Future President Clinton may well impose new restrictions on guns. Getting Americans to obey them will be a tougher trick.
May 10, 2016
“Yesterday, once again, this time horrifically on live television,” says Hillary Clinton in a video on her presidential campaign website, “we saw the terrible consequences of gun violence.” As it turns out, she’s not talking about civilian deaths from drone strikes or bombing raids on hospitals by the U.S. government, but instead about a criminal shooting spree in the United States. Sure enough, the Washington Post pointed out last week that one of Clinton’s signature issues heading into the general election is tightening restrictions on the ownership and use of guns by Americans.
That’s a tall order in a country where gun ownership for recreational shooting and self-defense is wildly popular. Nobody knows for sure, but the best estimate is that there are north of 300 million firearms in private hands in this country. The ownership of those weapons is closely intermingled with the concept of personal liberty and resistance to abusive government in the minds of a great many Americans, as documented by scholars who both approve and disapprove of that association. Unsurprisingly, federal lawmakers from both major parties are hesitant to wade into the issue, either because they share the aversion to restrictive gun laws, or because they’re leery of voters who do, and who are wont to collect scalps on election day. Just last November, analysts attributed aggressive advocacy of gun control as the key to Democratic losses in Virginia’s legislative races.
But Hillary Clinton has a plan.
“If Congress refuses to act, Hillary will take administrative action” on restrictions, her campaign boasts. The Washington Post adds that that a President Clinton would be “relying on the executive power of the presidency to further gun restrictions that would have little chance of becoming law.”
Some people might balk at a president who threatens to rule by decree when Congress insists on exercising its constitutional right to approve and disapprove legislation, but maybe that’s a bit old fashioned in our senescent republic. Still, a potential President Clinton’s gun control agenda is likely to founder no matter how many strokes of the pen flow from her desk because of the opposition of the very people to whom they’re supposed to apply.
“Australia is a good example” Clinton told an audience a few months ago. “The Australian government, as part of trying to clamp down on the availability of automatic weapons, offered a good price for buying hundreds of thousands of guns. Then, they basically clamped down, going forward.”
That country’s 1996 law may well be a good example, but not of the sort the presidential candidate has in mind. In a country that lacked America’s heavy political associations with gun ownership, the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia estimates compliance with the compensated confiscation of self-loading rifles, self-loading shotguns, and pump-action shotguns at 19 percent.
Independent assessments agree. “In Australia it is estimated that only about 20% of all banned self-loading rifles have been given up to the authorities,” concluded Franz Csaszar, a professor of criminology at the University of Vienna, Austria.
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