Gun Policy: Where do we go from here?

  • April 2, 2021
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Gun Policy: Where do we go from here? – Republican Article

In light of the mass shootings in Boulder, Colorado and Atlanta, Georgia, President Joe Biden renewed his call for gun control measures. Unsurprisingly, it includes the same staid and unimaginative policies of “assault weapon” bans and universal background checks. Those policies are largely decorative.

From 1994 to 2004, the United States banned certain semiautomatic rifles deemed “assault weapons”. However, the law largely focused on aesthetic features such as pistol grips or collapsible stocks, which have no bearing on the functionality of the weapon. Indeed, that period saw similar mass shooting death numbers when compared to the period immediately preceding the ban.

More broadly, rifles in general – a category inclusive of, albeit far more expansive than “assault weapons” – were used in 403 of the 10,982 homicides in the United States in 2017. The effect of bans on “assault weapons” or even semiautomatics would be marginal in ameliorating America’s significant gun violence problem.

From a pragmatic standpoint, it is possible that the Supreme Court will strike down assault weapon bans as unconstitutional. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, likely the new swing vote on the court, wrote a dissent in 2010 arguing in favor of striking down the District of Columbia’s restrictions on semiautomatic rifles.

Background checks may be helpful. However, most of America’s mass shooters, including the ones in Parkland, Miami, and Las Vegas acquired their guns through a licensed dealer, a process that requires passing a federal background check. Like assault weapons bans, universal background checks may make some feel safer without materially enhancing security.

There is a better way: a political compromise that protects America’s gun culture whilst limiting gun violence. It also does not run afoul of the constitution.

The United States should have a national gun licensing regime that mandates training and a mental health examination with periodic re-examinations. In exchange, this new regime will allow for nationwide concealed carry, stand-your-ground laws, and the loosening of restrictions on short-barreled rifles and suppressors.

The key problem with background checks is that they prevent those with extant criminal records from acquiring firearms. Many mass shooters were not seasoned criminals but faced psychological maladies nonetheless. Under the current regime, mass shooters are frequently able to buy guns through legal channels. By requiring training and a psychological examination, problematic figures, including many of America’s mass shooters will be weeded out. Consequently, most who wish to cause harm would be unable to acquire firearms.

Accompanying a licensing regime, weapons restricted under the 1934 National Firearms Act, such as short-barreled rifles and suppressed firearms, can be unrestricted without a significant risk for public safety. With such a regime it would be exceedingly difficult for criminals to acquire these weapons.

Also, there would be no reason to expect the overwhelming majority of gun owners to misuse concealed carry or stand-your-ground laws. By allowing a licensing regime, we can simultaneously protect the lives of innocent Americans from gun violence and expand the scope of gun rights. Both gun rights and gun control advocates can go home and claim victory.

This is not just abstract hypothesizing but based on real public policy. Switzerland has a significant gun culture; it also requires training and licensing for the private ownership and acquisition of firearms and ammunition ownership. Their rate of gun violence is significantly lower than that of the United States. By replicating Switzerland’s training and psychological examinations, we can reduce the rate of gun violence in our country by keeping guns from those who wish to do harm.

While some have fantastical calls to repeal the Second Amendment or to re-interpret it as a collective right to own guns while serving in a “militia” (ergo not that such an interpretation would allow for all forms of gun control), the individual right interpretation of the Second Amendment is here to stay.

Accepting this, it is important for gun policy to be compliant with the Second Amendment. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S Supreme Court ruling which first held that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual right to own firearms, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court noted that the individual right to own firearms is “not unlimited”. He goes on to make clear that “laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms” do not run afoul of the Second Amendment. A licensing regime, which imposes “conditions and qualifications” on those who may buy arms clearly falls within the zone of constitutional gun policy.

But why not just ban all guns? Indeed, Switzerland’s significant gun culture has resulted in a homicide rate higher than some (but not all) European states with very restrictive gun laws (such as the UK).

First, America has about as many guns as people. Notwithstanding the fact that it would require a constitutional amendment (which isn’t going to happen), complete (or near-complete) disarmament would be an expensive endeavor with no guarantee of success. The United States government, with all its might, was unable to subdue the narcotics trade for almost half a century. It is difficult to imagine the ATF, even with enhanced funding, successfully accomplishing that endeavor.

Second, even if disarmament were possible, one must balance liberty and security. While the gun violence problem in America is significant, America is a country with about as many guns as people. Keeping and using firearms is common liberty enjoyed by the body politic. For those living in rural areas, guns are used for sport, pest control, and for hunting. In short, guns play an integral role in the lives of many Americans.

If security was the only goal of a civilized society, a host of activities including drinking and smoking cigarettes should also be illegal. After all, the social costs of drinking and smoking (think violence, domestic abuse, second-hand smoke) are not insubstantial and well-documented. Instead, governments sensibly recognize that those dangerous activities play an integral role in the lives of many; they should be accordingly regulated rather than completely restricted. A licensing regime is in keeping with that principle.

There is no reason why we cannot allow millions of Americans to own and use the firearms of their choice for sporting, hunting, and self-defense without controlling for gun violence. Licensing is the common-sense solution to America’s gun violence problem.

Written by Republican Writer, Spencer Shia

Point of Information

Too Many Guns is the Problem – A Democratic Response

While I agree with Spencer’s solution to the gun violence problem, it simply is not enough. It is too much of a band-aid solution. We need a multifaceted approach to solve this crisis. This will require focusing on American’s mental health as well as preventing military-style weapons from ending up in the wrong hands. Most importantly, Spencer fails to consider that America’s gun culture may be part of the problem.

In the US, there are more guns than people, with about 1.2 guns per person. The only country that comes remotely close is Yemen with .52 guns per person. Canada, our closest ally and the country we resemble the most only has .34 guns per person. It is a simple fact that countries with fewer guns have fewer gun deaths and fewer mass shootings.

Spencer does a great job of highlighting how Swiss-style legislation would help reduce gun deaths. While I agree with implementing a set of laws like Switzerland’s, Spencer fails to mention that their gun ownership rate is  0.33 per person, which is one of the highest in Europe. The US’ is 3.64 times larger. There are also no open carry laws in Switzerland and it is extremely difficult to obtain a concealed carry permit. Switzerland also has one of the highest rates of gun violence in Europe. The simple truth is that fewer guns result in fewer gun deaths.

This pattern can be seen in Australia as well. After a horrific mass shooting in 1996, Australia banned all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. They also instituted a mandatory buyback program. This is a major difference between the 1994 assault weapons ban, which had a grandfather clause allowing assault weapons made before 1994 to be kept in circulation. This is one of the reasons that the assault weapons ban in the US had a much more modest effect. Australia’s gun homicide rate decreased by 42%, while there was a 74% drop in gun suicides.

While Spencer’s insufficient solution would put a slight dent in the United States’ gun problem, it is highly unlikely to pass because the National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbies against any legislation that limits gun access. The NRA propagates a culture of weapon fetishization based on the false notion that the US is dangerous and the only way to be safe is to own an arsenal of guns. This false notion is often built off racial stereotypes such as the “urban” gangster and the violent “illegal alien”.

They do this to stoke up fear so that gun sales increase, hence the gun manufacturers’ profits. The NRA lobbied (bought off) 199 candidates running for congress in the 2020 election cycle. 98% of those were Republicans. Therefore, any legislation that has the potential of restricting gun ownership will be dead on arrival. The only way for any gun control or even Spencer’s proposal to get passed would be through the abolition or reformation of the filibuster.

The NRA also often proliferates the myth of “the good guy with a gun”. The most memorable instance of this being true would be where a parishioner at a Texas church shot and killed an armed assailant before he could cause carnage within the Church’s walls. What the NRA and gun rights advocates fail to point out is that the parishioner was a trained FBI agent. The other thing the NRA fails to mention is that “a good guy with a gun” is rarely successful. They are more likely to cause more damage and get themselves killed rather than stop the situation.

This myth is so powerful that Florida passed a law subsidizing guns for teachers, instead of adequality funding public schools. All evidence points to an increased number of guns leading to an increased amount of crime and gun deaths. Instead of taking measures that were likely to make schools safer, such as banning assault weapons and limiting access to guns, Florida decided to go in the opposite direction.

Psyche evaluations, training, and gun bans won’t be enough to solve this problem. We need to focus on our nation’s mental health and well-being. Nearly one-third of Americans have reported symptoms of anxiety and depression in 2020. American mental health was already on a rapid decline before the pandemic hit. Suicidal thoughts have also increased. US happiness has also taken a nose-dive over the past decade. Studies find that most mass shooters suffer from loneliness, desperation, and resentment. These can and must be treated through therapy. But limiting access to guns must also be part of the solution.

Overall, Spencer’s proposal would be helpful in alleviating the problem, but it is not nearly enough. To truly end the US’ gun violence epidemic, we need psyche evaluations; licensing; training for anyone who wishes to purchase a firearm; bans on high-capacity magazines and assault-style rifles; as well as a Medicare for all system that would de-stigmatize and increase the accessibility of mental health services. The problem is that none of this is likely to pass with the current state of the Senate. To have any chance at progress on this issue the Senate must abolish or modify the filibuster.

Written by Democratic Writer, Ali Lahrech

Spencer Shia
Republican Writer
Ali Lahrech
Democratic Writer | Website

Hi, I’m Ali and I’m in my third year at the University of Toronto. I’m studying International Relations as my major and Spanish as my minor.

 

I was born and raised in Washington DC to Moroccan parents. This gave me a unique lens with which to observe the country I was raised in. While I am an American citizen, I often have a different perspective than my friends and peers whose families have been in the United States for much longer than mine. Growing up in around DC also gave the unique opportunity of being at the heart of American politics. Ever since President Barrack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 I was hooked.

 

I have always been left of the American center and most closely aligned myself with the Democratic party. While I vote for the Democratic party, like many Americans I’m starting to feel more and more disillusioned with them and the two-party system. The 2016 election is was the catalyst for my dissatisfaction with the American political parties. I had seen the Republican party move further and further right while the Democrats hadn’t really moved left. They had essentially implemented a policy of appeasement towards the Republicans. In summation I was disappointed that the Democrats had bent the knee to Republicans rather than proposing and implementing bold and forward-thinking policies that would help Americans.

 

This disappointment and disillusionment started to transform into optimism after the 2018 midterms. I saw that there was still hope for a bright future for America. The Democratic party had started to shift leftwards, albeit at a snail’s pace. After the 2018 midterms I became a man possessed by American politics. As I dove deeper and deeper into American politics, I realized that we don’t know enough about it. This fact is why I think it is key for all of us, no matter our perspectives, to have a conversation with each other and most importantly listen to one another; so, we better understand one another and where we’re coming from.

 

Therefore, I look forward to sharing my perspective with POI and reading others’ with great enthusiasm.

 

 

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