President Donald Trump, like all Presidents since the 1999 Columbine School Shooting, has been forced to confront the issues of mass killings and gun violence in the wake of the Parkland School Shooting. To Trump’s credit, he has reached out to victims of violence through a public forum labeled a "listening session." Unfortunately, he reacted as an intuition-driven thinker, who practices an emotion-based reactionary leadership style, would be expected to react. Already instructing Attorney General Jess Sessions to regulate the use of so-called “bump stocks,” without analyzing the effectiveness, Constitutionality, or practicality of the policy shift, Mr. Trump is considering increasing the minimum age to buy an assault rifle to twenty-one, conducting more active shooter drills, and toughening background checks with mental health screenings.
While the emotional outpouring from victims of gun violence is clearly influencing Trump’s emerging gun-control policy agenda, backlash against the the undue influence the NRA has over the US government and Trump’s connections to the NRA are likely other major factors. Quite frankly, the NRA does have too much influence over America’s gun laws. More importantly, the NRA is not actually interested in protecting the Second Amendment or addressing issues like gun violence. The NRA is a business, which happens to sell representation to the gun industry and gun enthusiasts, that needs to make money in order to sustain its business model. Regrettably, the NRA has become little more than a lobbying firm that opposes new and existing regulations, yet does little to actually preserve the Second Amendment or balance public safety with freedom.
That said, it is important to recognize increased responsibility on behalf of gun owners and sellers is not enough to address violent crime. Increased legal restrictions on the sale and ownership of guns cannot eliminate violent crime. The reasons people chose to engage in violent attacks need to be addressed, which is a challenge that political officials tend to avoid. While gun advocates can be blamed for resisting even the most reasonable measures to safeguard the public from those who will abuse their Second Amendment Rights to attack others, a single-mind pursuit of increasingly tighter bans and legal restrictions on gun ownership creates unnecessary conflict. In order to address the negative impact guns have on communities throughout the United States, both advocates for gun rights and advocates for gun control need to pursue a balanced legislative agenda.
The failure to defend the civil liberties of one is a failure to defend the civil liberties of all. This is particularly true when it is inconvenient or offensive to do so. For the sake of ease and self-interest, it is tempting to simply reason away the rights of others, or even deny their existence, yet the failure to defend the freedoms of others undermines the freedoms of everyone. When it comes to addressing gun violence, the need to balance Second Amendment rights with gun control measures is no different. Just as free speech and religious freedom from government persecution are civil liberties, so is the right to own and bear arms. Americans are accustom to hearing the “civil liberty” term attached to Left-wing causes, but that does not disqualify gun rights from their status as civil liberties. Civil liberties, also known as cultural or social rights, are fundamental rights afforded to all citizens of a nation, thus must be upheld and honored.
The NRA and the rest of the gun-lobby can protect the Second Amendment and support policies that restrict the ability of violent criminals to access guns. Proponents of gun control can also restrict the ability of violent criminals to access guns and protect the Second Amendment rights of the American People. The Trump Administration can, in turn, work with the Republican-controlled Congress to implement policies that actually address gun violence and protect the Second Amendment rights of the American People. President Barack Obama, for example, tried to embrace a balanced approach by regulating the shadows were criminals obtained their weapons instead of placing added burdens on law-abiding citizens.
Expanding background requirements to include virtually all sales and requiring shippers to notify the ATF of lost guns began moving the debate away from gun control tactics that seek to limit gun access and raise the cost of guns. With his bump stock executive order, Trump is moving the debate back in the wrong direction. Frankly, local, State, and federal law enforcement agencies should be sharing information on known criminals. Obama embraced policies that avoided legitimate Second Amendment concerns in order to earn the support of the American majority, who want to be safe from gun violence and want to secure their Civil Rights. The Trump administration and the gun-lobby would be wise to follow Obama’s example. Not only does the emerging Trump gun-control public policy agenda completely ignore Second Amendment concerns, it will likely do very little to actually address gun violence.
Whether someone purchases a handgun at 18 or 21 has no impact on their intended use for that gun. In fact, this is an area where groups like the NRA continually demonstrate their failure to actually support the Second Amendment. Where the 2010 Supreme Court Case McDonald V. Chicago reaffirmed the fact the Second Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment protect the right of all US citizens to own and bear arms, one must still be twenty-one or older to purchase a handgun. The freedoms of minors are truncated due to the need for parental oversight, but there is no compelling reason to limit the Constitutional rights of a legal adult based on age. Under the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, however, there is a compelling interest to restrict the gun rights of criminals who have been convicted of violent crimes. Consequently, the gun-lobby can protect the Second Amendment and support policies that restrict the ability of violent criminals to access guns.
Meanwhile, mental illness is not necessarily the cause of anger and violence. What mental illnesses do is overwhelm, or prevent individuals from learning, the inhibitions they need to function properly in society. As such, certain mental illnesses make it more likely individuals will respond violently in inappropriate situations and in inappropriate ways. Behavioral modifiers like drugs, alcohol, extreme stress, and toxic relationships can also play just as significant of a role in violent crime as certain mental illnesses. Because mental illnesses include a broad range of conditions that impact the functionality of people to varying degrees, the impulse to simply blame mental illness when a mass killing occurs stigmatizes those suffering from mental illness. Punishing people with mental illnesses also makes already reluctant individuals suffering from mental illness more hesitant to address their issues while depriving them of the social support structure they need to face their demons.
Not only would a policy, which automatically discriminates against those who suffer from mental illness, violate the rights of those individuals, it would do little to actually stop violent crime. Measures like enacting a so-called temporary Gun Violence Restraining Order, or GVRO, would be effective and balanced, but they would not address most gun violence. It is important to remember the sole reason for discussing the cause of a crime is to help prevent future crimes. Framing violent acts as a result of mental illness prevents society from properly addressing the factors that lead to violent acts. The truth is that anger and violence are part of human nature, thus these elements of our personality need to be recognized and controlled. The discussion of mental illness when it comes to violent crimes must focus on how mental illness resulted in a particular criminal act and what solutions might prevent particular situations from arising; otherwise, it is a pointless discussion.
With all that in mind, the Trump Administration should consider pursuing a balanced agenda, which should include measures that address the following areas:
1. The Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Shew v. Malloy to overlook a Connecticut ban on certain semi-automatic weapons and large magazines demonstrates a failure to protect Civil Liberties. One major purpose of the Second Amendment is to protect people from government and military oppression. As the military has automatic weapons and the Second Amendment was created, in large part, to counterbalance the might of the military, the Second Amendment guarantees citizens can own these weapons. Instead of banning semi-automatic weapons, “bump stocks,” and large magazines, i.e. violating people’s civil liberties, the focus should be on restricting dangerous people from buying such weapons via higher level permitting for more dangerous weapons.
2. Embracing wait periods on sales of shot guns, pistols, and automatic guns that can used in a heated moment to cause mass causalities.
3. Embracing temporary Gun Violence Restraining Order, or GVRO, to prevent those with mental health issues from accessing guns that might be used to act out any violent and suicidal impulses or plans.
4. Identifying when the government has a compelling state interest to restrict an individual’s Second Amendment rights.
5. Embracing more extensive background checks for automatic weapons.
6. Obtaining subsidies for gun safety training as part of a requirement for carrying permits to encourage safe handling of guns.
7. Gun owners must handle their guns responsibility. When they are not using their guns, they need to store them in a safe and secure means. As such, public policy should clarify and increase the legal penalties for negligent gun owners whose weapons are lost or stolen and never reported lost or stolen.
8. Crafting a streamlined process that allows individuals, who have had their Second Amendment Rights restricted due to criminal records and mental illness, to restore their Constitutionally guaranteed rights.
9. Restoring the full Second Amendment Rights of law-abiding citizens who are 18 and over by allowing them to purchase handguns and shotguns where they are prohibited from doing so.
10. Obtaining subsidies for permitting to alleviate the financial constraints that impede the Second Amendment Rights of the poor.
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