I agree with Ray Simpson's statement, "Congress would need to create new laws to force gun owners into compliance and then convince the judiciary to enforce those laws. Key to this … is to convince bad individuals to start to comply with the rules of modern society." [Practical thoughts on gun violence, Viewpoints, June 13]
This is exactly the crux of the matter when it comes to gun violence: Bad people will not comply with any such rules precisely because they are bad. With approximately 300 million guns in private hands in the U.S., bad people (and people who have a serious mental health problem or crisis) will never have much difficulty obtaining a gun to do harm to others or themselves.
So how to reduce the risk that people who should not have access to guns cannot obtain a gun? First, and perhaps immediately most effective, is to require by local ordinance or state or federal statute that gun owners store their guns safely in a way that they cannot be stolen or accessed by others who do not have a gun license, such as a household member who might want to kill him/herself or others. Such an ordinance or law could be aggressively enforced by prosecuting anyone whose gun is stolen and retrieved by police when used in a crime, or anyone whose gun is used by someone else to commit suicide.
Second, universal background checks on each and every transfer of gun ownership will reduce the number of guns ending up in the wrong hands and being used in a crime or suicide.
Simpson is apparently poorly informed when he states that the concept of "Universal Background Check" is poorly defined and that the "gun show loophole" and the "internet sales problem" are nonexistent because they are not. Although the extent of these loopholes may not be absolutely defined, I have read estimates of 20 to 40 percent of gun ownership transfers not currently requiring a federal background check.
Of note, in a Quinnipiac poll conducted after the Parkland school shooting, 97% of those polled were in favor of universal background checks.
Third, there is a small percentage of federally licensed gun dealers who are mala fide and allow gun sales to straw buyers and people without a proper license. Although the ATF conducts inspections, "regulators are wary of punishing gun stores that break the law, a review of internal inspection reports and interviews with officials show [New York Times, June 3]."
State level licensing is rare and does not exist in Illinois but could be far more effective than what federal inspections can accomplish. After Gov. Rauner vetoed a first version, a new Firearm Dealer License Certification Act (Senate Bill 0337) has now passed both houses in Springfield with bipartisan support, awaiting the Governor's signature.
He needs to do that because approximately 40 percent of guns recovered by the police from crime scenes in Chicago between 2013 and 2016 were sold by Cook County gun dealers and of these 6,000 guns, almost 1,700 were linked to just two Cook County gun dealers (Gun Trace Report 2017, City of Chicago).
There are, of course, many other measures that could be taken to reduce the curse of gun violence in the U.S., including improved mental health care to restrictions on the type and amount of ammunition one can purchase, banning bump stocks, large capacity magazines and assault rifles, etc. But requiring safe gun storage, true universal background checks, and state licensing of gun dealers — with effective enforcement — would go a long way to prevent at least some of the many deaths and injuries, which are often serious and permanently debilitating, and the enormous economic and emotional costs of gun violence.
One could ask, "What has the 2nd Amendment to do with all of this?" Surely, owning a gun to commit suicide or a crime is not constitutionally protected. And why would gun possession for hunting or target shooting need constitutional protection? Other sporting and recreational activities are not constitutionally protected, such as, for example, owning fishing rods for fishing or tennis rackets for playing tennis.
That leaves owning a gun for self-protection, but that does not need constitutional protection because most, if not all, states recognize the legal right to self-protection in some form. In an opinion piece in the New York Times of March 27, in response to the Parkland, Florida, school shooting just days earlier, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens argued in favor of repealing the 2nd Amendment, in essence declaring it archaic. He referred to a unanimous 1939 Supreme Court decision that "Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a "well-regulated militia."
In fact, there have not been well-regulated state militias in the U.S. for over 100 years. It is difficult to understand why the 2008 Supreme Court 5-4 ruling (in the DC vs. Heller case) essentially deleted the first half of the one-sentence 2nd Amendment ("A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state …"). And in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled, also 5-4, in the McDonald vs. Chicago case that the 2nd Amendment means a constitutional right to keep firearms in ones home for self-protection. However, this was clearly not the framers' intention because they would have incorporated such intent in the original text of the 2nd Amendment or at least have explained what they meant in other writings, which they did not do.
It is, of course, naïve to think that repeal of the 2nd Amendment can or will be achieved anytime soon. However, curtailing its reach, such that the National Rifle Association cannot use it as "a propaganda weapon of immense power" (as Justice Stevens put it in his New York Times opinion piece) in support of an ever-expanding firearms industry that does not seem to care about the tens of thousands who die from gun violence every year in the U.S. — with about one mass shooting every day and one school shooting every week.
The least we can and, in fact, have to do is take the common-sense and simple measures to limit the risk of gun violence I have listed above.
Maarten Bosland is an active member of Gun Responsibility Advocates. This viewpoint does not necessarily reflect all positions of that group.
Answer Book 2019
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