The United States Senate is likely to take up gun control legislation later this month in response to the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Unfortunately, the majority of the proposals that have surfaced would do nothing to prevent these types of horrific acts of violence from happening in the future. They would, however, infringe on Second Amendment rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
I am a gun owner and avid hunter. Whether for protection, recreation, competition, or to ensure our freedoms granted by the Founders, I continue to support “the right of the people to keep and bear arms…”
Both sides of the gun control debate agree that we should work to reduce gun violence through better enforcement of current gun laws, enhancing school security, and ensuring that those who suffer from mental illness—a common thread in these attacks—receive proper care. There is also a growing recognition of the need to address the root causes of violence in our society. There is more to be done in each of these areas. However, many of the proposals for additional gun control laws are misguided.
For example, banning certain types of weapons based on cosmetic characteristics does not reduce gun violence. The “assault weapons ban” that was in place between 1994 and 2004 had no measurable impact on gun violence. In fact, the number of homicides committed with guns today is lower than when the ban was in effect. I opposed the ban. I opposed extending it in 2004. And I continue to oppose it today.
Requiring universal background checks on all firearm sales—called for by President Obama and other gun control advocates—is similarly flawed. Such a law may sound attractive at first, but a closer look reveals its flaws. First, we know that most criminals obtain their firearms illegally. Studies show that over 70 percent of guns used in crimes were acquired through illegal activities like theft or straw purchases. Second, people who currently make false statements on a background check in an attempt to purchase a firearm are rarely prosecuted. In 2010, there were 72,659 cases where the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) denied a person the right to purchase a firearm, many based on a past felony conviction. Of these cases, only 13 actually led to a conviction. Third, reporting on mental health information to the NICS is not adequate or consistent, making background checks unreliable. For example, 23 states have submitted less than 100 mental health records and four states haven’t submitted any.
There is also discussion of a new, national gun registry connected with universal background checks. The Obama Administration’s Justice Department has said that the effectiveness of universal background checks “depends on…requiring gun registration,” something I strongly oppose.
A universal background check also comes at a cost. Such legislation could force law-abiding citizens to get permission from the government before selling firearms to friends or even handing them down among family members. These types of laws ultimately restrict the rights of legal gun owners without having any measurable impact on gun violence.
In addition to the threats to our Second Amendment rights from within this country, we also must be aware of potential threats from the United Nations. Last year, I joined 50 of my colleagues in the U.S. Senate in sending a letter to President Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stating that a U.N. treaty infringing on the constitutional rights of American gun owners is unacceptable. I will continue to oppose the ratification of The U.N. Arms Trade Treaty and any treaty that restricts the rights of law-abiding Americans to manufacture, assemble, possess, transfer, or purchase firearms, ammunition and related items.
I remain committed to working with my colleagues to better enforce existing gun laws and go after criminals. For example, I support increasing penalties for straw purchasers, and I believe Congress should give law enforcement additional tools to go after gun traffickers. We should also work to improve the safety of our schools. I support the good work being done here in Ohio to provide appropriate training to teachers and administrators who have permission from their local school boards to carry. I also support doing more to help people who suffer from mental illnesses get the treatment they need and to ensure states are providing timely and accurate data for background checks.
But proposed bills such as the assault weapons ban, further limiting magazine capacity, and universal background checks would infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens while doing little or nothing to prevent gun violence.
Rob Portman is a United States Senator from Ohio.