Several weeks ago, George Zimmerman, the man acquitted of murder in the shooting death of an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, made an appearance at a Florida gun show as the guest of honor. Zimmerman was invited by the gun show’s organizer, who had supported Zimmerman at his trial, to help promote the event by signing autographs. The appalling reaction of several of my right-wing acquaintances after I complained on Facebook about the celebration of Zimmerman as a hero prompted me to write this post.
These are the basic facts of the case as I understand them: Trayvon Martin was doing nothing wrong, walking home from a convenience store, when he was stalked by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who was suspicious that Martin could be a burglar. Rather than waiting for the police to handle the situation, as is the duty of a neighborhood watchman, and contrary to the directives of the 911 operator with whom Zimmerman spoke, Zimmerman got out of his car and confronted Martin. We may never know who threw the first punch, but it should not matter. Even if it was Martin, doesn’t an unarmed kid have the right to defend himself from a stalker? If George’s plea in his trial was that he shot Martin in self-defense, what about the right to self-defense for an unarmed teen who was stalked by an over-zealous neighborhood watchman, while walking home in the dark?
Although I did not grow up in a home with guns, I was exposed to them at an early age. From the annual Boy Scout summer camp to visits with extended family, I had frequent opportunities to use guns, and as an adult, have thoroughly enjoyed periodic recreational shooting as well as have taken weeks of firearms aptitude and safety courses. While I do not currently own a gun, I plan to purchase a handgun and a long gun in the near future, both for personal recreation and for family protection.
I believe that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to bear arms. I was pleased when the Supreme Court overturned a ban in 2008 on handguns in Washington D.C. (D.C. vs. Heller) as I thought the D.C. law was overly restrictive and infringed on an individual’s right to protect their family in the home. I want to be sure that I always have the personal right to own and bear firearms. Furthermore, I am convinced that an assault weapons ban would be largely ineffective in reducing gun violence and my fellow liberals’ push for such a ban is misguided. I do not favor wide-scale bans of handguns, semi-automatic rifles, or shotguns and oppose any confiscation of lawfully-owned guns. I understand gun activists’ fear of confiscation because, while many may think confiscation could never happen in our country, most are surprised to learn that local police actually confiscated guns from law-abiding citizens (even from some who were in their own homes) in New Orleans during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster at precisely the moment when a law-abiding citizen would want a gun for personal protection.
In the aftermath of any mass shooting in the U.S., an all-or-nothing rhetoric about guns typically infects the public discourse regarding what ought to be done to prevent such tragedies in the future. In many communities, inhabitants are warned that the government has a hidden agenda seeking to ban all future gun sales and intends to confiscate privately owned firearms. “Obama wants to take your guns away,” we are warned. Far too many Americans have accepted the all-or-nothing gun law paradigm, and believe that any attempt by government to place even the most modest of restrictions on how guns are acquired, what firearms can be sold publicly, and where they are carried, as an egregious intrusion on a supposedly inalienable right.Read more
Recently the US Senate fell short of passing the most reasonable gun control measure ever brought to the Congressional floor by six votes (54 votes -- just a few shy of blocking a filibuster). The legislation was centered on closing background check loopholes involving private sellers at gun shows and through online sales. The legislation would not create a national registry of gun owners (although this was the main point of the disinformation campaign of the NRA), nor did it ban any specific weapon or magazines. The legislation was written by a bi-partisan senatorial duo, Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Manchin, and was supported by 85%-90% of American citizens according to every major poll.
Currently there is a background check system in place that is used by all licensed sellers. In the past year there were 150,000 firearm applicants denied. Since 1994 a staggering 1.9 million applicants have been rejected. These applicants were denied because of mental illness, criminal record, drug usage, illegal alien status, domestic abuse, and various other reasons. Even more telling, only 1% of all firearm rejections are ever appealed; revealing the applicant always complied with the verdict.
Even in the face of such overwhelming data I have heard opinions from several friends that background checks do not work, and a criminal will find a way to purchase a gun regardless of laws. This same type of argument was used against The Brady Bill in 1994 in regards to waiting periods. President Ronald Reagan responded “Critics claim that ‘waiting period’ legislation in the states that have it doesn't work, that criminals just go to nearby states that lack such laws to buy their weapons. True enough, and all the more reason to have a Federal law that fills the gaps.” Background check legislation, like the Brady Bill legislation, is designed to “fill the gaps."
It appears that Congress has fallen for the faulty logic of the opposition. While I agree with critics that motivated criminals will find ways around laws, they will have a tougher time navigating market dynamics. If background checks prohibit a single purchase, the price of firearms will rise for those unable to go through licensed sellers. A criminal will have to find a different way to acquire a weapon than from an online seller or an unlicensed dealer at a gun show. Expanding background checks will also facilitate responsible sales between family, friends, and acquaintances. These constraints on the supply will have negative pressure on price, and increase the risk of a potential gun buyer being caught through illicit acquisition.
If opponents to background check legislation believe that any such law is inefficient and impacts our second amendment rights, would they be willing to support a total repeal of all background checks? Highly unlikely. Why? Because opposing this legislation has little to do with the implied efficacy of the law or the second amendment, and more to do with political ideology. Background check legislation died with the divisive spirit of our representatives, who would rather shoot themselves in the foot than shake hands in the center.
The recent mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut reinvigorated the national debate about gun control. While I believe that additional measures must be adopted to make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain firearms, it is equally important that Americans evaluate other areas in our society that may contribute to violent crime.
One major area where we need significant reform is mental health care. Because I am not a mental health professional, I am not qualified to give many specifics about improvements to mental health care; however, the recent mass shootings have clearly demonstrated significant failures in properly identifying and treating mental illness. Rather than just prescribing psychotropic drugs for people who are mentally ill, sending them home and calling it a day, we need to ensure that individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others are promptly committed, even against their will, to secure mental health facilities where they can receive appropriate treatment.
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
There is probably no other section of our Constitution that is currently more controversial than this one. In my own opinion, the amendment guarantees the right of the people to keep and bear arms only in the context of a well-regulated militia. I invite any old English grammar experts to render an honest opinion on the literal meaning of that sentence. I am not one, but I cannot interpret it in any way that does not link the right of the people to "keep and bear Arms" to a "well regulated Militia." Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Number 29, "If a well regulated militia be the most natural defence of a free country, it ought certainly to be under the regulation and at the disposal of that body which is constituted the guardian of the national security." Of course, the body he was referring to was the Executive Branch.Read more
The gunman in the Tucson shooting rampage that killed six people and injured many others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, acquired his handgun legally, despite many warning signs to those around him that he was a very mentally unstable young man. In executing his plot, Jared Loughner used a Glock 19 with a high-capacity magazine. The purpose of such a magazine is to enable a shooter to fire a high number of rounds in a short period-- to allow for maximum rapid fire without reloading. Loughner's high-capacity magazine held twice as many rounds as a normal Glock magazine (30 rounds rather than 15). Recall that he was not neutralized by bystanders until he had emptied his first magazine and attempted to reload. Think of how things might have been different had Loughner only had a normal-sized magazine with 15 rounds. How many fewer people would have been killed or injured? This type of high-capacity magazine was illegal prior to the 2004 expiration of the assault weapons ban. Had Congress and the prior administration acted in 2004 to extend the ban, there would have almost definitely been fewer casualties in Tucson in 2011.Read more