We're finally in the home stretch of what has been a divisive, acrimony-filled election year. While most of us will be glad when it's finally over, win or lose, there are important issues on the ballot along with the candidates, even if you're not actually pulling a lever for them.
Whoever follows President Barack Obama into the Oval Office is going to need a plan to address these issues. And one of those issues that has been polarizing the country is access to firearms.
Because the next president will be appointing a Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia, the nominee's vote will certainly tip the balance one way or the other. In all likelihood, either current gun ownership rights will remain, or access to firearms will be restricted as a means of curbing gun violence.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton believes she has that prescription for America. This time around, we're going to take a facts-only look at her nine-point plan to address the gun issue.
1. Expand background checks.
Hillary Clinton argues that as many as 40% of all gun purchases in the U.S. are done without a criminal background check being performed on the buyer. And since the Brady Bill was signed into law by her husband, Bill Clinton, in 1993, more than 2.4 million prohibited gun purchases have been blocked.
Putting those two data points together, Clinton calls for an expansion of the background check program, a move she says is supported by 90% of the U.S. population. The Pew Research Center largely backs up her claim for widespread support, finding that even three-quarters of supporters of Republican nominee Donald Trump endorse further criminal investigations, though the policy institute pegs total support slightly lower, at 83%.
2. Close the Charleston loophole.
Under federal law, licensed gun dealers can transfer a firearm to an individual after three days even if the criminal background check hasn't been completed. Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in a South Carolina church, had ostensibly obtained his weapon under such circumstances.
Although his drug possession charge wasn't a federal drug charge, as alleged, a crime that would have automatically precluded him from obtaining a firearm (rather it was a misdemeanor offense under state law), it's still possible the FBI examiner would have flagged it.
3. Close the gun show loophole.
Similarly, Clinton wants to expand the definition of who needs to be licensed to sell firearms to include those selling large volumes of guns. The so-called "gun show loophole" is an imprecise term since all federally licensed firearms dealers are required to conduct criminal background checks whether at gun shows or not. And individuals not "in the business" of selling firearms are not required to do so, also regardless of whether they are at a gun show or not.
While some may argue the "high-volume gun sellers" Clinton wants to include are already covered by existing federal statutes since anyone regularly selling a lot of guns is already required to be licensed, she says if Congress won't act on it, she will issue executive orders to do so.
4. Hold gunmakers responsible for crimes committed with a gun.
Acknowledging that while most manufacturers and gun dealers are responsible and safe actors, Clinton wants to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that prevents businesses from being held accountable for crimes that are committed with guns. If a store is robbed by a criminal using a gun, or someone is murdered by a firearm, she wants the gun store that sold the gun or the manufacturer that made it to be held responsible.
Clinton voted against the bill in the Senate in 2005 and declares she "will lead the charge to repeal it as president."
5. Revoke licenses of dealers that sell to criminals.
Clinton charges that gun stores are allowing illegal firearms to "flood our communities." As a result, they are the leading cause of death for black males between the ages of 15 and 24.
The problem, she says, is that the agencies responsible for conducting checks of gun shops do not have the funding necessary to follow up on all the stores, so she will provide them with the money needed to carry out their function. Anyone found illegally selling guns will have their federal firearms license revoked.
6. Prohibit domestic abusers from buying or owning guns.
While domestic abusers who are married are currently prohibited from owning or buying firearms under federal law, Clinton says the protections such bans offer are not extended to those in dating relationships or convicted of stalking. She will push to expand the gun ban to any domestic abuser, married or otherwise, and include stalkers, too.
7. Make "straw purchases" a federal crime.
Buying a gun with the intent to turn around and sell or give it to someone else is called a "straw purchase." When you fill out the application to purchase a firearm, Form 4473, you're asked whether you are the "actual buyer," meaning you intend to own it and not give it to someone else.
Clinton says that buying a gun in order to get it to a violent felon who would not be able to buy one should be a federal crime.
8. Improve existing mental health laws.
Pointing to the Virginia Tech mass shooting, Clinton calls for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives to "finalize its rulemaking to close loopholes" so that mentally ill people who are involuntarily committed to outpatient treatment will not be able to purchase guns.
9. Ban assault weapons.
Declaring "military-style assault weapons" a danger to law enforcement and our communities, Clinton says they do not belong on our streets and she will push for legislation that bans them.
Will they work?
Of course, the big question is whether her proposals would lead to the reduction in violent crime she is seeking.
On the one hand, the number of mass shootings that have captured headlines has increased dramatically in recent years, and a common denominator of many of them appears to be the mental health issues of the perpetrators, as well as their taking antipsychotic medications.
At the same time, the FBI says the number of violent crimes committed have dropped to decades-long lows. Many law-abiding citizens may feel her prescriptions are a shotgun approach to a problem that may have more narrowly defined limits. Implementing her policies will undoubtedly escalate the fractious debate that already swirls around the gun control issue.
Are Hillary Clinton's policies the right ones to fix the problem that seems to have a nexus between crime and guns? In less than two weeks, you'll have the chance to help swing that debate one way or the other.
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