“To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good law”
“On the weekend
of July 4th, 2015,
American Independence Day,
55 people were shot and wounded
and 10 were murdered,
a seven-year-old boy.
Where was their freedom?
Where was their right
to life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness?”
Mass shootings understandably are headline news. But little has been done to address gun violence in general. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports that every day 318 people are shot, and 96 die (of whom 34 are murder and 59 are suicide victims). Gun possession and gun deaths are related; gun-related homicides (excluding suicides) haven taken more lives than the US military losses in the Viet Nam war over the past decade alone. All other rich democratic countries have more stringent gun laws, and consequently fewer guns in circulation, and much less gun violence.
Gun-related homicides in the US
There is a mishmash of gun control laws in the US at federal, state and local levels – for example, in Chicago and New York.
Gun control is an unequivocal political and not constitutional issue. The so-called gun culture has been assiduously promoted by gun manufacturers and supported by supine politicians backed by the NRA. Adam Hochschild is good on the evolving perpetuation of a gun culture.
Nonetheless, today more than a third of Americans report that they own a gun, and about 40 % are in a household in which someone has a gun. Ownership is higher among men than women, and more common in rural than suburban and urban areas. Estimates of the total number of guns suggest that there are about one for every man, woman and child in the country. A very small number (about 3%) own half of these guns.
The constitutional debate over the Second Amendment is instructive. In its 2008 ruling (District of Columbia v. Heller) the Supreme Court reaffirmed that an individual has the right to bear arms – Justice Scalia ruled that “law-abiding, responsible citizens” have a right to own a handgun “in defense of hearth and home” – but this right was not absolute, and that this does not prohibit the regulation of firearms nor the firearms industry and the latter’s liability for injury caused by illegal use of firearms.
Initiatives like the March for Our Lives show that attitudes on gun-related violence and gun laws are shifting. And the Marjory Stoneman Douglas pupils have published a manifesto for gun control.
So setting aside a reinterpretation of the Second Amendment, and accepting the current case for the legality of the private ownership of handguns (and hunting and sporting guns), what might be the key elements in a new federal law to regulate private firearm possession and to reduce gun-related violence?
The starting point is that ownership and use comes with responsibility and liability. A gun owner should be licensed and insured. This is no different to buying and driving a car, or borrowing money to buy a property. These are not onerous measures for legitimate gun owners. Nor do they infringe individual liberty. Similarly, the retail trade in guns and ammunition needs to be tightened with unregulated sales made illegal. Also more use should be made of insurance markets to regulate the gun industry. Firearm owners – not least collectors, hunters and sport gun owners – who can show responsible practice in terms of gun protection devices and training are likely to benefit with premium discounts on their liability should a gun be lost, stolen or used by a third party to commit a crime. And funding – both federal and state – will be needed to compensate owners for giving up firearms made illegal by the change in the law, and the cost of destroying these firearms. This will be an initial burden on public finances but will be soon offset by the reduction in the public costs of dealing with gun violence and gun-related crimes.
Here is a three-part framework and suggested plain English wording for a new gun control law.
1. Firearm licenses
- No person under 21 years of age shall be a firearm license holder.
- No person shall own or purchase a firearm or ammunition without a firearm license.
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) shall regulate this Act, and with the FBI vet and approve or deny firearm license applications based on background checks.
- States may issue a firearm license upon approval by the ATF & FBI and subject to any further requirements, including additional age limits, firearms safety training, lengths of waiting periods, and fees as determined by the State.
- A firearm license shall be valid for 5 years only, and may be renewed thereafter.
- A person shall be prohibited from possessing or purchasing a firearm if the individual is:
(a) convicted for violent, firearm-related, and other serious misdemeanors
(b) subject of a domestic violence restraining order, or extreme risk protective order
(c) involuntarily hospitalized or identified as dangerous by mental health professionals or law enforcement agencies
(d) on the consolidated Terrorist Watch List.
- Any person who becomes disqualified from possessing firearms shall surrender the firearms to a local law enforcement agency or sell the firearms to a licensed dealer without delay and within 30 days, or the designated local law enforcement agencies shall seize the firearms.
- A firearm license holder may only purchase a firearm and ammunition in the State in which the firearm license was issued, and the license holder shall present the license at the point of sale.
- A firearm license holder shall declare the ownership of all firearms (make and model and serial number) in the holder’s possession to local law enforcement agencies.
- A firearm license holder may only sell previously-registered firearms to a firearms vendor license holder.
- A firearm license holder may only transfer previously-registered firearms to another firearm license holder.
- A firearm license holder shall only possess or carry a firearm in the State in which the license was issued unless permitted by law in another State.
- A firearm license holder shall report the sale, transfer, loss or theft of a firearm within 48 hours to local law enforcement agencies.
- Failure to declare all firearms or to report a loss or theft may lead to the revocation of the license, a fine or both.
- Any person without a valid firearm license in possession of a firearm or ammunition shall be committing a felony.
2. Firearms vendor licenses
- No person under 21 years of age shall be a firearms vendor license holder.
- No person shall sell, barter, gift, trade or transfer firearms or ammunition without a firearms vendor license.
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) shall vet and approve or deny firearm vendor incense applications based on background checks.
- States may issue a firearm vendor license upon approval by the ATF & FBI and subject to any further requirements, including firearms safety training, and fees as determined by the State.
- A firearm vendor license shall be valid for 5 years only, and may be renewed thereafter.
- A firearm vendor license holder shall report the loss or theft of a firearm within 48 hours to local law enforcement agencies. Failure to report a loss or theft may lead to the revocation of the license.
- A firearm vendor license holder may only sell firearms and ammunition in the State in which the firearm sales license was issued.
- A firearm vendor license holder shall record all sales of firearms and ammunition and report each transfer to State law enforcement agencies within 48 hours.
- The sale, barter, gift, trade or transfer of firearms or ammunition to a person not holding a firearm license shall be a felony.
3. Other provisions
- State law enforcement agencies and the AFT & FBI shall keep firearm background check records and firearm registry records indefinitely.
- Firearms license holders and firearms vendor license holders shall be required to take out firearms liability insurance.
- Large capacity ammunition magazines holding and feeding more than 10 rounds are banned.
- States may prescribe the quantity of ammunition that may be purchased by a firearms license holder in a given time.
- All firearms shall be sold fitted with approved gun lock or gun safety device approved by the ATF, within 30 days of the effective date of the firearm control law.
- A firearm license holder and firearm vendor license holder shall store firearms in a locked container or equipped with a gun safety device, except when the license holder is carrying a firearm on his or her person or has the firearm under his or her immediate control.
- New models of handguns shall be designed, manufactured and delivered microstamp-ready, capable of identifying the make and model and serial number of the handgun.
- All automatic and semi-automatic assault and any other proscribed weapons, and large capacity ammunition magazines, shall be surrendered to State and designated law enforcement agencies within 90 days of the effective date of the firearm control law.
- Gun buyback programs shall be carried out covering all firearm types. State and designated local law enforcement agencies shall operate:
(a) anonymous buyback schemes for firearms and ammunition to be exchange for vouchers at established set rates
(b) a temporary buyback from gun owners of firearms and ammunition made illegal by the firearms control laws, to be exchanged for vouchers at established rates depending on firearm type and pre-ban market prices.
- States shall be responsible for the destruction of all returned firearms and ammunition.
- The export of used firearms shall be prohibited.
UPDATE: This is an excellent article on the gun violence culture:
A lot of us adults watching the march and the walkout felt hope for the first time in a long time, and not just because of the incredible signs. We saw a generation who is succeeding where we failed, an emerging new force that thinks differently and who is willing to take the power they democratically deserve.
It just goes on
“This isn’t a time for prayers, and study and inaction, it’s a time for prayers, action and the asking of God’s forgiveness for our inaction (especially the elected officials that ran to the cameras today, acted in a solemn manner, called for prayers, and will once again do absolutely nothing).” Chief Art Acevedo of Houston, following Santa Fe High School atrocity.