Another mass killing. Another round of politicians offering “thoughts and prayers,” but acting as if nothing else can be or should be done. It doesn’t have to be this way.
When people suggest measures to address gun violence, the response is, invariably, “that wouldn’t eliminate these massacres!” As if there is no middle ground between totally eliminating all bad things and doing absolutely nothing. We don’t think this way about automobile or airplane crashes. We don’t think about medical problems this way. That people revert to such an all-or-nothing response when it comes to guns is purely a function of their unwillingness to do anything, not the inefficacy of taking action.
Indeed, there are several things which could be done to reduce the probability of mass shootings happening again or, at the very least, making them less common and, when they do occur, less deadly.
Unlike some people on the left who talk about gun regulations, I do appreciate that the Second Amendment exists and I appreciate that it limits much of what can be done to address gun violence. The Second Amendment does not, however, foreclose action. Indeed, the landmark Second Amendment case, District of Columbia v. Heller, specifically held that “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.” Justice Scalia’s majority opinion, in fact, provided that all manner of reasonable restrictions — including licensing, background checks and restrictions related to mental illness and the like — could be imposed without offending the Second Amendment.
We can and should work to pass laws or regulations, on the state or federal level, as appropriate, that impose some common sense on a gun industry that, at present, enjoys a shocking lack of oversight due to political cowardice and the power of the gun lobby. The restrictions I favor, which would in no way unreasonably infringe upon people’s legal rights under the Second Amendment as currently interpreted, fall into three categories:
- Strengthening background checks, with particular emphasis placed on determining whether would-be gun owners have a history of mental illness, domestic violence or other violent crimes, be they felonies or misdemeanors. This should be a no-brainer given that study after study has shown that more stringent checks, which flag people with violent tendencies, reduce gun violence, particularly violence between spouses or partners. At the same time, state and federal officials should work together to evaluate whether background check systems in place have full and immediate access to the sorts of records which would, if checked, prohibit people from purchasing guns. Finally, we should close loopholes which allows private sellers at gun shows and on the internet to sell to individuals without background checks. No one who is unfit to own a gun should be able to do so simply because there are holes in our nation’s patchwork of public records and our background check regulations.
- Regulating ammunition capacity, prohibiting magazines which hold dozens or sometimes scores of bullets. These magazines, which have no purpose in hunting or home defense, significantly increase a shooter’s ability to injure and kill large numbers of people quickly without requiring the shooter to reload. The time required to reload can be critical in enabling victims to escape and law enforcement or others to intervene. Large magazine capacity is a common factor in mass shootings, from Sandy Hook to Aurora to Las Vegas to Parkland, Florida.
- Repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). This law, passed in 2005, conferred broad immunity to gun manufacturers and dealers from liability litigation. This safe space for gun manufacturers disincentives them from taking measures that would help prevent negligent gun sales by irresponsible dealers and from making innovations that would make their products safer for responsible use. Few if any industries have the level of lawsuit protection that the gun industry has from civil litigation and, as a result, the gun industry has far fewer incentives to take steps to improve product safety. The data collected before the enactment of this law, by the way, showed that litigation and the threat of litigation against gun manufacturers led to a substantial decrease in guns falling into the hands of criminals in some of our nation’s largest cities. Gun manufacturers should be subject to the risk of litigation due to their negligent or reckless behavior just like any other manufacturer of consumer products.
None of these sorts of regulations would take guns away from law abiding citizens or infringe on the their rights under the Second Amendment. All of them would work to keep guns from falling into the hands of violent criminals and discourage those who would seek to inflict mass casualties.
No, these regulations would not totally eliminate gun violence in this country. Such an expectation is unrealistic and rejecting any reasonable measure because it does not meet that unrealistic expectation would be absurd. Such regulations would, however, go a long way toward reducing gun violence.
Every lawmaker should be asked why they don’t support these measures. Any lawmaker who does not have a good answer should be voted out of office.