I’m not optimistic that the United States will, even in the face of another wave of mass shootings, do anything serious about the problem of gun violence in our country. Even though a majority of Americans support stricter gun control laws, one party has become so reactionary on the issue that they believe their absolutist position on the Second Amendment even outweighs their hysterical fear of terrorism, and completely bought and paid for by the NRA, opposes even the most sensible restrictions on gun ownership.
When the “debate” about gun violence in this country consists of one side timidly proposing suggestions to reduce the threat of guns in our society before being screamed down by the other side screaming “Tyranny!” and accusing the President of wanting to confiscate our guns in order to implement Sharia law, there’s little chance of meaningful change, but perhaps the latest wave of gun violence will start a conversation.
Let me start with a couple of premises:
- There is no credible movement to ban or confiscate guns in the United States, NRA fear mongering notwithstanding.
- The staggering (and growing) number of guns in private hands in the United States right now badly complicates policy solutions, a fact that no doubt at least partially explains why the NRA keeps stoking fears of gun shortages and confiscations to encourage more gun purchases.
- The Second Amendment does not guarantee an absolute, unfettered right to keep private weapons. Even the current Supreme Court, which broadly expanded the concept of the right to bear arms, acknowledges that.
- Mass shootings get the most attention from the media, but the total number of gun deaths in the United States: over 400,000 since 2001, is staggering and shameful. If those who oppose gun control oppose every measure to reduce that number, surely the onus must be on them to explain how we prevent 30,000 needless deaths in the United States every year.
What follows are five steps that I believe we should take immediately.
End the Ban on Public Health Research about Gun Violence
This should be the least controversial proposal. For twenty years, led by the NRA, Congress has banned public funding for research on gun violence under a provision called the Dickey Amendment. Even the Congressman who initially passed the ban believes it was a mistake, telling the Huffington Post that “I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time.”
There is simply no defensible argument for maintaining the ban, which has prevented research into safer gun technology, the real impact of gun violence, and solutions to the public health crisis that is suicide by gun.
Conservatives argue, often, with the support of badly constructed studies, that guns increase public safety. If they truly believe these claims, surely there is no reason to ban research into gun violence.
Apply the Terrorist No Fly List to Gun Purchases
There are defensible arguments why the “No Fly” list is problematic in the United States, but it’s not a credible position to take for conservatives to argue that list should be permitted to control air travel and not restrict weapon purchases. Last week, Republicans in the Congress, including Ryan Zinke and Steve Daines, voted with the NRA to allow people on the list to continue buying guns. In the absence of a call to abolish the No Fly lists, that’s an indefensible position at best and shameless political pandering at worst.
Require Proof of Training for Gun Purchases
It seems self-evident that gun ownership should come with minimal responsibility for training in gun use and safety. While such a provision would do little for the 300 million guns in circulation in the United States right now, requiring proof of having passed a gun safety course for future purchases might help limit the number of accidental deaths and suicides by gun that plague the country.
Mandate Liability Insurance for Gun Owners
Robert Frank, professor of economics at Cornell, argues that “Nothing in the constitution grants people the right to expose others to serious risk without compensation. Insurance sellers are skillful at estimating the risks posed by drivers with specific characteristics, and we could expect them to be similarly skillful at assessing the risks posed by gun owners.”
It’s a sensible, and long overdue solution. Gun ownership is inherently a risky endeavor, not just to the person who owns the gun, but to others who might be killed or wounded by the gun. Requiring gun owners to buy insurance will perhaps encourage more responsible behavior by gun owners and help cover the enormous costs when things go wrong, as they so often do.
Close the Gun Show Loophole
Background checks simply cannot be an effective tool to keep guns from criminals if the laws can be so easily circumvented by private sales. A study by Katherine Vittes in the journal Injury Prevention found that 96.1% of state inmates convicted of gun offenses bought their guns from private sellers, and the
David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College, argues that “fixing this would be one of the single most important things we could do to address overall gun violence.”
Even Wayne LaPierre, current head of the NRA, argued for background checks, saying in 1999 that the NRA “think[s] it is reasonable to provide mandatory, instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone.”
This is an open thread.