Who wants background checks? Most Republicans

President Obama sheds tears during gun speech
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President Obama sheds tears during gun speech 01:54

Story highlights

  • Sally Kohn: Paul Ryan has backed closing gun show loophole, but now that Obama is taking executive action to do so, is against it
  • She says GOP is hypocritical on issue; vast majority of Americans want even this small action in face of regular mass shootings in U.S.

Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. Watch President Obama as he joins Anderson Cooper and a live audience for a CNN prime-time event: "Guns in America," at 8 p.m. ET Thursday.

(CNN)Polls show a strong majority of Americans — including 87% of Republicans and 84% of gun owners — believe background checks should be required for gun purchases made at gun shows or online. This is a simple, broadly supported, common-sense policy. So isn't it a good thing that in the face of persistent congressional inaction, President Obama is taking executive action to do just that?

No, says Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan — who has endorsed fixing the background check loophole but is against Obama fixing it.
According to reporting by the Huffington Post, in January 2013 Ryan called closing the so-called gun-show loophole in background checks "reasonable" and "obvious."
In fact, Ryan told the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he recalled thinking the loophole was a problem when he first arrived in Congress. "There is a loophole here. We should address that," Ryan told the board in the 2013 interview.
Obama lists new gun control measures
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Obama lists new gun control measures 05:16
But I guess that "we" doesn't include the President of the United States of America.
Republicans have a long and steady history of suddenly changing their positions on issues when Obama takes action on them — see, e.g., unemployment insurance, the rescue of Bowe Bergdahl, Obama's tax cuts. It is apparently Ryan's turn: The only thing that's changed since the new House speaker supported action to fix background checks is that Obama is the one actually doing it.
Ryan offers a thin rationale for his flip flop: The executive action President Obama is taking would not have prevented any of the recent mass shootings that have terrorized our nation, he asserts. Ryan says mental illness -- not guns -- has been the underlying cause of mass shootings and that "we should look at ways to address this problem." But the President's executive action this week also takes significant steps to address mental illness, including a new $500 million investment in mental health care.
But what's even more dishonest about Speaker Ryan's critique — and it echoes many on the right — is the idea that our public policy should be focused on preventing future crimes and not merely backwards looking at the failures that have already allowed crimes to happen.
That's interesting because, under Ryan, House Republicans are currently investigating loopholes within the immigration system that allow noncitizens to overstay their visas. This new focus was triggered by the shootings in San Bernardino despite the fact that the noncitizen involved in that shooting had not overstayed her visa.
In other words, the policies Congress is investigating would not have prevented the San Bernardino shooting. That doesn't mean they aren't worthy of recognizing and correcting.
Nothing Obama has proposed — the common-sense gun policies supported by the broad majority of Americans and yet continually blocked by Republicans in Congress — would do anything to affect the rights of law-abiding gun owners. And yes, no matter what policies we pass, some people determined to do evil things will be able to get their hands on deadly weapons and use them to disastrous ends.
Does that mean we should sit by idly and do nothing? If the broken federal background check system allows a person lawfully barred from buying a gun in Texas to buy one in Louisiana instead, and then take it go back home to threaten his wife or his co-workers or terrorize a whole community are we just supposed to shrug like there's nothing we could have done?
Mass shootings in the United States are becoming frighteningly commonplace. Shouldn't we do something?
Republicans seem fully willing to suspend the First Amendment for Muslims in the wake of a horrifying but small handful of recent attacks by Islamic extremists on American soil. But in the face of regular mass shootings, Republicans don't want to do anything because the Second Amendment is sacrosanct?
No, the lives of our children, our families our co-workers and our neighbors are sacrosanct and we should do whatever we can as a country to protect them. President Obama's actions are not only smart and lawful but desperately, morally vital.
Republicans, including Paul Ryan, would agree — if those action had been taken by someone else.