GOP Releases Catch-22 on Gun Control

House Speaker Paul Ryan


America’s gun politics after the Las Vegas shootings are playing out just as they did after the Tucson, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Orlando, Fort Meade and all those other shootings. Which is to say, Republicans in Congress refuse to do anything. The Speaker of the House is following the protocol laid out in Joseph Heller’s classic.

Here’s the situation. While Democrats want, at a minimum, to ban the bump stock that allowed Stephen Paddock to turn convert his semi-automatic rifle into an automatic one, Paul Ryan prefers a regulatory solution:

House Speaker Paul Ryan called for a regulatory fix for bump fire stocks Wednesday rather than passing legislation that was proposed in the House and Senate.

“We think the regulatory fix is the smartest, quickest fix,” he said during his weekly news conference at Capitol Hill when asked about how to address the devices, also known as bump stocks.

The problem? The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) says it doesn’t have the regulatory authority to regulate bump stocks:

“The stock has no automatically functioning mechanical parts or springs and performs no automatic mechanical function when installed,” John Spencer, the chief of the ATF’s Firearms Technology Branch, wrote to Slide Fire in a 2010 letter. “We find that the “bump-stock” is a firearm part and is not regulated as a firearm under Gun Control Act [GCA] or the National Firearms Act [NFA].”

In other words, new regulations would have to be passed for the ATF to act. Guess who is responsible for passing new regulations.

Catch-22, you will recall, prevents airmen from pleading mental distress to get out of flying the ever increasing number of missions that are demanded of them. Dr. Daneeka explains the catch to Yossarian:

 There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.”

We learn later in the book that Catch-22’s power lies in part from the fact that it does not exist, which makes it immune to attack:

Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did matter was that everyone thought it existed, and that was much worse, for there was no object or text to ridicule or refute, to accuse, criticize, attack, amend, hate, revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon or burn up.

Ryan knows this. To avoid doing anything, he has but to engage in a little Catch-22 jiu-jitsu and, voila, problem solved. Until the next mass shooting.

Do I hear a respectful whistle?

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