Arizona Governor Jan Brewer meets with President Obama in 2010. (White House Photo/Pete Souza.)
Editor's Note: With this post we welcome Mychal Denzel Smith, who has already been a guest-blogger and contributor to TheNation.com, back to our site as a regular blogger! You'll find Mychal's work, focusing on racial justice, criminal justice, and more, here at least once per week.
The United States Senate, as it is wont to do, failed to find enough votes to pass legislation that a majority of Americans support. In this instance, it was for expanded background checks, the one gun control measure that, since the tragic shooting in Newtown, seemed likely to become law. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and our Congress, if nothing is else, wills its way into ineffectiveness with ease.
Thus far, it has been left up to individual states to craft their own gun control legislation, and a few have stepped up to the plate. Colorado, New York, Maryland and Connecticut have all passed new gun control laws, including bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Arizona has also taken up the issue of gun control. On Monday (April 29), Governor Jan Brewer, of SB1070 and finger-wagging fame, signed a bill that prevents cities and counties conducting gun-buyback events from destroying the weapons they obtain and forces them to sell the guns to licensed firearm dealers, to then be resold to the public. According to state Representative Brenda Barton, the Republican author of the measure, the bill is meant to “clarify” already existing laws that require the government to sell weapons that they have seized. According to the Arizona Daily Sun, the “law also covers ‘found property’ which is defined as anything recovered, lost or abandoned that is not needed as evidence,” and by “adding the word ‘surrendered’ to what is considered found property” it now covers even those guns.
“Any chance of cities or counties conducting future gun-buyback programs is about to evaporate,” says the Sun—and they’re exactly right. This bill has the effect of turning Arizona’s gun-buyback program, aimed at getting guns off the street, into a recycling initiative. Additionally, Brewer signed a separate bill prohibiting local governments from keeping lists of people who own firearms, though no evidence exists that any city was keeping this type of record.
As someone who is firmly anti-gun/anti–Second Amendment, background checks are not all that satisfying, but this Arizona law is an affront to progress of any kind. But there are two lessons to be learned here. One is that gun control—meaningful gun control—legislation has to be a federal priority. This isn’t an issue where we can afford to have fifty different states going about their business in fifty completely different ways, when the ability to obtain a gun through one state’s lax laws renders a nearby state’s stricter gun laws moot. Federalism is not our friend on gun control.
And second, even as public opinion shifts toward “common sense” gun laws, the energy and organization still lies on the pro-gun side. The governor’s office in Arizona claims they received more than 1900 pleas for Brewer to sign this new measure, an effort organized by the Arizona Citizens Defense League. On the other hand, they only received twenty-five messages in favor of a veto. The poll numbers are one thing, but political movement requires actual movement.
If we’re truly exhausted by seeing headlines such as this one, where 2-year-olds are the victims of gun violence, those of us on the side of restricting access to guns have to become just as vigilant in our cause as those who would interpret the Second Amendment to essentially mean “a chicken in every pot and a gun in every hand.”
For more on another pressing reform issue—immigration—read Allison Kilkenny on May Day rallies in New York City.