Brummett Online

OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Making case for doing little

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said on a Sunday news show that he and other Democratic senators are in genuine discussions with a few Republican senators about imperfect but worthy new gun laws in response to the slaughter in Uvalde, Texas.

He said interest in red-flag laws, secure-storage requirements and expanded background checks, among other reforms, was as high as he'd seen since the period immediately after the Sandy Hook slaughter of tiny schoolchildren in 2012 in his own Connecticut.

It's worth remembering that, in the end, no new gun laws were made after Sandy Hook.

It takes 60 votes in the Senate to blow through a filibuster. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the other day that any senator wanting to preserve the filibuster is to blame for these deaths of children. In other words, you're a killer if you want to encourage sustainable incremental bipartisan solutions formed in the middle.

It's worth noting that bipartisan agreement between restricting guns and not restricting guns seems about as likely as bipartisan agreement between abortion on demand and abortion not at all. The problem is that any mere and sensible increment gets rejected by the left as abominable surrender to guns and by the right as an abominable threat to personal defense and liberty.

It's not that politicians don't know better. It's that they're afraid of losing an election.

It's also worth noting that the only conceivably passable bill for expanding background checks is co-sponsored by Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who will be retired in a few months, and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who doesn't care that the left base despises him already. He couldn't win in West Virginia if it didn't. The bill simply says that background checks now applied to sales by federally licensed gun sellers would apply as well to sales at gun shows or in online transactions, but that none of the information could be placed in a federal registry.

It's worth noting that gun sensibleness seems to arise only in politicians freed for one reason or another.

The gun-lobby argument is that none of these incremental measures would have made any difference in modern school shootings. But a higher age restriction would have made a difference by simple math; most of the school shooters are younger than 21, and some bought their own weapons legally. Background checks and red-flag laws might have made a difference.

But, yes, people sometimes flout laws. That a guy just ran a red light and T-boned an innocent motorist is no reason not to have red lights at busier intersections.

One more thing worth noting: On another Sunday talk show, Gov. Asa Hutchinson made a near-regular appearance. The thing about Hutchinson is that his resume is several pages thick and you tend to forget items among the vast array of entries. After Sandy Hook, for example, he was, as a former Homeland Security and DEA top officer, retained by the National Rifle Association to head its study of how to make a case for arming the good guys at school.

As we in Arkansas have come to understand, Hutchinson is about as center-inclined and problem-solving as you're going to get in a current-day Republican. But he also fancies his ability to appear that way while also shoring up his conservative bona fides. His near-weekly Sunday appearances could be a special feature titled "The Man from Arkansas on the High Wire."

Still, if any Republican is likely to say it makes sense to raise the age ban on purchasing a semi-assault weapon from 18 to 21--to conform to the age set in federal law for handguns and in acknowledgment that most of the school shooters have been younger than 21--it would seem to be Hutchinson.

But on "Face the Nation" on CBS on Sunday, Hutchinson wouldn't say it. Instead he said it was wonderful that senators were meeting for bipartisan talks on gun laws. He said that, as the chairman of the National Governors Association, he wanted to introduce similar talks among governors.

But then he said we didn't need to raise the federal age for buying rifles or shotguns or these fast-firing weapons of mass-shooter choice.

He said the problem wasn't with that age group but copycats within it. He said we don't need a new blanket law on the age limit but a better system for identifying likely shooters. He said raising the age limit might create more problems than it would solve by affecting the hunting culture in a place like Arkansas where we start deer-rifle use early.

As the governor noted, a California law setting an age limit of 21 was recently held unconstitutional. But one from Florida was recently upheld, though it's a ban on purchase and not ownership or possession. And the ruling in California salvaged a provision that, to buy a rifle at an age younger than 21, one had to get a hunting license.

That bag is sufficiently mixed that, surely, it's worth trying at the federal level to restrict pre-21 purchases of militaristic rapid-fire guns of mass school destruction and still permit a kid to hunt deer in Arkansas.

I invited Hutchinson to clarify his position and he declined. "You don't need my help," he replied by text. "You already know the case you want to make. I am on travel today."

I only wanted to give him the chance to make his case more coherently.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.