Moving to the Center on Gun Control

Gun violence and mass shootings are terrible phenomena. First, because of the evil inherent in the tragedy and the loss of life. Second, because of the chaos that descends upon the media platforms. Put quite simply:

On a broader scale, after a gun-related tragedy, social and news media are indeed the worst; they become boiling cauldrons of analysts, pundits, and Americans of all political stripes spouting half-truths and outright lies. When it comes to gun control, two objectives must be met to address gun violence and mass shootings effectively:

  1. Americans on both sides of the issue must confront research and data regarding gun control measures.
  2. Americans on both sides of the issue must reconcile and moderate their beliefs on guns and gun control.

Confronting the Facts

Let us begin by providing research and data on the various gun control measures commonly proposed by the Democrats. The majority of Democrats who advocate for increased gun control legislation support it in the form of universal background checks and registration, closing the “gun show loophole,” and bans on certain types of firearms. While to some Republicans these measures appear to be an attempt at “gun-grabbing,” research does show that many of these measures are successful in curbing gun violence.

  1. Background checks: two studies, the first conducted in 1995, investigated the effects of instituting background checks through the use of permits in the State of Connecticut. After implementing background checks via licenses, gun homicides dropped by 40 percent, and gun-related suicides fell by 15 percent. The second study, conducted in Missouri in 2007, investigated the repeal of its “permit-to-purchase” law, which was similar to the bill passed in Connecticut. After repeal, researchers found that gun homicides in Missouri increased by 23 percent, and gun-related suicides increased by 16-percent.
  2.  Closing the “gun-show loophole”: the gun-show loophole is somewhat harder to address; it does not help that many who advocate for closing it do not know even know how it operates or even if it exists. The “gun-show loophole” is a background check problem. Current federal law requires that firearms dealers obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL). As part of obtaining an FFL, dealers first must determine whether, with the use of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a potential buyer is eligible to purchase that firearm. However, the “gun show loophole” occurs because some firearms vendors are not federally licensed. How is that possible? Unlicensed dealers are not required to obtain an FFL because, theoretically, they are not supposed to be making a living from the sale of firearms. A common example of an unlicensed dealer is an individual selling a gun collection he received as an inheritance. However, it is important to note that the phrase “gun-show loophole” is somewhat misleading. Unlicensed dealers can sell at gun shows, but they can also potentially conduct private, one-on-one transactions, online, or in-person. Again, at its most basic level, the “gun-show loophole” is a background check problem. Congress could mandate that anyone who sells firearms must become federally licensed or mandate that anyone who sells, regardless of license status, conduct checks through NCIS.
  3. Banning types of firearms sold: If it appears that this article is attempting to vindicate the Democratic stance on guns, that is intentional. Some of these Democratic positions on gun control have proven workable at the state level; their position on background checks is reasonable, and statistical evidence supports it. It is not unreasonable to make it harder for wrongdoers to acquire firearms. However, it is entirely unreasonable to ban the sale of certain types of weapons, or even to ban their sale altogether. The 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban is a classic example this sentiment. The law prohibited the sale of semi-automatic rifles and pistols that met a particular set of criteria, such as having a folding stock or a magazine attached to the outside of the firearm. Several studies showed that the ban, in general, did not have any effect on gun violence in the United States for the ten year period it was in place between 1994 and 2004. A National Institute of Justice study from 2004 found no “discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence” from the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Research from the National Research Council supports the conclusions of the NIJ study, also finding that the assault weapons ban did not have “any clear impacts on gun violence outcomes.” Supporters of the ban are likely to argue two points. If Congress had renewed the ban in 2004 and if they had expanded it to covered handguns, the weapons used in the vast majority of homicides, there would have been a significant reduction in gun homicides and gun violence.  Hypothetically speaking, an expanded federal assault weapons ban would be both impractical and also constitutionally impermissible. First, an extended ban to include handguns would be ineffective because of the sheer number of pistols manufactured each year in the United States and because of the amount in circulation already. Over four million handguns were manufactured in 2013. These figures alone suggest that a revised ban would be impotent from the start. Furthermore, any serious attempt to enforce a federal handgun ban would potentially be constitutionally impermissible. In District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), Washington D.C’s handgun possession ban was struck down by the Supreme Court. In the Heller decision, the court found that individuals unaffiliated with a state militia do have a constitutional right to possess firearms for personal self-defense. Following the Heller decision, the Supreme Court in McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010), further held that the Fourteenth Amendment requires that the Second Amendment right to bear arms be applied to the states. It is entirely possible that under these two precedents, any handgun ban on the federal level would be struck down as unconstitutional.

Reconciling & Moderating Our Beliefs

Given the research on gun control, some Republicans need to come to the understanding that the vast majority of Democrats do not want to institute a mass-confiscation of firearms; that is a ludicrous assumption. Mandating stringent background checks does not equate to firearms confiscation nor does it make someone anti-Second Amendment. Rigorous background checks will undoubtedly make the process of obtaining a firearm more time-consuming, but they will decrease the chances of a legally-purchased firearm falling into the wrong hands. When it comes to this issue, Republicans should join the Democrats and”move to the center” by consistently supporting gun legislation that pushes for background checks and responsible firearms dealing at the point of sale.

The Democrats, on the other hand, should continue their push for gun legislation that promotes an expansion of background checks, responsible firearms dealing, and gun safety measures; on the state level, these steps have proven to be effective. However, to “move to the center” on gun control, many Democrats need to meet two objectives. First, many Democrats need to undergo a paradigm shift in their attitude towards guns. Constantly bemoaning America’s “gun culture” and accusing conservative voters of having a gun “fetish” is erroneous and will deter potential Republican support for effective gun control measures; a deep reverence for the Second Amendment does not a fetish make. It is true that the US does have a standing military capable of protecting the American homeland, unlike the America of 1776; millions of Americans are proud to privately own guns because of the role firearms had in the history of our country. Second, the Democrats should de-emphasize their support for measures that restrict the sale of certain types of firearms. In doing so, I believe that the Democrats can win over more Republican support for actions such as universal background checks. More importantly, however, Congressional Democrats should not emulate their fellow party members on the state and local level by instituting the failed gun control schemes that prevent law-abiding individuals from accessing or purchasing firearms.

The United States does not need any more rhetoric about “gun-grabbing” Democrats or “gun-worshipping” Republicans. Instead, it’s time to work together on solutions that will save countless lives in the future.

About Peter Chan

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Peter Chan currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida, where he is a junior at Florida State University studying Economics and Political Science (Go 'Noles!) Peter is deeply committed to the Liberty movement, illustrated by his involvement with College Libertarians, Students for Liberty, and the American Enterprise Institute. When he's not railing against big government, Peter can be found relaxing with a cup of tea and a book or plotting world domination on Civilization V. Follow him on Twitter: @ChineseCon

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