The argument for gun regulation rests most fundamentally on the premises that the ownership of guns should be regulated, and that gun ownership is not an absolute, unlimited right of citizenship. It is commonsense for most people who think about gun rights and control to exclude children, those with violent criminal records, the certified mentally ill who are a danger to others, from the right to gun ownership, and, more controversially, to limit the places at which people can have weapons. I’ll take up these issues and more in this email. For now, a reasonable position on gun rights is that they must be balanced with public safety concerns. Thomas Gabor, who has studied gun violence and policy for over 30 years in the United States and other countries, concludes that we need to find a “delicate balance” between the two. He states his position, along with other reasons, writing that “[g]un ownership can be a right while every effort is made to ensure that those who pose a risk to public safety cannot easily obtain them” (Confronting Gun Violence in America, p. 32).
However, for decades since the early 1970s, opponents of gun regulation, most prominently the National Rifle Association (NRA), have used their political influence to foster a one-sided interpretation of the Second Amendment to keep the federal government and many states and local governments from adequately regulating access to guns (gun ownership) by private citizens. On this point, Gabor captures the uncompromising position of the NRA and its considerable allies as follows: “…those viewing gun ownership as an inalienable right often see this right as an absolute and will yield little ground regardless of the annual death toll or other evidence pointing to the harm produced by widespread gun ownership” (p. 263). New York Times reporter Greg Weiner illustrates this retrograde viewpoint, reporting on a speech given by Wayne LaPierre, leader of the NRA, at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference. Here’s some of what Weiner reported.
“According to this conception, rights are zones of personal autonomy where the individual owes no explanation and the community has no jurisdiction. This manner of thinking about rights is a serious barrier to reasonable regulations of firearms. The N.R.A. ritually claims the mantle of the Constitution, but the American founders who framed it had a far richer view in which individual rights were subject to considerations of the common good.” (Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/28/opinion/wayne-lapierres-unconstitutionalism.html?_r=0.)
It remains to be seen whether extreme pro-gun proponents will continue to have as much influence as they’ve had after the mass murder of 17 high-school students on February 15, 2018, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which has been followed by organized protests by students for gun regulation and a ban on assault rifles and the AR-15 rifle (the weapon used in the murders), the public’s support for stronger regulation, the increased interest among lawmakers at all levels of government for some kind of gun regulation, and how some corporations have severed their ties to the NRA. It’s too early to tell what the actual effects will be.
In the meantime, Chris Hedges brings our attention to one of the ugly facts about gun ownership in the United State, that is, the country is loaded with a massive number of guns, far more than any other country, and yet, rather than curtail violence, the pervasive availability of guns of all kinds seem to aid and abet it. He refers here to some of the evidence on the widespread ownership of guns (https://www.truthdig.com/articles/guns-and-liberty). “There are some 310 million firearms in the United States, including 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns”.
The number of military-style assault weapons in private hands—including the AR-15 semi-automatic rifles used in the massacres at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.—is estimated at 1.5 million. The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, an average of 90 firearms per 100 people.
Writing for Popular Resistance, Eric London refers to evidence on mass shootings and killings and that they are occurring more frequently and with increasing deadliness (https://popularresistance.org/why-are-mass-killings-so-common-in-the-us).
“On February 14, an American horror story played out in southeastern Florida when 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 people, including 14 students.
“In April 1999, the country was stunned by the mass killing of 13 students and teachers at Columbine High School in Colorado by two students, who then committed suicide. In the course of the past 20 years, eruptions of homicidal violence have become almost commonplace, and the death tolls resulting from such incidents have in many cases far exceeded the terrible loss of life at Columbine. The 2017 attack in Las Vegas resulted in 58 deaths. The 2016 attack at the Pulse nightclub in Florida left 49 dead. The 2014 shooting in San Bernardino cost the lives of 14 people. The 2012 assault at Sandy Hook Elementary School claimed 28 lives. The attack on an audience at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, also in 2012, took 12 lives. The shooting at the Fort Hood Army base in 2009 resulted in 13 deaths.”
“The killings are not only deadlier than in 1999. Such incidents occur much more frequently. Mass killings involving more than four deaths take place every 16 days in the US, 10 times more frequently than in the period between 1982 and 2011, when the average time between mass killings was 200 days.”
One early indication of how government officials will react to the murders in Parkland is how the Florida governor and legislatures have responded to the murders in Parkland. In the aftermath of the mass shooting the high school, the state’s Republican-dominated Senate passed by a vote of 20-18 a package of gun-control measures that includes supports for mental health funding, school security measures, and an option for school districts to decide either to arm some teachers or to arm “other school personnel, including support staff who provide some instructional work, current or former servicemen or JROTC instructors.” The security measures include “raising age restrictions on the purchase of all firearms in the state, banning the purchase and possession of bump stocks (which turn semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 into fully automatic weapons), and setting a three-day waiting period to buy any gun, including rifles and shotguns, but rejected proposals to ban assault weapons and limit high-capacity magazines. Subsequently, the Florida House followed and passed their own “comprehensive” bill, and, after reconciling it with the Senate’s version, delivered the “reform package” to Governor Rick Scott’s office.
Let’s go back to what the Florida House did. Its gun reform package includes many of the same measures that were included originally in the Senate bill. I rely on a news report by AP reporters Brendan Farrington and Gary Fineout for this information, as reported in the Chicago Tribune (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/it-florida-governor-gun-control-bill-20180308-story.html).
The House legislation calls for the legal age to buy rifles to be raised from 18 to 21. A waiting period of three days is part of the bill. It includes a “guardian program enabling school employees and many teachers to carry handguns if they go through law enforcement training and their school districts agree to participate.” Other provisions “would create new mental health programs for schools and, this is new, establish an anonymous tip line where students and others could report threats to schools.” The bill “would also ban bump stocks that allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire” and “seek to improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.”
Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the legislation on March 9, 2018. According to a report by Dan Sweeney, the final legislation includes much of what the state Senate and House had proposed. And, almost immediately, “the National Rifle Association filed a federal lawsuit to block some of it from taking effect” (http://www.msn.com/en-us/florida-gov-rick-scott-signs-sweeping-gun-bill-nra-files-suit/ar-BBK4hxd?li=BBnb7Kz&ocid=iehp). For example, the new gun law raises the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21, “which the NRA claims violates the Second Amendment.” The law includes other measures that may be objectionable to the NRA and other gun advocates. The “law extends a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns. It bans “bump stocks that allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire.” Here is a list of other provisions of the new gun law, all but the last of which will be of little concern to gun reform opponents like the NRA.
— It allows the arming of school staff who are not exclusively classroom teachers, including librarians, media specialists, coaches and counselors. The program is optional at the discretion of county sheriffs and school district superintendents. Scott disagrees with the idea of arming teachers. He is going to redirect the funds for this program to more law enforcement officers or “school resource officers” at the schools.
— The measure provides $400 million for mental health and school safety programs.
— It requires every school in Florida to have a threat assessment team to meet monthly.
— It establishes the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which will investigate systemic failures in the Parkland school shooting, and develop recommendations.
— It creates a new legal process to take firearms from people who make violent threats to themselves or others.
Note that a central demand of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – and now among students around the country – is to ban “military” weapons and high-capacity magazines. This apparently is not going to happen in Florida. Note also that a waiting period associated with the process of purchasing a gun is not long enough for gun sellers to obtain full up-to-date information on their potential customers. The idea of arming teachers is by and large not a popular one (see next section), though there is some increasing attention to enhancing school security systems, including having armed security personnel inside or outside school entrances, locked entrance doors with cameras to identify individuals wanting to enter a school, as well as having bullet-proof windows.
If the responses of those who oppose gun regulation, for example the likes of Trump, the NRA, and many Republican legislators, continue successfully to achieve their pro-gun goals, we’ll unfortunately end up with fortress-like schools, armed teachers and/or other adults in the schools, fearful children, and, given the record, the chances that minority children in inadequately-resourced schools will end up disproportionately among the victims. Benjamin Balthaser, associate professor of multi-ethnic US literature at Indiana University, South Bend, argues, “arming teachers” will kill education
He’s worth quoting, as follows.
“Bearing the role of public education in mind, it is self-evident that arming teachers will do little if anything to actually make schools safer. Not only would having multiple shooters increase the confusion and mayhem of a mass shooting, the “good-guy-with-a-gun” theory has been widely debunked, and leads to all kinds of other bizarre questions, such as: Who decides which teachers are armed? Where are the guns stored? Who decides when a teacher can use a gun? What are the penalties for misusing a gun? The practical problems with arming teachers are so abundant, like many of Trump’s gestures of contempt, these ‘solutions’ are not designed to solve real-world problems, but rather to shift the discourse and change the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable in civil society.
“The proposal to arm teachers should not be seen as just a joke. It is not serious as a way to stop violence but is deadly serious about one thing: ending the progressive role of education and educators. The proposal is not about helping students but turning the student-teacher relationship from one of trust and respect into one of violence…. The right [to gun ownership by private citizens] does not imagine teachers wielding weapons so much as weapons remaking teachers”
Henry Giroux echoes these and other concerns (https:www.truth-out.org/news/item/43732-killing-children-in-the-age-of-disposability-the-parkland-shooting-was-about-more-than-gun-violence).
He is troubled by the call to eliminate the ordinary gun-free zones in the public schools by arming teachers for eliminating gun-free zones and arming teachers, when this “comes at a time when many schools have already been militarized by the presence of police and the increasing criminalization of student behaviors.” Giroux continues: “Suggesting that teachers be armed and turned into potential instruments of violence extends and normalizes the prison as a model for schools and the increasing expansion of the school-to-prison pipeline. What is being left out of this tragedy is that the number of police in schools has doubled in the last decade from 20 percent in 1996 to 43 percent today. Moreover, as more police are put in schools, more and more children are brutalized by them. There is no evidence that putting the police in schools has made them any safer. Instead, more and more young people have criminal records, are being suspended, or expelled from school, all in the name of school safety.” Giroux quotes Sam Sinyangwe, the director of the Mapping Police Violence Project, to further document his point.
“The data … that does exist … shows that more police in schools leads to more criminalization of students, and especially black and brown students. Every single year, about 70,000 kids are arrested in school…. [Moreover] since 1999, 10,000 additional police officers have been placed at schools, with no impact on violence. Meanwhile, about one million students have been arrested for acts previously punishable by detention or suspension, and black students are three times more likely to be arrested than their white peers.
Trump’s proposal to arm teachers suggests that the burden of gun violence and the crimes of the gun industries and politicians should fall on teachers’ shoulders, foolishly imagining that armed teachers would be able to stop a killer with military grade weapons, and disregarding the risk of teachers shooting other students, staff or faculty in the midst of such a chaotic moment.”
Brian Moench also brings our attention to what seems to be a commonsense fact, namely, that “teachers with handguns are no match for assault rifles” 2018 (http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/43689-teachers-with-handguns-are-no-match-for-assault-rifles-why-the-trump-nra-plan-doesn-t-work). And Gyasi Ross worries that young African American and Native American students could turn out to be disproportionately the victims of armed teachers (https://www.truthdig.com/articles/arming-teachers-stupidest-racist-idea-going).
“According to a new CBS poll, the nation is split almost nearly in half on whether teachers should carry guns, with 44 percent of Americans saying they support arming more teachers and 50 percent opposing the idea. Even more unexpected is the fact that this is not split along entirely partisan lines. We tend to expect Republicans to stick to the party line in order to keep up their National Rifle Association contributions. But although 74 percent of Democrats oppose arming teachers, the poll shows that 20 percent support the prospect. Egads!
“When I see polls like that, I think of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s quote, “Who’s the more foolish; the fool, or the fool who follows him?” We know this current president’s history of racism and playing fast and loose with the facts. But when we do the same, I wonder if we might be more stupid and racist than our president.
“See, black students are suspended and expelled from school almost four times more often than white students. Native American students represent less than 1 percent of the student population but make up 2 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 3 percent of expulsions. Black and Native American female students also are suspended more often than white boys or girls. These are Department of Education facts.
“Additionally, black and Native American students lack access to experienced teachers. According to the Department of Education, they tend to be disproportionally taught by first-year teachers.
“Finally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes clear that law enforcement kills native people at a higher rate than anyone else. The long and sordid history of law enforcement killing black people at criminal rates is well-documented.”
If Trump, Republican legislators, and the NRA have their way, school districts in communities will have the right, if not the mandate, to arm at least some teachers – and other school personnel. If this is the way the current debate is resolved, the tragic irony is that it will facilitate the manufacture and distribution of yet more guns in a society that already has a surfeit of guns, including semi-automatic and automatic weapons that are designed for war. It will be a boon for the weapons’ makers and a victory for the pro-gun advocates like the NRA and most Republicans. But, in the process, the schools’ basic missions will have been compromised, that is, providing students with the educational foundation to become informed and productive citizens. Indeed, there are already serious problems in the American schools, especially in how they are financed so much by local property taxes, resulting in great inequalities among school systems and in vastly unequal outcomes for students. This issue of an unequal school system has long been of concern and has worsened. See the articles and books of professor of education Diane Ravitch for incisive analyses of the problems and inequalities the school system generally and, in a recent book, the “hoax of the privatization movement.”
One implication is that more could be done to reduce violence in the schools – and elsewhere – by refocusing government priorities on education with the goal of ensuring that all students, wherever they live, whatever the “race” and background, have an opportunity for an excellent education.
In this email, drawing from many sources, I try to advance a position in favor of much stronger gun regulation than one finds across most of the United States. This position rests on the following contentions: (1) the Second Amendment of the Constitution does not call for unregulated gun ownership by citizens; guns have been regulated in the past, that is, there are precedents; (2) the NRA’s absolutist position on gun rights is untenable and beyond the boundaries of what is consistent with the U.S. Constitution; (3) recent federal court decisions do not support legally limitless individual rights to gun ownership, although gun rights are being expanded; (4) state gun laws vary but have tended to favor gun rights, while the United States leads high-income countries by far in rates of gun ownership and violent deaths; (5) the rise of the student movement for gun regulation and the supportive reactions to it challenges the idea that the NRA is invincible; and (6) there is a case for reasonable gun laws, which means limiting access to guns.
#1 – The Second Amendment of the Constitution has not yet been interpreted by the Supreme Court to allow for the completely unregulated gun ownership by citizens.
There are two parts of the Second Amendment. Those who want more gun regulation put their emphasis on the opening phrase of the Second Amendment that refers to “a well-regulated militia.” This phrase suggests that the federal or state governments should play the major role in determining who can own guns. The implication is that regulation of guns for private ownership is not about individual rights but about rules that aim to provide collective security and what is in the common good. Those who want little or no gun regulation focus on the second part of the Amendment, that is, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” From the perspective of the contemporary National Rifle Association and other unbridled gun supporters virtually all regulation is anathema and threatens the most fundamental “freedom” of Americans.
What does the historical record say. Through most of US history up through the end of the 20th Century, the courts have found that, as John Atcheson reports, the introductory phrase “a well-regulated militia” constrains, or takes precedence over, the clause ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/02/24/no-founding-fathers-didnt-give-you-right-to-bear-arms).
Atcheson puts it this way: “In short, the individual ‘right’ was contingent on the need to keep a well-regulated militia, and hence it protected the States’ interests in having a militia, not an individual’s right to have and carry a weapon.”
Gabor (cited previously) refers to supporting evidence. He writes:
“In four Supreme Court rulings between 1876 and 1939 and in 37 cases involving challenges to gun laws heard by federal courts of appeal between 1942 and 2001, the courts have consistently set aside these challenges and have viewed the Second Amendment as protecting state militias, rather than individual rights. Thus, with little exception, the first 125 years of ruling by higher courts interpreted the Second Amendment to mean that ‘The people’ collectively have the right to bear arms within the context of a well-regulated militia, rather than for protection against fellow citizens or for other personal reasons. This view of the Second Amendment is consistent with the requirement, in America’s first Constitution, that each state maintain a militia and with the modern Constitution, which provides for both state militias and a standing army” (p. 266).
Now, the official state militias have been long ago abandoned because they were not well funded by the various states. Nonetheless the point is, for most of US history, individual rights to firearms were regulated and limited. Gabor also quotes several Supreme Court justices who expressed support for “militia” preeminence interpretation of the Second Amendment. For example, former chief justice Warren Burger, “a conservative and hunter himself, said in an interview in 1991 on the MacNeill Lehrer News Hour that the focus on the “right to keep and bear arms” has “been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud…on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime” (Gabor, p. 266). As noted above, the interest group he has in mind is the NRA and its increasingly intense efforts to end virtually all restrictions on gun ownership by private citizens.
Remarkably, given the power of the NRA, President Clinton signed a 1994 law banning the manufacture and sale of new assault weapons and high-capacity magazines (holding more than ten rounds of ammunition) – and it remained in in force for ten years until 2004, according to Gabor. The ban was allowed to expire by the US Congress in 2004. Even during the years of the ban, though, the law had “grandfathering provisions” that “allowed weapons and high-capacity magazines already manufactured to continue to be bought and sold, severely undercutting the effectiveness of the ban” (Gabor, pp. 292-293). In short, the ban on assault weapons had at best only very modest effects on reducing violence associated with guns, even from assault weapons. But, even with its flaws, the ban did have some modest, positive effect. In as assessment of the effects of the ban, Christopher Koper, associate professor at George Mason University, surmised the following:
“Although the ban has been successful in reducing crimes with AWs [Assault Weapons], any benefits from this reduction are likely to have been outweighed by steady or rising use of non-banned semiautomatics with LCMs [large-capacity magazines], which are used in crime much more frequently than AWs. Therefore, we cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence [as of 2013]. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence, based on indicators like the percentage of gun crimes resulting in death or the share of gunfire incidents resulting in injury, as we might have expected had the ban reduced crimes with both AWs and LCMs” (https://www.factcheck.org/2013/02/did-the-1994-assault-ban-work).
Nonetheless, it is worth concluding this section that through most of US history there have been federal laws in effect to limit the gun ownership of private citizens, other than for hunting, conservation, certified gun collections (where the guns are inoperable) and sports-related activities, and that the temporary assault ban did have some positive effect. Though it should also be mentioned that the ban did not close other ways by which individual can acquire guns. In addition to the grandfathering loophole and the parts of the gun market that were not covered by the ban, guns could be obtained through private sales (e.g., now through the internet) and at gun shows, both of which remain unregulated. Of course, there has always been an illegal market for guns. George Aisch and Josh Keller report on one aspect of this illegal gun market in their article “Traffikers Get Around State Laws (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/12/us/gun-traffikers-smuggling-state-gun-laws.html). Gabor presents evidence that such bans can have some positive effect (pp. 292-293).
#2 – The radical turn of the NRA. Beyond the conscionable and constitutional limits?
The NRA “began an aggressive campaign in the 1970s of promoting the notion that the Second Amendment protected the individual’s right to gun ownership, outside of any service in a militia.” This was a departure from the former view of the NRA, which focused on guns for sport and conservation [e.g., hunting during dear season] while also endorsing gun control laws. What happened? Here’s Carey Shenkman’s explanation.
“The NRA position changed when right-wing anti-government movements of the 1970s inspired mutiny and a rightward turn at an infamous meeting, dubbed the ‘Revolt at Cincinnati.” Unhappy with the group’s moderate positions, the faction that took over the NRA reframed gun control as an infringement on liberty itself. That shift drew more anti-government extremists to identify with the organization. Through the 1990s, fierce gun control debates broke out in Congress in the context of the federal siege in Waco, Texas, which became a subject of NRA meetings and a lightening rod for domestic terror movements” (https://www.truthdig.com/articles/first-amendment-not-second-secure-liberty).
Over the next four decades following the 1970s, gun rights absolutists in the NRA began vigorously promoting research favorable to its viewpoint, making large contributions to the political campaigns of sympathetic political candidates, mobilizing and educating its members, and lobbying for unfettered access to guns by individual citizens, “opposing virtually every form of restriction on gun owners and ownership from municipal bans to the careful screening of owners and scrutiny of dealers” (Gabor, p. 266). Julia Conley draws our attention to one aspect of the NRA’s political influence in her article titled “Lawmakers Opposing Assault Weapons Ban Received 130 Times More Gun Industry Donations Despite public outcry and increased support for stricter gun control measures” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/03/08/lawmakers-opposing-assault-weapon-ban-received-130-times-more-gun-industry).
Conley’s sources document how industry money still dominates in Congress. For example:
“Analyzing information from the Center for Responsive Politics, the nonpartisan watchdog group MapLight reported Thursday that representatives in the House who refuse to support a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons and other assault-style firearms, receive about 130 times more money in campaign donations from pro-gun groups than those who back such regulations.”
For the NRA and its supporters, there is more at stake than simple legal access to guns but the crucial part of a struggle of individual citizens to retain their liberty and freedom from the federal government. They argue that the Second Amendment by itself, if properly interpreted, secures the basic freedom of citizens to express dissent and to enable citizens to protect themselves from a tyrannical state through insurrection if necessary. Carey Shenkman refers to research that finds that three-quarters of gun owners “associate guns with their personal sense of freedom,” and as “a means to protect property and liberty.” Shenkman also quotes NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s words from a speech he gave in February (2018), in which LaPierre states that gun control advocates seek to “eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eliminate all individual freedoms.”
The implication is that those who want reasonable gun laws are confronted with a determined, well-financed and -organized opposition, that will go to great lengths to stop virtually any limits on gun ownership by private citizens. For information on where the NRA gets its funding and support, check out the interview on The Real News Network (http://therealnews.org/t2/story:21216:How-Powerful-is-the-NRA%3F).
Ali Watkinsfeb, reporting for the New York Times, gives a recent example of how the NRA has used its political influence to weaken a key government agency charged with the enforcement of existing gun laws, that is, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/22/us/politics/trump-atf-nra.html?_r=0). This is just one example of the organization’s power.
“Now, the A.T.F. is on the verge of a crisis. The agency, which has not grown significantly since its founding in 1973, is about to confront a staffing shortage and is set to lose its tobacco and alcohol enforcement authorities. President Trump has yet to nominate a director to oversee the agency, which has been without permanent leadership for eight of the past 12 years.
“Amid the dearth of leadership and resources, the White House is pushing the A.T.F. to the forefront of its fight against violent crime. In response to the mass shooting at a Florida high school last week, Mr. Trump, who promised to fight violent criminal gangs and illegal guns — two of the A.T.F.’s key missions — announced that he would be relying on the bureau to regulate so-called bump stock accessories.
“But it is all but politically impossible for Mr. Trump, who counts the powerful gun lobby among his most ardent supporters, to strengthen the A.T.F. The National Rifle Association has long sought to hobble the agency in an effort to curb its ability to regulate guns, which the gun lobby has traditionally opposed.
“’Most people in law enforcement know why A.T.F. can’t get a director,’ said Michael Bouchard, a former agent and the president of the A.T.F. Association, an independent group that supports current and former bureau officials. ‘It’s not because of the people. It’s because of the politics.’
“For decades, the N.R.A. has used its sway in Washington to preserve the A.T.F. in its limited capacity. It has aggressively lobbied against nominated directors and pushed Congress to enact restrictions on how the bureau spends money to curtail its ability to regulate firearms and track gun crimes. One funding provision, for example, forbids the A.T.F. from using electronic databases to trace guns to owners. Instead, the agency relies on a warehouse full of paper records.”
There are other reports that reveal the NRA is sometimes will to make exceptions to absolutist gun position. Kali Holloway reports for Alter Net on 5 places that NRA and Republicans want guns banned (http://alternet.org/right-wing/5-places-hypocritical-republicans-ban-guns-their-own-personal-safety).
First, though, Holloway points out that the NRA wants to loosen gun restrictions generally, which they contend disingenuously leads to greater public safety. Holloway cites a Harvard Business School study that finds “in states with overwhelmingly Republican legislative bodies, after mass shootings, ‘the number of laws passed to loosen gun restrictions [increases] by 75 percent.” Bear in mind the number and frequently of mass shootings have been going up. Hence, Holloway continues, they assume falsely that a “more heavily armed populace will ensure American safety,” so there is no need to ban guns or spend resources on gun regulation. However, Holloway writes, and this is her main point, there are five places (at least) where “hypocritical Republicans ban guns in order to ensure their own personal safety,” including: The White House, Republican National Convention, Mar-a-Lago, US Capitol Building, and Republican Town Halls.
And the NRA avoids the evidence when it suits its pro-gun rights purpose. NRA national spokeswoman Dana Loesch appears to have misled a student survivor of the murders in Parkland Florida at a public forum, according to a report by Timothy Johnson, a guns and public safety researcher at Media Matters (http://alternet.org/news-amp-politics/nra-national-spokeswoman-dana-loesch-lied-right-parkland-victims-face). Here’s Johnson’s account.
“Emma Gonzalez, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had a simple question for National Rifle Association (NRA) national spokesperson Dana Loesch during CNN’s gun violence town hall: ‘Do you believe that it should be harder to obtain the semi-automatic … weapons and the modifications for these weapons to make them fully automatic, like bump stocks?’
“Instead of providing the NRA’s well established positions on these questions, Loesch gave a series of dishonest explanations that sought to hide the NRA’s fringe absolutism against gun regulation.
“After some niceties, Loesch purported to answer Gonzalez’s question by saying, ‘I don’t believe that this insane monster should have ever been able to obtain a firearm, ever. I do not think that he should have gotten his hands on any kind of weapon. That’s number one.’
“According to Loesch, ‘This individual was nuts and I, nor the millions of people that I represent as a part of this organization, that I’m here speaking for, none of us support people who are crazy, who are a danger to themselves, who are a danger to others, getting their hands on a firearm.’
“Loesch was lying.
“The NRA opposes adding prohibiting categories to the gun background check system that could have included the Stoneman Douglas gunman. As the NRA’s website states, ‘NRA opposes expanding firearm background check systems, because background checks don’t stop criminals from getting firearms.’ It also opposes a policy called a ‘Gun Violence Restraining Order’ or a ‘Red Flag’ law that has been widely cited as a policy that could have stopped the gunman from having access to firearms. These laws allow family members and law enforcement to petition courts to temporarily remove people’s access to firearms who are a danger to themselves or others.
“Loesch’s dishonesty didn’t stop with that claim. Moments later, while talking about the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), Loesch said, ‘It is not federal law for states to report convictions to the NICS system. It’s not federally mandated.’ Loesch also argued that the states can convict a person, they ‘can adjudicate the mentally unfit,’ but ‘if a state does not report it to the National Crime Information Center, when you run that form, this individual — this madman passed a background check.’ (NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre also used this talking point in his February 22 speech at CPAC.)
“What Loesch failed to mention is that states can’t be required to report disqualifying records because of the outcome of a 1997 NRA-backed lawsuit Printz v. United States.
“The lawsuit was the NRA’s attempt to invalidate the entire national background check system in court before it could be implemented. While the system eventually went into effect, the outcome of Printz damaged its effectiveness, as the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in favor of the NRA’s argument that requiring states to perform background checks for a federal system violated the 10th Amendment.
“The ruling also had implications on whether states can be required to submit disqualifying records into the background check system. As the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence explains, ‘Federal law cannot require states to make information identifying people ineligible to possess firearms available to the federal or state agencies that perform background checks’ because ‘case law suggests that a federal statute requiring states to disclose records to the FBI would violate the Tenth Amendment’ due to the Printz ruling.
“So far, none of Loesch’s answers were actually about semi-automatic weapons or bump stocks. Gonzalez then interceded to say, ‘I think I’m gonna interrupt you real quick and remind you that the question is actually, do you believe it should be harder to obtain these semi-automatic weapons and modifications to make them fully automatic, such as bump stocks?’”
The question wasn’t answered.
#3 – Before Parkland, a shift in federal law favoring individual rights of gun ownership – leaves law ambiguous as to what the limits of gun rights are
The Supreme Court began to shift on gun rights, reflecting the conservative-majority in the court. A breakthrough came in 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller, a decision in which the court ruled 5-4 “that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes (e.g., self-defense within the home) in federal enclaves (jurisdictions)” (Gabor, p. 267). However, this decision did not affirm anything like an absolute right to gun ownership. Gabor interprets what the court had in mind.
“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms” (Gabor, 267-268).
The upshot is that, even in recent years, federal law remained at odds with the NRA’s absolutist stance. This may change, as the Supreme Court has move further to the right with Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch. In an article for CNN Politics, Ariane de Vogue quotes Adam Winkler, a professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, who said this about Gorsuch: “Although Gorsuch’s exact views on the Second Amendment remain a mystery, several of his decisions made it harder to keep guns out of the hands of felons.” Hardly uplifting. (Source: https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/20/politics/neil-gorsuch-abortion-religious-liberty-enviornment-guns-control/index.html.)
Even before Gorsuch, the Supreme Court, with its conservative majority, began to expand the rights associated with gun ownership. Veronica Rose, chief analyst at the Office of Legislative Research for the state of Connecticut, provides a summary of a Supreme Court decision that was made after District of Columbia v. Heller (2018). Rose summarizes the McDonald v. Chicago 5-4 decision in 2010, the thrust of which is that the individual states have the right to pass laws that give individual’s the right to keep and bear firearms for lawful uses such as self-defense in one’s home (https://www.cga.ct.gov/2010/rpt/2010-R-0314.htm). Notice the words “such as” open the opportunity of states to expand the rights of gun ownership in any number of ways. Here I’ll quote some key paragraphs from Rose’s account.
“In a five-four split decision, the McDonald Court held that an individual’s right to keep and bear arms is incorporated and applicable to the states through the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Writing for the majority, Justice Alito observed: “It is clear that the Framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty” (p. 31). “The Fourteenth Amendment makes the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms fully applicable to the States.” In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Thomas wrote that the 2nd Amendment is fully applicable to states because the right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment as a privilege of American citizenship.
“The Court did not rule on the constitutionality of the gun ban, deciding instead to reverse and remand the case for additional proceedings. However, the courts decision on the 2nd Amendment makes it clear that such bans are unconstitutional. But, as it held in Heller, the Court reiterated in McDonald that the 2nd Amendment only protects a right to possess a firearm in the home for lawful uses such as self-defense. It stressed that some firearm regulation is constitutionally permissible and the 2nd Amendment right to possess firearms is not unlimited. It does not guarantee a right to possess any firearm, anywhere, and for any purpose.”
Note again that the court decisions employ vague words (“such as”) that open a wide range of undefined circumstances under which citizens have a legal right to purchase and own weapons, all sorts of weapons. Note also that the McDonald decision invokes the Fourteenth Amendment and in context in which lends support to the guns’ rights position. The relevant provision of the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1, states “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.” This is another one of the laws that can be interpreted and applied in several ways but which, with a conservative court, is likely to be interpreted in a way that is favorable to the rights of individual gun owner rather than to public safety concerns.
#4 – State laws on gun ownership – diverse and often lax. May be changing toward some increased regulation of guns after Parkland murderous shooting
While the federal government and the various states can impose some, often ambiguous and often weakly enforced laws, on gun ownership by private citizens, they cannot ban such ownership. Okay, but federal law is vague enough to be applied expansively by the states. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia has a 63-page long review of the gun laws by state that was updated on March 1, 2018 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_laws_in_the_United_States_by_state).
It’s startling how extensive gun ownership rights are. The law is bewilderingly complex and diverse. Note that in the following summary list of state-level gun ownership laws, there are some issues like arming teachers or other school personnel that have not yet been legislated or addressed by the judicial system. Here’s is what the Wikipedia investigators find generally. There is also a table that includes all the states in alphabetical order and provides details on gun-related laws for each of the states.
• Some [not all] states and localities require that a person obtain a license or permit to purchase or possess firearms.
• Some [not all] states and localities require that individual firearms be registered with the police or with another law enforcement agency.
• All states allow some form of concealed carry, the carrying of a concealed weapon in public.
• Many states [not all] allow some form of open carry, the carrying of an unconcealed firearm in public on one’s person or in a vehicle.
• Some [not all] states have state preemption for some or all gun laws, which means that only the state can legally regulate firearms. In other states, local governments can pass their own gun laws more restrictive than those of the state.
• Some [not all] states and localities place additional restrictions on certain semi-automatic firearms that they have defined as assault weapons, or on magazines that can hold more than a certain number of rounds of ammunition.
• NFA weapons or weapons that are heavily restricted at a federal level by the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. These include automatic firearms (such as machine guns), short-barreled shotguns, and short-barreled rifles. Some [not] states and localities place additional restrictions on such weapons.
• Some [not all] states have enacted castle doctrines or stand-your-own ground laws, which provide a legal basis for individuals to use deadly force in self-defense in certain situations, without a duty to flee or retreat if possible.
• In some [not all] states, peaceable journey laws give additional leeway for the possession of firearms by travelers who are passing through to another destination.
• Some [not all] states require a background check of the buyer when a firearm is sold by a private party. (Federal law requires background checks for sales by licensed gun deals, and for any interstate sales.)
The evidence establishes that there are states, “red” (Republican) states, that do not even require a license or permit to possess firearms or to register them with the police or other law enforcement agency. And “many states” allow “some form of open carry.” The states with the weakest gun laws and the highest household gun ownership rates, such as Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas, also have the highest homicide rates and highest rates of gun deaths. This is well documented by Gabor’s chapter 8: “The Deadliest States.” Indeed, there are many states that don’t place any restrictions on semi-assault weapons or on high-capacity magazines. There are even some states that allow private citizens to own machine guns. Overall, in the states where Republicans control the state houses and legislatures, gun laws allow for easy access to a wide range of weapons and ironically also have the highest rates of deaths and injuries from guns. It’s the opposite in “blue” states like California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut. Hawaii, Maryland, and Rhode Island.
What is the law on gun ownership by private citizens in Ohio, where the state house and state legislature are controlled by Republicans? According to the evidence that Wikipedia has compiled, private citizens in Ohio are permitted to openly carry long guns (e.g., rifles) or handguns without a permit if they are 18 years or older. There is no requirement that firearms must be registered or that gunowners must have a license. This means that there is too little time for an authorized gun seller to collect all relevant information on a person before he/she buys a gun, though as I already noted, the federal system that provides information for background checks is inadequate. And, further, there is no law in Ohio governing semi-assault or assault weapons.
On March 1, 2018, Governor John Kasich responded to the mass killing in Parkland, Florida, by announcing a reform proposal aimed, the governor says, at reducing gun violence in Ohio. As reported by Tristan Justice for the Washington Examiner, the proposed reforms are as follows (http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/john-kasich-unveils-gun-reform-proposals-for-ohio/article/2650541).
• Create a gun-violence protection order allowing families and law enforcement to request from a judge to take away guns temporarily from those proven to be a risk for gun violence.
• Update current state law to automatically prohibit those convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun.
• Implement a ban on “bump stocks.”
• Strengthen state law to prohibit gun transactions where one person buys a gun for a felon or someone else who is legally prohibited from possessing a firearm.
• Prohibit sale of armor-piercing ammunition
• Close gaps in background check system to ensure faster delivery of court records to prohibit felons among others prohibited from possessing firearms from buying guns or receiving a concealed-carry permit.
All this is good for those who see a need for more gun regulation. The governor’s proposals are surely in response to the outcry for gun regulation by students from Parkland and around the country. Geez, he calls for an actual ban on bump stocks and on “armor-piercing ammunition” used in AR-15s and other semi- and fully-automatic weapons and wants to strengthen “the background check system.” All of Kasich’s proposals will put him at odds with the NRA, which probably mean that the proposals will have little chance of getting support as long as Republicans dominate the state legislature. Nonetheless, his gun reform proposals should be welcomed because they offer, potentially, better regulation than now exists and, not the least, facilitate a public conversation about existing gun laws and the limits of gun ownership.
Connecticut: a model for gun regulation?
The states that have strong gun regulation are all “blue,” or Democratic, states, including, as mentioned earlier, states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and California, which also have the lowest gun deaths according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Anthony Brooks reports that gun-regulation advocates are looking to “Connecticut as a model for gun control?” (http://www.wbur.org/views/2018/03/08/connecticut-gun-laws). Connecticut introduced its gun reform law after the Sandy Hook Shooting, which, according to Wikipedia’s account, “occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, United States, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members. Prior to driving to the school, he shot and killed his mother at their Newtown home. As first responders arrived at the school, Lanza committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.”
The Wikipedia section on Sandy Hook notes that “Newtown is located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, about 60 miles (100 km) from New York City. Violent crime had been rare in the town of 28,000 residents; there was only one homicide in the town in the ten years prior to the school shooting.” A report issued by the Office of the Child Advocate in November 2014 is cited by Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Hook_Elementary_School_shooting).
The report “said that Lanza had Asperger’s syndrome and as a teenager suffered from depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but concluded that they had “neither caused nor led to his murderous acts.” The report concludes that “his severe and deteriorating internalized mental health problems… combined with an atypical preoccupation with violence… (and) access to deadly weapons… proved a recipe for mass murder”. Lanza used his mother’s Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, shot his way through a glass panel next to the locked front entrance doors of the school, and commenced the horrifying shooting spree.
About four months after the murders, on April 4, 2013, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, completed the signing of legislation that included “new restrictions on weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines,” according to senior reporter Anthony Brooks (http://www.wbur.org/news/2018/03/08/connecticut-gun-laws). State lawmakers “expanded an assault weapons ban, both the sale and manufacture, including on the AR-15, and outlawed high-capacity magazines” with more than ten rounds of ammunition.
Brooks continues: “They required background checks for the sale of all firearms, tightened gun ownership regulations, and increased funding for mental health and school security.” Subsequently, crime fell, homicides were down, and “violent crime is down here more than anywhere else in the country in the last four years,” Malloy told Brooks. Gun rights critics in Connecticut criticize the law, arguing that a better way to make school safer is to make schools more secure (which is already a part of the law) and give teachers the means to defend themselves. There is little support in Newtown or in the state for arming teachers.
#5 -The rise of the student movement for gun regulation and control. In response to the tragic mass killing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the rise of the student movement for gun controls, media reports indicate that a growing number of corporations are withdrawing support from the NRA. For example, Jackie Wattles reports that more than a dozen corporations had severed ties with the NRA within 10 days of the shooting at the high school (http://money.cnn.com/2018/02/25/news/companies/companies-abandoning-nra-list/index.html). Here’s a sample of what she wrote:
“Before last week, membership in the National Rifle Association meant gaining access to a broad range of discounts. From special rates on auto insurance policies to cheaper flights when you booked through its website, the NRA’s discount program offered a lot of perks. But in the wake of a massacre at a Florida high school on February 14, activists flooded social media with calls to end corporate partnerships with America’s most powerful gun lobby.
“Since Thursday, more than a dozen brands severed ties with the organization.”
A headline in the New York Times reads “Walmart and Dick’s Raise Minimum Age for Gun Buyers to 21”. The article is written by Julie Creswell and Michael Corkery (https://www.nytimes.com/2018 /02/28/business/walmart-and-dicks-major-gun-retailers-will-tighten-rules-on-guns-they-sell.html) It’s not only businesses that are acting. Legislators in some states, such as Florida, and some Governors like John Kasich in Ohio, are considering or enacting gun control measures that the NRA does not like. Some states may tighten the rules and procedures they have for doing background checks, require that those who want guns must be have licenses, and increase the age for purchasing firearms. It is would not be surprising to see many states will come up with additional funding to enhance school security. And, if they have not already done so, some states may now consider make it unlawful for certain categories of people from getting guns, such as, those with violent criminal records, with mental illness associated with the threat of violent actions, domestic abusers.
Finding the limits of gun regulation
There is a danger in creating and putting people into stigmatizing classification schemes. So, gun-regulation advocates must be careful about being unfair. Linda Qiu and Justin Bank consider the mental-health issue in an article titled “Checking Facts and Falsehoods About Gun Violence and Mental Illness After Parkland Shooting” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/16/us/politics/fact-check-parkland-gun-violence-mental-illness.html). Their main finding is that most people with mental illness do not commit violent crimes. They cite the following evidence.
“In an analysis of 235 mass killings, many of which were carried out with firearms, 22 percent of the perpetrators could be considered mentally ill.
“Overall, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent 1 percent of all gun homicides each year, according to the book “Gun Violence and Mental Illness” published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2016.
“To be sure, gun violence experts contacted by New York Times reporters have said that barring sales to people who are deemed dangerous by mental health providers could help prevent mass shootings. But the experts said several more measures — including banning assault weapons and barring sales to convicted violent criminals — more effective.
“A 2016 academic study estimated that just 4 percent of violence is associated with serious mental illness alone. “Evidence is clear that the large majority of people with mental disorders do not engage in violence against others, and that most violent behavior is due to factors other than mental illness,” the study concluded.
A 2015 study found that less than 5 percent of gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were committed by people diagnosed with mental illness.
“As John T. Monahan, a professor specializing in psychology and law at the University of Virginia, told The Times: “Two things typically happen in the wake of a mass shooting. First, politicians claim that mental illness is the major cause of violence in America. Then, advocates for people with mental illness respond by denying there is any relationship whatsoever between mental illness and violence. Both groups are wrong. Research shows that the association between mental illness and violence is not strong, but it does exist.”
There is another issue that skirts the legitimate boundaries of gun regulation. There is now some discussion abroad in some states about introducing “red flag” gun laws that would urge teachers, school administrators, other school personnel to pay attention to and perhaps discipline students who exhibit dangerous behavior or talk in person or on twitter or facebook about committing violence to themselves or others. These laws would also encourage students and their parents to do the same. Bennett Leckrone considers this issue in an article forThe Columbus Dispatch and reports that Ohio legislators are considering ways to take guns from at-risk people before they might harm themselves or others (http://www.dispatch.com/news/20180303/ohio-lawmakers-mull-ways-to-take-guns-from-those-showing-red-flag-of-danger).
Jason Hanna and Laura Ly address this topic in an article the title of which captures the thrust of their report, namely, “After the Parkland massacre, more states consider ‘red flag’ gun bills” (https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/07/us/gun-extreme-risk-protection-orders/index.html).
Such a policy would first have to figure out a way to protect first amendment and due process rights, and also avoid over-reacting on racial grounds. When do behavioral problems forecast future violent outbursts. Should government and school authorities encourage a student “tip” system, in which students are encouraged to provide information about another student who is behaving aggressively? It seems reasonable that schools might be better positioned to anticipate such problems if they had trained psychologists and counselors who could intervene and investigate such situations professionally.
The student uprising over guns
Perhaps the most powerful current force for serious gun regulation ever in the United States is manifest recently in the rise of high-school student protests, from Parkland, across Florida and in other states, where scores of students are organizing demonstrations, sometimes confronting legislators directly, and demanding meaningful gun control, including a ban on the AR-15 semi-automatic assault weapons. Among the student activists, a new national organization has emerged called #ArmMeWithSolidarity. Jesse Hagopian and Jesse Muldoon report that this organization, or movement, has organized mass walkouts of schools all around the country, spoken to legislators and the media, and expressed their demands in other ways (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/03/02/armmewith-solidarity-against-nra-and-militarizing-our-schools).
Expressing the views of many students, some spokepeople for the movement want school safety but not out of the barrel of a gun. Safety comes, they write, “from teachers having the resources they need and students having their needs met at schools.” Emma Gonzalez, a high school senior and survivor of the Parkland shooting, said:
“Teachers do not need to be armed with guns to protect their classes, they need to be armed with a solid education in order to teach their classes…If you want to help arm the schools, arm them with school supplies, books, therapists, things they actually need and can make use of.”
Investigative journalist Dawson Barret provides additional information on the growing student movement to stop gun violence in the schools and reports that the gun lobby is terrified of it. (https://www.truthdig.com/articles/gun-lobby-terrified-neveragain-movement). Barret’s report is worth quoting at length.
“Following the righteous fury of Stoneman Douglas survivors Emma González, David Hogg, Jaclyn Corwin, Cameron Kasky and others (and building on the networks and expertise of existing organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety), a nationwide, youth-led movement for gun reform is emerging under the social media hashtag “Never Again.”
“There have already been walkouts and other protests at high schools and middle schools in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and elsewhere. The movement is growing.
“Whether these protests will lead to real change is not yet clear. Young people have very little formal political power. They do not have the money to rival big donors, and they are a terribly ineffective voting bloc. Many cannot vote, and those who can do not do so in large numbers.
“However, teenagers have other strengths, the greatest of which may be a blatant disrespect for the status quo. In this case, they have refused to accept the prevailing wisdom that the National Rifle Association is an invincible bedrock of American political life. They have rejected as foolish older generations’ assurances that there is nothing that can be done to reduce gun violence in this country.
“Judging by the reactions of Gateway Pundit, Fox News, and the NRA leadership, the gun lobby is terrified of #NeverAgain, and it should be.
“Teenagers have been on the front lines of every major U.S. social movement in the last century. Through protest, high school students have succeeded in changing dress codes, desegregating schools and businesses, ending bans on dancing, and forcing the firing (or rehiring) of teachers, coaches and principals. They have won multiple U.S. Supreme Court cases. They have even toppled governments.”
#6 – The US needs reasonable gun laws, which means limiting access to guns.
The existing laws governing individual gun ownership are inadequate and have been so for decades, despite federal and state restrictions. The evidence is indisputable that gun deaths, gun-related homicides, and mass shootings are far greater in the US than in 31other high-income countries (Gabor, pp. 39-40). At the same time, greater gun regulations are associated with a reduction or a lower frequency of these problems of violence. John Donohue, distinguished professor of law at Stanford University, offers an outline of a case for gun regulation (https://www.stanford.edu/2015/09/03/how-us-gun-control-compares-to-the-rest-of-the-world).
First, Donahue’s research team finds that the great majority of Americans, including a majority of NRA members, favor universal background checks. Indeed, 90% of Americans favored such checks after the Newtown school massacre of 2012.
Despite the influence of the NRA, Trump, the Republican Party, the gun manufacturers, the right-wing media, most Americans believe there is a need for gun regulation. Experts and the public agree on how to stop gun violence. Politicians don’t, according to Christopher Ingraham (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/10/02/experts-and-the-public-agree-on-how-to-stop-gun-violence-politicians-dont/?utm_term=.394c3020ba60).
“Despite its reputation as an intractable, deeply divisive issue, there’s a lot of agreement among the American public on gun-control measures.
“The New York Times, for instance, recently surveyed Americans on whether they supported 29 different gun regulations mostly intended to reduce homicides — from familiar policies such as background checks and bans on assault-style weapons to more obscure ones such as limits on the frequency of purchases.
“All but one of those policies had majority support, and most were backed by strong majorities.”
Second, the NRA’s claim that guns reduce crime is belied by the fact that the “US is by far the world leader in the number of guns in civilian hands” and it has by far the highest homicide rate. And “only the tiniest fraction of victims of violent crime are able to use a gun in their defense.” Donohue writes on this point:
“Over the period from 2007-2011, when roughly six million nonfatal violent crimes occurred each year, data from the National Crime Victimization Survey show that the victim did not defend with a gun in 99.2% of these incidents – this is a country with 300 million guns in civilian hands.”
“…a study of 198 cases of unwanted entry into occupied single-family dwellings in Atlanta (not limited to night when the residents were sleeping) found that the invader was twice as likely to obtain the victim’s gun than to have the victim use a firearm in self-defense.”
Donohue and his colleagues at Stanford have also spent years studying the effects of “right to carry” laws (RTC) found “the most compelling evidence to date that RTC laws are associated with significant increases in violent crime – particularly for aggravated assault.” Additionally, they report, the Uniform Crime Reports from 1979-2012 show that, “on average, the 33 states that adopted RTC laws over this period experienced violent crime rates that are 4%-19% higher after ten years than if they had not adopted these laws.”
Third, most other advanced nations make it harder for people to obtain a Glock semiautomatic handgun “or any other kind of firearm.” Donohue lists some examples of other countries that have tighter gun regulations than the U.S. and have much lower violent crime rates. The lesson: Other countries have proven they can protect the public safety with more strict gun regulations – and the U.S. should learn from them.
• Germany: To buy a gun, anyone under the age of 25 has to pass a psychiatric evaluation (presumably 21-year-old Dylann Roof would have failed).
• Finland: Handgun license applicants are only allowed to purchase firearms if they can prove they are active members of regulated shooting clubs. Before they can get a gun, applicants must pass an aptitude test, submit to a police interview, and show they have a proper gun storage unit.
• Italy: To secure a gun permit, one must establish a genuine reason to possess a firearm and pass a background check considering both criminal and mental health records (again, presumably Dylann Roof would have failed).
• France: Firearms applicants must have no criminal record and pass a background check that considers the reason for the gun purchase and evaluates the criminal, mental, and health records of the applicant. (Dylann Roof would presumably have failed in this process).
• United Kingdom and Japan: Handguns are illegal for private citizens.
There are other sources that support Donohue’s international comparisons. Audrey Carlsen and Sahil Chinoy report in an article for the New York Times that is more difficult in all other countries on the list for citizens to obtain a weapon legally than in the United States (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/03/02/world/international-gun-laws.html?_r=0). And Juliette Jowit and Sandra Laville in London, Calla Wahlquist in Port Arthur, Philip Oltermann in Berlin, Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Lois Beckett in New York report that “The United States’s gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than other high-income countries” (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/15/so-america-this-is-how-you-do-gun-control).
Fourth, according to Donohue, “Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting since 1996.” Prior to that year, there had been 13 mass shootings. The turning point came with “the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania, in which a gunman killed 35 individuals using semiautomatic weapons.” The conservative government then introduced and succeeded in implementing tough new gun laws, including the banning of a large array of weapons and the imposition of a mandatory gun buy back. The murder rate fell dramatically and there has not been a mass shooting since 1996. None. Thus, banning an array of high-powered guns did not lead to the loss of individual freedom but to an improvement in public safety.
There is other evidence supporting those who see an urgent need for greater gun regulation. Authoritative research documents how permissive state gun laws are associated with higher homicide rates. Joan Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams reports on a new, sweeping analysis on gun policy from the highly touted RAND Corporation that finds stricter gun laws reduce gun violence, “that laws to prevent children from accessing firearms can decrease suicides and unintentional injuries or deaths,” and “that universal background checks would lead to a drop in suicides and violent crimes.” In the opposite direction, Rand researchers found that “[c]oncealed-carry and stand-your-ground laws—both backed by the NRA—were also found to increase violent crimes” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/03/02/what-does-research-nra-doesnt-want-funded-show-gun-restrictions-save-lives).
Two further concerns
First, let me add, there is a claim by the NRA that even semi-automatic weapons, even when equipped with bump stocks, should not be regulated. One way to contest this claim is to help others understand the extraordinary harm to the body that is done by the AR-15 and other military style weapons. When the bullet from one of these weapons strikes a person, bones and soft tissue are obliterated. Even if victims survive, they often have injuries to their organs and bones that will never be healed, often living with pain and disability for the rest of their lives. This issue is expertly addressed by Gina Kolata and C. J. Chivers in an article published in the New York Times titled aptly “Wounds from Miitary-Style Rifles? A Ghastly Thing To See” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/04/health/parkland-shooting-victims-ar15.html).
Second, take some time to learn about JROTC, that is, military and weapons training in high school and offering uncritical information on U.S. military history and policy by people who often have little academic background.
Pat Elder discusses this program on Democracy Now (online; with accompanying text). The program aired on Feb 21, 2018 and is titled “Inside the US Military Recruitment Program That Trained Nikolas Cruz to Be ‘a Very Good Shot’.” (Source: http://truth-out.org/news/item/43617-inside-the-us-military-recruitment-program- that-trained-nikolas-cruz-to-be-a-very-good-shot)
A few concluding thoughts
For those who have the time amidst busy lives, amidst unending news about so many crises and situations and people in need of support, and amidst time-demanding important commitments, you might also have some energy and some time to:
Help vote out Republicans and Democrats with high NTA ratings.
Educate people about the Second Amendment and be aware how the conservative Supreme Court could decide to eliminate just about all restrictions on gun ownership.
Investigate the extremist views of the NRA and share the information
Lend some support to the students who are challenging the lack of effective gun regulation and whose schools often need much better government support for their educational missions than they receive.
Identify and support congressional and state legislators who support reasonable gun regulation.