Obama also proposed that the background checks be required for purchases of ammunition, not just guns. He also wants to outlaw assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.
Yesterday, the New York legislature enacted its own package of gun controls, including a ban on new assault weapons, a requirement that all such weapons that are already in New York be registered within a year, and a requirement that anyone who sells ammunition report to the government purchases of large amounts of ammo.
These measures will do some good. But they aren't nearly enough. Although assault weapons have been used in a number of spectacular mass shootings, by far the greatest number of shootings are not committed with assault weapons. Handguns are the weapons used in most shootings.
What is happening in New York and in Washington D.C. right now is that politicians are responding to the shootings that are most embarrassing to them – the mass shootings at theaters and schools. They are paying very little attention to most of the shootings that kill about 80 people each day all around the country, including the suicides which make up more than half of all shooting deaths.
The politicians are not really trying to solve the problem. They are trying to look like they are solving the problem. If they wanted to solve the problem of gun violence, they would have to look at the causes of gun violence, and mental illness isn't the only cause. Poverty, inferior education, inadequate policing, lack of opportunity, racism, bigotry, isolation, drugs, sexism, historical and cultural attitudes and other factors can all contribute to violence. The politicians don't want to open up those cans of worms.
There have been enough studies that we know what it will take to reduce gun violence. We will have to remedy the causes of violence, and we will have to reduce the availability of guns of all kinds in all places.
All that will be accomplished by the small efforts that politicians are now making to reduce gun violence is that in a few years, the NRA will be able to argue that today's inadequate efforts did not work, and that therefore gun control is a waste of time. Why don't we just do what needs to be done now?