The mass shooting in Orlando has revived the age-old debate over gun control. Proponents of stricter gun laws see the massacre as clear evidence that firearms aren't nearly as well-regulated as they ought to be, while others argue that "gun control" is nothing more than an effort by the government to confiscate guns from law-abiding citizens. In fact, President Obama talked about gun control just 10 days before the Orlando shooting, and made an extremely important point that often gets ignored in debates over gun laws.
At a town hall on June 2, Obama was asked why he, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats "want to control and restrict and limit gun manufacturers, gun owners and the responsible use of guns and ammunition to the rest of us, the good guys, instead of holding the bad guys accountable for their actions?"
The entire video is worth watching, but Obama's argument largely boiled down to one point: If we're going to have a debate about "gun control," we need to be honest about what types of gun restrictions are actually being proposed. All too often, any proposal to regulate firearms at all are depicted as a widespread effort to confiscate everybody's guns. And that's simply not the case.
Obama noted, accurately, that traffic fatalities have decreased drastically over the last five decades, and that this is because policymakers have figured out ways to make driving safer — things like safety belt laws, airbags, proper road construction and more. But this progress was only possible, Obama noted, because of federal studies and research into how to make driving safer.
"Do you know that Congress will not allow the Center for Disease Control to study gun violence?" Obama noted. "They're not allowed to study it. Because the notion is, by studying it, the same way we do with traffic accidents, somehow, that's going to lead to everybody's guns being confiscated."
This gets to the heart of so much disagreement over gun laws. For the government to start confiscating people's guns willy-nilly would be draconian — but nothing even close to that has been proposed. Merely studying gun violence will not lead to the confiscation of guns any more than displaying nutritional facts of at fast food restaurants will lead to a federal prohibition of hamburgers.
These are theoretical cases, but Obama also spoke about the real-life consequences of failing to take even modest steps towards regulating firearms purchases.
"[There are] people who we know have been on ISIL websites, living here in the United States, U.S. citizens," Obama said. "We're allowed to put them on the No-Fly List when it comes to airlines, but because of the National Rifle Association, I cannot prohibit those people from buying a gun."
"This is somebody who is a known ISIL sympathizer," the president continued, "and if he wants to walk into a gun store or a gun show right now and buy ... as many weapons [and] ammo as he can, nothing's prohibiting him from doing that. Even though the FBI knows who that person is."
If we, as a nation, truly want to "hold the bad guys accountable," as the questioner at this town hall put it, it might help to at least try and prevent the bad guys from getting guns in the first place.