November 13, 2019

When it Comes to Guns Reason, Not Rage

A selection of AK and AR rifles are seen for sale at the Pony Express Firearms shop in Parker, Colorado December 7, 2015. Many Americans are stocking up on weapons after the country's worst mass shooting in three years. Gun retailers are reporting surging sales, with customers saying they want to keep handguns and rifles at hand for self-defense in the event of another attack. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

In response to recent gun violence, triggered activists are threatening to “pack” the Supreme Court if it doesn’t overturn the Second Amendment, and “active shooter” drills in K-12 schools include students and teachers huddling in silence, hiding from an imaginary gunman.

Fear over gun violence and proposed gun bans increase gun sales and applications for concealed-carry permits for self-defense.

It’s usually a bad idea to determine public policy as a result of emotion rather than reason. Let’s maintain reason and enforce the many gun-control measures already on the books, including banning purchases by ex-felons, youth and “at-risk” individuals who are dangerous or mentally ill.

Americans widely support waiting periods and background checks on gun purchases, closing gun-show loopholes, and using “smart” guns usable only by the registered owner. We also should restrict high-capacity magazines, military-style weapons and cop-killer bullets.

Other sensible ideas include community outreach and policing strategies such as voluntary gun-buyback programs, stiff sentencing laws, educational programs, federal research on gun violence and more local mental health and teen counseling facilities. Trained retired cops and former military personnel may offer security and deterrence in public spaces.

The media should refuse to reveal the names of perpetrators seeking fame via “suicide by terror.” Parents should monitor malign “trolling” on the anonymous dark web 4chan and 8chan internet message boards.

Our nation has long supported gun control. One cannot board an airplane with a firearm. There is no shortage of thoughtful ideas, but efforts aimed at outright gun bans have failed miserably, as in violence-plagued Chicago, because guns are easily transportable across state lines.

Liberal legal scholar Michael Waldman writes in “The Second Amendment: A Biography” that as government has grown increasingly powerful and dominant in our lives, public agitation (empowered by the NRA and its political and financial clout) has risen in defense of gun ownership. The U.S. Supreme Court formally ruled in favor of an individual citizen’s right to own guns in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).

Centrist UCLA law professor Adam Winkler documents that gun control always has accompanied gun ownership in his study “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.”

What we need is less ideology and more compromise.

Conservative John Lott Jr., author of “More Guns, Less Crime,” argues the wrong people have guns. Responsible gun owners acquire training in the use of guns, and may deter potential crime as first responders. Lott explains that gun-free zones (or, for example, a woman living alone) are identifiable targets, as criminals don’t obey gun restrictions.

There is no magic bullet in our continuing national debate over gun violence in America, where firearm-related deaths are far higher than in other nations.

Over the past 50 years, some 1.5 million of our fellow citizens have died by gunfire from suicide (the most common cause) or by criminal homicide, or in much smaller numbers due to accident or negligence.

Gun violence most often occurs in urban areas and frequently is associated with young adult or juvenile males, often in gangs. The majority of these shootings involve handguns, not automatic (multiple shots per trigger) or semi-automatic (one shot per trigger) assault weapons.

There are some 300 to 400 million pistols, revolvers, rifles and shotguns throughout the country, with private household gun ownership estimated at 30 to 40%.

The growing popularity of the AR-15 has introduced Vietnam War-style weaponry into the civilian life of our country. Mass-shooting tragedies at schools, malls, outdoor concerts and festivals produce public panic, but account for only a tiny fraction of gun-related deaths.

Our culture wars reveal a similarity between the gun debate and the abortion debate, with the political sides each advocating, alternately, for limited government and protected individual constitutional rights on the one hand, and federal and state government restrictions on the other.

What we need is less ideology and more compromise. The NRA could endorse legislation raising the age to buy firearms.

Effective gun control has broad support. Let’s be rational, not reactionary, and enforce the law to protect our communities.

Larry Greenfield is a fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship & Political Philosophy.