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February 15, 2013

State Of The Union Surprise

It was no surprise that President Obama saved his gun control agenda for the end of his State of the Union speech. With a room stacked full of anti-gun activists, the resulting cheering, applause and shouting from the gallery had a precise choreography.

What did come as a surprise to many was the simultaneous release of a memo from Obama’s own policy experts at the National Institute of Justice. With the title “Summary of Select Firearm Violence Prevention Strategies,” and written just last month, the memo is a surprisingly candid assessment of many of the policy proposals in circulation. The White House either missed it, or chose to ignore it, because it pokes holes in all of the proposals Obama endorsed in his speech to Congress.

According to the memo, the effectiveness of so-called “universal background checks” boils down to “requiring gun registration.” This one’s pretty simple. After all, the government can’t prosecute people for selling guns without background checks unless and until they know who owns what first.

On the idea of banning modern sporting rifles, the memo is even tougher. It says that “Since assault weapons (sic) are not a major contributor to U.S. gun homicide and the existing stock is large, an assault weapons ban is unlikely to have an impact on gun violence. If coupled with a gun buyback and no exemptions then it could be effective.”

On the issue of standard factory magazines that contain more than ten rounds, the memo calls for another buyback. “In order to have an impact, large capacity magazine regulation needs to sharply curtail their availability to include restrictions on importation, manufacture, sale, and possession. An exemption for previously owned magazines would nearly eliminate any impact. The program would need to be coupled with an extensive buyback of existing large capacity magazines.”

It’s interesting that the memo calls for buybacks of both guns and magazines, because its very first page finds that “Gun buybacks are ineffective as generally implemented.” And that bears further discussion. First, the very term is a misnomer. The government can’t “buy back” something it never owned. What the author is really calling for is a national mandate for compulsory surrender of both guns and magazines. Another word is confiscation, just as Sen. Dianne Feinstein endorsed by saying “Mr. and Mrs. America, turn them all in.”

The President himself is also trying to change the lexicon of this debate. Last night’s speech saw another invocation of “weapons of war” to describe modern sporting rifles, which is absurd. There is no nation in the world equipping its military with semiautomatic rifles. And now we hear the new term “massive ammunition magazines” to describe standard, factory-issue magazines of more than ten rounds. Since no one is reading the memos in the White House, let’s try a picture: If you stack 11 bullets next to the national debt, it will be easy to tell which one is truly massive.

There is an acronym “RTFM,” widely used online in response to people who ask silly questions before consulting the owner’s manual of any given product. Here, I will modify it slightly by suggesting that those pushing the gun control agenda “Read the Full Memo” before proceeding further.

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