- Martin Luther King, Jr., (New York Amsterdam News, Dec. 1963)
Are mass slayings of innocent men, women and children with guns something that we have to just accept in America? Should we become more serious about restricting access to guns? After the recent and tragic shooting in Arizona, many individuals are now contemplating whether legislative actions should be implemented to prevent people like the alleged gunmen Jared Lee Loughner from destroying lives. Over the past few days, the very common cliché that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” has been repeated over and over in the cable chatter. Certainly, this statement is a fact when the veneer is removed, but it is also true that it is easier for people to kill people if they use guns.
A plethora of gun rights advocates have voiced strong opinions that fire-arms are not the problem and that the introduction of stricter laws to control guns is unnecessary. Conversely, some protagonists of gun control and interpreters of constitutional law have passionately exclaimed that private citizens should not be allowed to possess guns. Who is right?
First, should all civilians be banned from possessing any kind of firearm? To be sure, the Second Amendment does preserve and guarantee the right of individuals to keep and bear arms. This interpretation has been clearly supported by pre-twentieth century Supreme Court decisions (e.g., Andrews v. State), a recent Supreme Court ruling (i.e., District of Columbia v. Heller), writings of the Founding Fathers and early constitutional commentaries (i.e., The Federalist Papers, The 1833 Commentary on the Constitution of the United States, etc.). However, it is relatively safe to state that not everyone- specifically, criminals and dangerously mentally ill- should be able to have a gun and be able to take it anywhere. Objective evidence and statistics do indicate that nearly 100,000 people are shot in our country every year and almost 90% of murders and gun violence are committed by convicted felons. Hence, although we do have the right to keep and bear arms, there are clearly problems that exist within the context of private ownership of guns.
As aforementioned, myriad individuals who support gun rights truly believe that stricter laws are unnecessary. Is this a valid viewpoint? Well, there are no easy answers relative to this question. There are some commentators who would state that more restrictive gun laws can actually lead to more deaths. Though not universally true, this has been exhibited in Brazil, New Jersey, Hawaii, District of Columbia, Illinois, etc.
Certain gun right advocates would also make the assertion that stricter gun control laws would not affect felons because they purchase their guns illegally. To a large degree, this statement is valid. Certainly, criminals and “crazy” people will always find a way to obtain firearms, exclusive of the legal framework for guns. Still, the continuous improvement of gun control legislation in our country is sorely needed.
Without ambiguity, it is relatively safe to state that reasonable gun control proposals that are consistent with Second Amendment rights should be considered by Congressional lawmakers. Recommended discussions and civil debates should focus, at a minimum, on the following legislative propositions to close existing loopholes:
· Extending background checks to all gun sales, including gun show sales. Currently, unlicensed sellers are permitted by law to sell firearms with no background check whatsoever. Thus, criminals can easily purchase firearms through the Internet, newspaper ad, gun show or flea market.
· Implementing a 1000-foot zone around federal officials in which no guns are allowed;
· Prohibiting known or suspected terrorists from buying or possessing firearms;
· Prohibiting criminals who have been convicted of certain violent misdemeanors from gun possession;
· Restricting high-volume handgun sales to reduce trafficking;
· Timely reporting of lost or stolen guns; and,
· Ban on assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines and armor-piercing bullets.
On the whole, overly prohibitive gun control laws may not be needed, but effective laws that make sense are certainly warranted. Currently, it is simply too easy for dangerous people to obtain dangerous weapons. The weak gun control laws that we have to date with all of the loopholes must be amended or replaced with reasonable laws and public policies that will protect our families and communities from senseless gun violence.
Anthony Jerrod is a bestselling author, speaker, and public policy expert.