I think I can end the war over gun control in five easy steps. I’m serious. I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’ve come up with the ultimate solution to bring this epic battle to an end.
It will involve the two sides talking to one another instead of shouting at one another. It will involve compromise, giving up something to get something in return. It will involve gun owners and gun control advocates coming to terms and reaching a consensus on some of the most hotly debated issues: bans on civilian versions of military grade arms, bans on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, universal background checks, among others.
But if we do these things, if we talk, if we compromise, if we reach a consensus, we can end an expensive political war that never really needed to be waged in the first place.
1. The Second Amendment
To end the war, we need to start at the beginning: The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has correctly ruled that the Second Amendment is an individual right, and that a firearm may be used for traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defense inside the home.
It is not, despite what some gun control advocates have argued, a limited individual right that applies only in the context of militia service or a collective right that refers to a state government’s right to keep well-regulated militias.
That said, reasonable limitations that can be placed on one’s right to keep and bear arms, as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who penned the landmark Heller Decision, noted last year in an interview with Mike Wallace.
“Yes, there are some limitations that can be imposed,” Scalia, a constitutional originalist, said. “What they are will depend on what the society understood was reasonable limitation” when the Constitution was written.
Wallace pressed Scalia about “technological limitations,” such as banning large capacity magazines or high-powered, semi-automatic rifles that can fire a hundred rounds in a minute.
“The [2nd Amendment] does not apply to arms that cannot be hand-carried,” Scalia said. “It’s to keep and bear. So, it doesn’t apply to cannons. But I suppose there are handheld rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes that will have to be — it will have to be decided.”
So, to move forward, both sides need to agree that it is an individual right with reasonable limitations that need “to be decided.”
2. Where there is a consensus
In covering the national debate over gun control, one of the most underreported aspects is how much agreement there is on the subject. You wouldn’t know it, but gun rights advocates and gun control supporters actually agree more than they disagree on ways to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings.
For starters, the Obama administration just announced that it would spend $125 million over the next three years putting armed guards in schools across the country, including at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the side of the horrific mass shooting that left 26 dead, including 20 first-graders.
“Just over nine months after the senseless mass shooting at Sandy Hook, we remain committed to providing every resource we can to ensure that the children of Newtown can feel safe and secure at school and elsewhere,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement Friday when the funding was announced.
“And as we hold lost loved ones in our thoughts and prayers, we resolve to continue to support and protect this community — and to help them heal together,” he added.
Whose idea was it to put armed guards in schools after the mass shooting in Newtown? The National Rifle Association!!!
While this is the most obvious and recent example, there are plenty of others. In a recent column, staunch gun-control supporter and New Yorker staff contributor Adam Gopnik wrote about simple gun control measures that both Congress should pass and the president should implement that would save lives. For sake of convenience, I’m going to bullet point them:
- First, fix the background-check system by doing small things such as giving the F.B.I. ten days, instead of three, to complete them; prohibiting “high-risk” individuals from getting their hands on guns (anyone with a restraining order filed against him for a threat of violence, for example); and accelerating federal legislation to keep the violent and mentally ill from having guns.
- Second, make the A.T.F. more effective through such simple measures as getting the agency a director.
- Third, encourage research on “personalized” guns and gun triggers.
- Fourth, ban assault weapons, carefully defined, and with them magazines that fire more than ten rounds. And finally—radical idea—fund research on what actually works to end gun violence.
- Appoint that A.T.F. director at last
- Order every federal agency to submit the relevant data on gun violence to the national background-check database (“Every missing record is a potential murder in the making”);
- Have the Justice Department prosecute criminals who lie during background checks (seventy-six thousand such cases were referred to the D.O.J. by the F.B.I. in 2010, but fewer than four dozen prosecuted)
- To stop supporting the “Tiahrt order,” which, unbelievably, prevents the A.T.F. even from releasing information about gun traffickers and how they operate.
- More research on gun-violence prevention
Putting aside the ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and the ban on semiautomatic versions of military grade arms, there is widespread agreement on almost every measure.
Fix the background check system. Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry, has a campaign called FixNICS.org. On its website it states:
A background check is only as good as the records in the database. That is why the firearms industry supports improving the current NICS system by increasing the number of prohibiting records states submit to the FBI databases, helping to prevent illegal transfers of firearms to those who are prohibited from owning firearms under current law. Including these missing records will help ensure more accurate and complete background checks.
Now, there are some smaller details that would need to be hatched out (the suggestions that the FBI should have more time or folks with restraining orders should be added to the list) but overall, both sides agree that we should Fix NICS, meaning we should encourage all states to participate in the NICS system, only about 30 do currently, and that they are promptly submitting records into the database.
As for the other suggestions, B. Todd Jones was appointed acting director of the ATF on Aug. 1, 2013. So, that’s been accomplished. Encouraging “personalized guns and gun triggers” is a non-issue. Most gun owners wouldn’t be opposed to this technology provided it actually worked and was foolproof. Federal agencies reporting to NICS, no problem there, and again, that fits with the NSSF’s Fix NICS philosophy.
With respect to having the DOJ prosecute criminals who lie during background checks or who falsify their Form 4473s, that’s another idea that Republicans, gun owners and the NRA has been pushing for all along. Check out this “Three Questions” video that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) released:
The NRA would have problems with repealing the “Tiahrt order” because they argue releasing the information to the general public serves “no useful purpose”; moreover, “traced guns aren’t always ‘crime guns’; firearms may be traced for reasons unrelated to any armed crime,” and lastly, “trace information remains available for law enforcement use.” Though, in the grand scheme of things, this is not a deal-breaker. It’s really a minor issue.
Lastly, most gun owners support research on not just gun-related violence, but violence in general so long as it’s agenda-free. That is to say, the researchers are open-minded and unbiased about guns and gun ownership and are not looking at the subject through the lens of a gun control advocate.
Quite frankly, in the past, some of gun-rights advocates strongest arguments for opposing gun control, like a federal ban on so-called “assault weapons,” have come from government-funded studies, e.g. Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Justice, the National Institute of Justice, National Research Council.
3. Where there needs to be compromise
Proposed bans on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and civilian versions of military-grade assault weapons are deal breakers. For there to be progress, for the war to end, gun-control advocates have to give up on banning these firearms and firearm-related accessories.
Not only are they widely popular and commonly owned, the AR-15 is America’s best-selling rifle, there is no convincing argument to be made for banning them.
Earlier, there was a mention of government-funded studies that examined the Clinton-era ban on so-called “assault weapons.” All of those reports concluded that the band had a negligible effect on gun violence.
For example, the CDC found “insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed for preventing violence.”
In addition, the Committee on Law and Justice also concluded that of all the studies considered, greater gun control regulations “did not reveal any clear impacts on gun violence” and “due to the fact that the relative rarity with which the banned guns were used in crime before the ban … the maximum potential effect of the ban on gun violence outcomes would be very small.”
So, if gun control advocates have to concede defeat on the AWB, gun owners have to be willing to give up on universal background checks.
To explicate, we’d have to accept the heart and soul of the background check bill drafted by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), which would have made private transfers or sales made over the Internet and at gun shows subject to an Federal Firearm Licensee-facilitated background check, with notable exemptions for personal transfers between family, friends and neighbors.
If one is to believe the polls, an overwhelming majority of Americans, 90 percent according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, support background checks for all firearm sales.
4. The deal
Time to get down to brass tacks. Here is what I’m proposing. First off, gun owners will work with gun control advocates and lawmakers and the Obama administration to ensure the Fix NICS initiative, the campaign to prosecute criminals who attempt to purchase firearms and the other points of consensus all come to fruition.
Second, and more importantly, in exchange for supporting an expanded background check bill similar to the Manchin-Toomey Amendment (one with minor adjustments that address the concerns of Law Professor David Kopel and Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation, their concerns were too nitty-gritty to delve into), gun control advocates have to be willing to do the following:
1. Agree to a complete cessation on legislative pursuits to ban semiautomatic versions of military-grade rifles as well as magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
2. Along with gun owners, they must encourage Congress to pass a bill that places a permanent ban on AWBs and renders all current AWBs unconstitutional.
In other words, states that have recently passed laws that place restrictions on these firearms and magazines – New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado (which banned magazines holding more than 15 rounds) – would no longer be allowed to enforce their respective bans.
3. They must petition the Supreme Court to rule that the Second Amendment covers self-defense outside the home.
This would ensure that states and cities that have “may-issue” concealed carry laws that are in effect “no-issue” concealed carry laws because sheriffs and police chiefs refuse to issue CCW permits to law-abiding citizens would no longer be able to arbitrarily deny one his or her right to keep and bear (carry) arms.
5. “A fair bargain leaves both sides unhappy.”
I know what you’re thinking: Why give an inch? Why compromise now, especially in the wake of the recall of two Colorado state senators who voted for stricter gun laws? Why pass more laws when we’re not completely enforcing all the laws that are currently on the books?
Because, as Scalia said, we have to decide. Ultimately, we have to make a choice on what’s reasonable and what’s not. From my perspective, I’d much rather negotiate now and get a deal in place that protects the Second Amendment rights of responsible gun owners.
On a federal level, yeah, we’re winning the battle. But on a state level, we’re losing ground. As mentioned, New York, Maryland, Connecticut and Colorado have all passed draconian gun laws. California is poised to follow suit. If you don’t live in those states it’s easy to be dismissive and say, “Well, they got what they deserved” or “I’m glad I don’t live there,” etc.
However, the reality is that these bans effect you too, regardless of where you live. As Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
To expand on this idea, there are approximately 60 million people that live in New York and California alone. If these AWBs are not challenged or overturned, that’s 60 million people who will be not be allowed to fully exercise their Second Amendment rights. Obviously, that’s problematic not only for them but for the overall health of the gun community. It shrinks the market for firearms. When fewer people have access to certain firearms, over time, the demand for those firearms begins to shrink. Once the demand begins to shrink, it becomes easier for politicians to persuade the public that those particular firearms are “unnecessary.” Once they argue that they’re unnecessary, then they begin to argue they’re “uncommon.” Once that happens, then they can make the argument that they’re “unreasonable” to own or possess.
To put it another way, as Gopnik observed in his gun control article, “Make something difficult and you begin to make it impossible.” Making it difficult for every American to own certain firearms will eventually make it impossible for anyone to own certain firearms. I fear that unless we cut a deal that settles this debate once and for all, that’s how this war may end.
What are your thoughts?