On Monday, President Obama announced a series of small but significant changes to federal gun regulations. One of the key reforms will require more gun sellers to obtain licenses, which will mean more background checks in private transactions and at gun shows since, under current law, all licensed sellers are required to perform background checks. Other provisions include hiring more than 230 additional people to process background checks, increasing efforts to track lost or stolen guns, and designating $500 million in federal dollars to increase access to mental healthcare.
There are other changes involving domestic violence outreach and ensuring states are actually providing records to the background check system. That said, with the exception of expanding what it means to be "in the business of selling firearms," Obama's executive action is mostly about better enforcing existing laws and allocating additional resources to staffing up current enforcement mechanisms.
But before the executive action was even announced, House Speaker Paul Ryan called it a "dangerous level of overreach." Donald Trump, the current Republican frontrunner, predicted on CNN that "pretty soon you won't be able to get guns anymore."
But when asked to comment on the plan, the NRA pretty much shrugged.
“This is it, really?” Jennifer Baker, the NRA's director of public affairs, told The New York Times. “This is what they’ve been hyping for how long now? This is the proposal they’ve spent seven years putting together? They’re not really doing anything.”
Now here's the thing: the NRA is totally right to be underwhelmed. These reforms matter—background checks matter, ensuring there are enough people to process them matters—but they aren't anywhere near as ambitious as the plan Obama laid out in 2013 after 20 children and six staff and teachers were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Baker may have been aiming for snark, but she actually landed somewhere closer to reason. Obama's proposal mirrors what a majority of Americans think about reforming the background check system in the United States and enforcing existing laws, so why lose your shit over it?
In fact, the NRA should try being underwhelmed more often.
Let's consider an example. Earlier this year, Martin O'Malley released a comprehensive gun safety proposal that included, among other things, a provision to close a loophole in existing law that allows certain convicted domestic abusers to buy guns. Some advocates call it "the boyfriend loophole" because, under current law, people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence are only banned from owning guns if they are married to, have children with, or live with their victims. Closing the loophole, in other words, would just better enforce a law that already exists.
But the House version of the bill, the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act, was introduced last year but hasn't received a hearing of a vote. In the Senate, the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act of 2013, is a similar nonstarter—it never even left committee.
When I reached out to the NRA for comment on the Senate bill, spokesperson Catherine Mortensen told me, "This gun control bill exploits emotionally compelling issues such as domestic violence and stalking in an attempt to keep as many people as possible from exercising their Second Amendment rights.”
Do you know what a better response—one that actually reflected the views of a majority of Americans—would have been?
"This is it, really?"