Republicans and the NRA may not like the president's executive actions on gun control, but there's one statistic that shows that the new year is the time to act on this issue. There are now more guns in the United States than there are people. That's right. The Washington Post has run the numbers and found that guns probably outnumber humans by about 40 million, for a total of 357 million guns in the country. The outrageously high number should have motivated Congress to pass tougher gun control legislation, but it hasn't, which is why Obama will have to make 2016 a bit safer on his own. Our gun problem hasn't ended, and a new year is the perfect time to work it out.
Obama's executive actions on gun control, announced Tuesday, will make it harder to buy a gun without a background check — but not impossible. His plan will expand background checks and tighten loopholes by expanding federal enforcement of existing laws. Unfortunately, the proposal doesn't come close to the level of control that the administration proposed in 2013. Without support from Congress, that kind of reform can't happen.
It's hard to know exactly how many guns are in the United States. The numbers from the Post are just an estimate, and they're based on data from 2013. That information was just released in October. Given the subsequent two years of gun sales and Black Friday markdowns, the number is likely even higher. That the Republicans and NRA think we need even more is baffling.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said that Obama was overreaching the power granted to the executive branch: "While we don't yet know the details of the plan, the president is at minimum subverting the legislative branch, and potentially overturning its will."
Surprisingly, the NRA took a softer tone. A spokeswoman for the group told The New York Times that the executive action seemed surprisingly thin. "This is the proposal they’ve spent seven years putting together? They’re not really doing anything," said Jennifer Baker, an official at the NRA's Washington lobbying branch. On Twitter, the group accused the administration of failing to successfully prosecute those arrested under current gun law.
Despite the difference in approach, both Ryan and the NRA are attacking the administration, as opposed to the substance of his plan, making this an even more partisan issue. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Monday during an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo, "Pretty soon, you won’t be able to get guns," adding fuel to the fire. Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has also tried to make gun control a point of difference between herself and her chief rival for the nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The main pillar of Obama's plan calls on officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to contact gun sellers to let them know who would qualify as a "dealer." Under these new rules, people selling just one or two guns would be considered one. This in particular targets people who sell firearms online through websites like armslist.com. Dealers in turn must get background checks on customers before a sale.
Despite marking the first big movement on gun control at the federal level in decades, Obama hinted that he would have liked to see more:
"We have to be very clear that this is not going to solve every violent crime in this country. It’s not going to prevent every mass shooting; it’s not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal.”
That may be true, but an attempt must be made. Maybe some of the more than 13,000 people killed by guns in 2015 could have been saved if fewer guns were at their disposal.