As both sides in the gun debate mobilize for a possible second act on Capitol Hill, could we please retire the argument that taking step X on guns wouldn't have prevented tragedy Y?
That talking point has been a recurring theme in the gun debate, from Republican Sen. Charles Grassley to Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to the National Rifle Association. It even informed Sen. Kelly Ayotte's response last week to Erin Lafferty, whose mother was shot to death in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. "As you and I both know, the issue wasn't a background check system issue at Sandy Hook,"Ayotte said at a town meeting in Warren, New Hampshire, defending her vote against the Manchin-Toomey bill adding a background-check requirement for sales at gun shows and online.
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Yet arguments like that ignore the fact that Step X -- whether it's expanded background checks or other proposals before Congress -- might well have helped prevent or mitigate some horrendous past incident, and could spare us future tragedies.
For instance, expanded background checks might have saved the life of Ricky Byrdsong, the former Northwestern University basketball coach killed by white supremacist Benjamin Nathan Smith in 1999. Smith tried to buy a gun from a licensed dealer in June 1999 but was blocked because of a domestic-violence restraining order against him. The next month he bought one from an unlicensed dealer and used it to target blacks, Asians, and orthodox Jews in a three-day, multi-city rampage. Nine were wounded and two died, among them Byrdsong, who was shot multiple times while walking with two of his children.