President Obama will be making a public address on Wednesday to discuss the recommendations brought forward by Vice President Biden's task force on gun violence. Many suspect that a new ban on assault weapons will be part of his proposal. If so, be prepared for the fix that will fix nothing. And make no mistake, the President knows it.
Acknowledging reality is not an endorsement of reality; so let's acknowledge some facts I don't endorse: the United States cannot prevent people from crossing its borders illegally. It cannot prevent drugs from entering its borders illegally. It cannot prevent underage Americans from acquiring alcohol illegally or for that matter, acquiring virtually anything that is illegal for which there is significant and broad demand.
Despite this many Americans, and Canadians too, believe that an assault weapons ban will actually prevent Americans from obtaining "assault weapons" or could be a panacea for mass shootings. There are at least 2,446,294 domestically produced AR-15 assault rifles in the United States. If you take into account foreign made AR-15 models, that number skyrockets to at least 3,261,725. Any proposed ban would have to grandfather in this enormous number of rifles, unless of course the plan is confiscation, which would lead to more bloodshed than was witnessed in Connecticut. This is the AR-15 model alone mind you, not the equally popular AK-47 or countless other models that are just as lethal and also semi-automatic. Draining this swamp is near impossible.
The problem with bans is that capitalism and the supply and demand cycle are smarter than government -- so long as sufficient people desire assault rifles a ban on assault rifles will enjoy the same success as the bans on marijuana, cocaine and handguns currently enjoy. And such consideration about the effectiveness of a potential assault weapons ban exists most principally in another universe -- where the physical laws of politics operate sufficiently differently as to allow such a ban to even be possible -- because the United States in this universe and at this present time is not such a place.
Approval from Congress for an assault weapons ban will not happen. The President knows this, which is why much of what we will hear on Wednesday will ultimately be about reassuring his base and a slightly broader group of Americans that he tried to do something. That his administration at least made an effort -- an effort that when it fails will be blamed on the NRA and Republicans, who will be portrayed as cold-hearted obstructionists in reporting that will dominate the news cycle right up to the debt limit talks, where Republicans look even worse.
Although many Canadians are disturbed by guns, its important to understand that many Americans view them as heroic possessions. Many AR-15's were given out as Christmas presents last year, the way Canadians give out hockey sticks. Prohibition against a manufactured good this socially acceptable and this widely in demand cannot hope to be effective. Demand always wins -- gun manufacturers will spend time and money (they've done it before) reworking and renaming the rifles before they sell them to the exact same public.
What we're most likely to hear from the President, aside from an assault weapons ban, will be a federal registry of all assault weapons (which is as likely to pass through Congress as this humble writer is likely to be crowned the King of Chicago), the restriction of high-capacity magazines, registration of ammunition sales (perhaps with background checks) and improved, coordinated screening for mental illness or criminal records at gun shows and elsewhere.
I expect to hear a cocktail of suggestions for decreasing gun violence -- legislative solutions such as prosecuting people who lie on applications, mental health initiatives to ensure the psychologically ill receive treatment and general prevention that focuses on cultural issues and the promulgation of violence.
If the Obama administration is to use this moment in history to its utmost potential, they will focus more on the latter of these solutions than the former. Congress is more likely to agree that background checks, cultural problems and mental health can be improved than pass an assault weapons ban, though there may be some movement with the restriction of high- capacity magazines.
But let there be no confusion -- no one serious expects an assault weapon ban to occur. It's theatre for the voters. Let's hope this moment in history isn't squandered.