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Over the weekend, 17 of the Democratic presidential candidates spoke at a forum on what to do about guns, held by Everytown for Gun Safety in Des Moines, Iowa. Two of them published plans outlining what they'd do to reduce gun violence. Joe Biden wrote an op-ed for the New York Times calling for a return and update of the Clinton-era ban on semiautomatic assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. Elizabeth Warren, ever the overachiever in the class, offered a far more ambitious plan with the goal of reducing overall gun deaths in America by 80 percent. Gosh, we wish we didn't have to repeat familiar tropes about the 2020 campaign, bur here's Joe Biden looking to revive (yes, and extend) an idea from the past, and Warren offering a much more comprehensive plan that includes a ban on assault rifles as just one component. Where oh where is the media narrative coming from?


Biden's op-ed is fine but limited: He notes that he and Dianne Feinstein were the primary backers of the 1994 ban on the manufacture and import of assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, and cites research suggesting it was doing some good until George W. Bush allowed the law to lapse in 2004. Not only would Biden bring back a similar law, he'd improve it with provisions prohibiting gun manufacturers from tweaking existing weapons to get around a new law, and by putting in place a gun buyback program to get existing firearms off the street. In addition, he suggests a number of other reforms that are now standard parts of Democratic platforms, like universal background checks and development of "smart gun" technology. It's all just fine, but decidedly not daring.

And to be sure, even such relatively limited reforms would be fought by the NRA as if they were an all out repeal of the Holy Second Amendment, so there's an argument for starting with measures that have broad support, like these.

That's not an approach that gets any traction with Elizabeth Warren, whose gun plan offers a very specific target: Just as the US has vastly reduced auto deaths since the 1950s and '60s through safety regulations and highway laws, let's set a goal of reducing firearms deaths by 80 percent from current levels -- that's almost 40,000 deaths in 2017. Warren says that to reach that goal, we'll need more than just gun reforms. We'd need political reforms too, to break the hold the National Rifle Association has on Congress. Specifically, Warren points to her anti-corruption proposal, which would "end lobbying as we know it," and to ending the filibuster in the Senate.

As Warren notes, after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, the "bare minimum step" of a universal background check actually passed the House and got a simple majority in the Senate in the spring of 2013, but a Republican filibuster kept even that from passing. "And six years later, Congress still hasn't done a thing."

Warren's specific plan for guns, which combines executive actions and measures to be passed by Congress, is on the whole similar to Cory Booker's gun plan, although her broader structural changes to governing definitely make it the more expansive proposal.

Like Booker, Warren calls for a federal licensing system for all firearms. Her plan isn't as specific as Booker's on what she thinks the qualifications for a firearms license would be, but let's note that her home state, Massachusetts, has a wicked strict firearms licensing law that ought to become a national model. There -- we just gave some smart journamalist a good question to ask Sen. Warren: "Would you adopt Massachusetts's licensing requirements, or what?" Warren does point out research showing states with strict gun licensing have lower rates of gun trafficking and violence, so we can at least say she wants "strict," not lax.

On background checks, Warren wouldn't wait for new laws, noting that a lot of private sales of firearms could be made subject to background checks by executive action. Warren also wants Congress to back that up with truly universal background checks -- like the two background check bills already passed this year by the House but DOA in the McConnell Senate. In addition, she'd institute a one-week federal waiting period for gun purchases, noting research showing that reducing impulse purchases of firearms measurably cuts both suicide and homicide rates. On its own, such a waiting period would have stopped almost 1000 gun deaths a year over the last five years.

Warren would also take some very concrete steps to reduce gun trafficking. On the executive side, she'd toughen Department of Justice prosecutions under existing trafficking laws, and crack down on gun dealers who repeatedly violate regulations -- she notes that just 1% of gun dealers are responsible for 57% of guns used in crimes. She would beef up the ATF's power to crack down on bad dealers, including permanently revoking their licenses. She'd also direct Congress to pass new, tougher anti-trafficking laws. Stricter nationwide gun laws would also reduce the flow of guns from states with lax gun laws into areas with stricter local laws, so that guns from states like Indiana and West Virginia would be less likely to be trafficked into Illinois, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

Beyond that, Warren would limit gun purchases to one firearm a month, noting that roughly "one out of four firearms recovered at the scene of a crime were part of a bulk purchase." She'd also raise the minimum age for all gun purchases to 21, and sharply increase taxes on both firearms and ammunition. That tax hike would reduce sales and fund both enforcement of gun laws and gun violence prevention programs.

Warren would also go Biden's assault weapon ban one better: In addition to banning new sales and imports of assault weapons and high capacity magazines, plus a gun buyback, Warren would require registration of all remaining assault weapons under the National Firearms Act, the law that currently governs ownership of fully automatic weapons. We'd add there's reason to think such stringent restrictions might hold up under the Heller decision, which no less a RINO than Antonin Scalia said permitted restrictions on "dangerous and unusual weapons" that are primarily designed for military use.

The plan includes other steps that are more broadly advocated by other Dems, like broadening "red flag" laws to take guns away from people threatening violence or suicide, taking guns away from domestic abusers and stalkers (mostly by eliminating the "boyfriend loophole" that lets some abusive partners keep their guns if the person they beat is not their wife), and repealing the law that prohibits liability lawsuits against gun dealers and manufacturers. She'd also allow the Consumer Product Safety Commission to regulate guns like any other product; currently, pointy lawn darts are too dangerous to sell, but defective guns are notoriously difficult to regulate.

There's even a nod to throwing social science at the problem: Since a small percentage of people commit the most violent crimes involving guns, especially in poor and minority communities, let's approach the problem using the tools of public health, not by mass incarceration:

Many cities have found success with programs that identify those at highest risk of becoming the victim or perpetrator of a violent gun crime, then employing strategies to interrupt the cycle of violence before it escalates. Programs that engage the surrounding community, employ mediation to prevent retaliation, build trust with law enforcement, and provide needed long-term social services have been proven to de-escalate tensions and dramatically reduce violence. As president, I'll establish a grant program to invest in and pilot these types of evidence-based intervention programs at scale.

This is some profoundly optimistic stuff, and if we can manage to really change the lobbying and lawmaking institutions that have given the NRA the advantage for decades, it's also realistic. Since even the tiniest change will be treated like the apocalypse, how about we really try doing something BIG?

[Team Warren on Medium / NPR / NYT / Vox (Massachussetts gun laws, required reading)]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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