trade fairs and via the Internet. So far, Americans can freely purchase firearms and ammunition through these channels, accounting for about 40 percent of all arms purchases. Obama also wants to impose stricter sanctions on the illegal arms trade, particularly the purchase of arms by straw men on behalf of criminals.

Another important demand made by the President is the expansion of mental health care in schools. All of the mass murderers in recent years had severe mental disorders and were relatively young. Whether Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson or Aurora, all of the perpetrators, like Adam Lanza in Newtown, were severely mentally disturbed, but were able to purchase killing machines unhindered in the weapon wonderland USA or simply fetch them from their parents' closets.

Obama has also issued 23 executive orders with immediate effect that specify existing rules or provide money for security measures in schools. However, all really important changes must be passed as laws and cannot come into force via an executive order from the president. And here's the catch: The NRA has for decades made senators and congressmen docile with campaign money and even rated them as something "extreme" or "solid" pro weapons using a grading system.

Republicans support pro-arms faction

The gun lobby has a favorite party: In the last election campaign, of the total of 261 candidates supported, 236 came from the Republican Party. Their voting behavior and the negative statements of the pro-weapons faction regarding Obama's package of measures leave little hope that the government will achieve its goals. It is of little use if liberal senators such as Dianne Feinstein and Joe Lieberman want to introduce a law to ban automatic rifles on the first official day of the Senate's session.

A ban would be a real asset. Assault rifles are clearly aimed at attacking and killing many people - anything but the often cited self-defense. Of the approximately 300 million privately owned firearms in the United States, over three million are AR-15 rapid fire rifles. They are used, for example, for hunting or for sport shooting. AR-15 weapons are also approved for hunters in Germany, but only with a load capacity of three rounds.

Numbers illustrate the madness

Among the developed countries, the USA occupies a lonely top position with 30,000 gun deaths annually. 12,000 of these fall victim to violent crimes, 18,000 are attributable to accidents and suicides. That is far more than all the deaths in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. More than 100,000 people are injured by firearms in the USA every year. For comparison: In Germany in 2010 only 158 people were victims of crimes involving the use of firearms, 772 died as a result of suicides, and around 1,000 people suffered gunshot wounds.

Statistics show that in countries with largely unregulated arms proliferation such as the USA, Mexico or African countries, the number of deaths from weapons is significantly higher than in those with strict control laws. In Great Britain, the country with one of the most draconian gun laws in the world - not even the police carry guns - only 58 people were victims of gun violence in 2011.

These numbers are always cited by British journalist and gun opponent Piers Morgan on his daily CNN Talk and Politics program when he engages in heated arguments with the advocates of the constitutional right to own guns in the United States. The latter insist almost ritually on an anachronistic constitutional amendment from 1791 (Second Amendment), which reads: "Because a well-organized militia is necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to own and bear arms must not be impaired become."

The American Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that the right to own and carry weapons is constitutionally protected even without a militia. President Barack Obama doesn't want to shake that either. The fact that he succeeds in at least making minor course corrections makes the current composition of the congress very questionable.

The author Robert Peres is a lawyer and law firm advisor. He worked for large US law firms in Germany and the USA for many years.