Exploring common — and uncommon — aspects of the gun control debate
Thursday, August 22, 2019
The Parkland, Florida, school shooting in early 2018 incident politicized gun control in a new way, and recently, mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, kick-started the conversation yet again.
Many people talk about their desire for stronger gun regulations, especially after mass shootings, which grow more frequent with time, but there is little to show from these discussions.
The “background check issue” appears to be the aspect of gun control with the most supporters in recent polls, at 89%. A majority of people polled also support various other control measures, ranging from red flagging certain purchases, voluntary buyback programs, and semi-automatic weapons bans. It appears that one form of gun people won’t give up is the handgun, of which only 25% support banning.
President Trump is predictably wavering on gun reform legislation — recently moving from considering broader arms protections to a mental health and gun crimes prosecution focus — amidst circulating rumors that a proposal will be available next month.
Reform activists aren’t waiting. But this is not such an easy issue, either. Parkland shooting survivors have released a gun control plan formulated by student activists from March for Our Lives. This Peace Plan is readily available on the group’s website.
The group supports much more than strengthened background checks. Instead, it champions a: “multi-step approval process, overseen by a law enforcement agency, that requires background checks, in-person interviews, personal references, rigorous gun safety training, and a waiting period of 10 days for each gun purchase.” This is already more than the National Rifle Association (NRA) will consider, as Trump’s recent NRA-friendly comments reveal.
There is much more than background check legislation circulating as reform ideas accrue with the number of mass shootings.
For example, there’s annual national gun and licensing fees for anyone 21 or older; a cap on monthly purchases to one weapon; a ban on online firearms (including parts) sales and transfers; nationally standardized safe storage and gun locking requirements; and a lost or stolen gun report requirement within 72 hours.
As we consider Second Amendment diehards, and the urgent feelings of gun violence survivors, think about difficulties inherent in implementing even one of the above reforms activists seek. This is to say that while it’s admirable to aim for reduced violence, the NRA will complicate any concrete proposal with an appeal to pragmatism.
Case in point, how could the federal government implement something like a “lost or stolen gun report within 72 hours?”
If a gun shows up at a police station and no one claims it, they will inevitably look at the serial number and match it. If that leads to a proper residential address, is it suggested that the police can apprehend a suspect for not reporting the gun within three days after being stolen? How realistic is this, or even desirable, when the gun is already in police hands?
Of course, gun control advocates are prepared to defend proposals like these, and more significantly, the NRA will attack so-called “pie in the sky” reforms like the 72-hour report requirement.
Also, as reform measures get more detailed, they lose credibility when one of the most obvious issues is overlooked: gun manufacturer regulations themselves. We have seen the process occur with the tobacco industry, where it has taken decades to simply mandate company ads warning of danger to tobacco users.
The U.S. has the world’s largest military budget of almost 1 trillion dollars — $989 billion, to be exact, covering the period Oct. 1, 2019, through Sept. 30, 2020. This large expenditure begs questions of weapons/arms manufacturing and distribution — but this focus is suspiciously absent from the debate.
Imagine if you flipped on your television and court-ordered ads appeared from big arms manufacturers warning of public health and safety precautions for gun-handlers?
This is a multibillion dollar industry, beginning with Smith and Wesson reporting $773 million; Remington Outdoor second at $603 million; and Sturm, Ruger, and Co. at $517.7 million in sales in 2017 alone. That same year, nearly 40,000 people died in the U.S. from gun-related deaths.
Manufacturing accountability here would be key and is sorely missing from current discussions. With all of the recent attention paid to the topic, it’s surprising that the last major manufacturer reforms were over one decade ago: “In 2005, Congress enacted a law that immunizes gun dealers and manufacturers from liability for injuries resulting in the ‘criminal or unlawful misuse’ of a firearm.”
Simply stated, gun manufacturers cannot be sued for altercations resulting in “third party” injuries or deaths. How ownership reforms would “trickle up” to manufacturers, who hold the key to market saturation, is a topic looming over the debates.
Swing state Florida is currently considering an assault weapons ban, which would impact manufacturing. But that is all states appear to have as a legislative tool of their own: local laws indirectly impacting the supply side chain of weapons flow, with strident regulations aiming at the demand side (ownership) or government paper trails (background checks, etc.) instead.
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