This is basically my appeal, as a former Republican voter, to the right-wing for finding common ground on the gun control debate. just a draft, criticize at will:
Mass shootings in Aurora (twice), Newtown, Fort Hood, as well as continuous daily shootings plaguing both urban and rural America, have recently catapulted the debate over gun control into the mainstream of discourse. The use of semi-automatic rifles with large capacity magazines has led leaders on both sides of the aisle to promote restrictions on these firearm and components, as well as proposals to close the 'private sale exemption'.
Staunch opponents of gun control, such as the National Rifle Association, insist that any restrictions on the supply or purchasing of firearms or firearm components is out of the question and, to quote NRA president Wayne LaPierre on his interview with David Gregory on Meet The Press, “It just won't work.” This is a stark philosophical contrast to the NRA's willingness to embrace armed guards in schools to protect children, which has proven to be at least partially ineffective (in the particular application of the idea in Columbine High School).
While the heinous attack by Adam Lanza on Sandy Hook Elementary school, resulting in the deaths of 20 young children and six adult educators, has prompted many Republicans to rethink their zero-tolerance policy of gun control, holdouts from the fringe Tea Party faction have stuck to their principles and continued their fight from where it left off after the Littleton shooting in 1998. Their strategy now, as it was then, is to change the debate from one of availability and ease of procurement of firearms to an attack on a 'culture of violence' perpetuated by video games and Hollywood movies.
A proposal put out by the White House presumably as a trial balloon has consisted of a bullet-point list of reforms that would be needed on a federal level to help address the issue of widespread gun violence in the country, to name a few:
- Elimination of the private sale exemption for waiting period/background checks on gun purchases (known to gun control advocates as the “gun show loophole”)
- National registration of all firearms and sales
- National registration and thorough vetting/training of gun owners (new or existing)
- Limitations/bans on high-capacity magazines and certain firearms
- Stronger checks/penalties for carrying around schools, etc.
These are just broad policies and don't include many other smaller reforms. Note that banning all firearms or overhauling the Second Amendment is not on the agenda of any mainstream politicians or think tanks. The proposal outlined thus far by the President's working group consists merely of federal regulations to help better control guns and prevent them from getting in the hands of the wrong people. It also gives us some basis for discussion on specific reforms to address gun violence. While there are numerous contentious and practical problems with the ideas, such as banning high-capacity magazines or certain firearms when there are already a large supply, there are a couple of the principle changes which should essentially be a no-brainer, upon where both sides of the political aisle should be able to agree. So, rather than delve into the merits of the cultural commentary of gun-control opponents or the specific policy ideas of regulation-happy gun-conrol advocates, this essay will focus specifically on:
(1) the elimination of the national private firearm sale exemption from background checks and,
(2) the implementation of national standards for licensing of gun owners/operators
Click below to continue reading rest of the essay.
Elimination of Private Sale Exemption
Currently, if you buy a firearm through a licensed dealer, you will face (in most states) a waiting period and a background check to confirm mental health and criminal history. However, nationally, 40% of all gun sales occur through gun shows and other private venues, effectively skirting the requirements to maintain records and conduct due diligence to ensure that the purchaser has a clean record and good intentions.
The private sale exemption, known pejoratively and misleadingly by gun control advocates as “the gun show loophole” was firmly established under the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, which enables individual collectors and enthusiasts to buy and sell firearms “on occasion” without any background check or waiting period, so long as they don't make a business out of it. Various state regulations differ on how this is implemented, with some states requiring the buyer and seller to be residents. However, in all states, if the seller suspects that an individual would not pass a background check, then they may not engage in the sale. There is currently no set standard to govern what may reasonably be construed as a suspicion of failing a background check.
It is clear then that there is a theoretical potential for abuse: individuals with mental illness histories, criminal records, or malicious hidden agendas can freely purchase firearms in the vast majority of American states without being subject to any vetting whatsoever, save for the snap judgment of the seller in whether or not the person seems like someone who would pass a background check. But the concern and potential for abuse goes far beyond theoretical consequences, there has indeed been real-life consequences to this exeption being abused.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has published numerous reports expressing their concern over the lax regulations of private sales of firearms, and how it has led and will continue to lead to criminals being able to acquire firearms, and also for “straw purchasers” to acquire large numbers of firearms to be trafficked to gangs and drug cartels. In one such report in 2000 titled “Follow the Gun”, the ATF engaged in numerous investigations to probe the validity of such concerns, and confirmed their worst fears when it was estimated that 26,000 firearms were illegally distributed to dangerous individuals over the course of the study. Another report from 2009 cited by the Government Accountability Office, stated that “Many of these firearms come from....gun shows in Southwest border states.”
The private sale exemption, as it is currently implemented, leaves major inconsistencies across states in their gun control policies. While dozens of states (particularly in the North) have regulations that seek to close this federal private sale exemption of background checks and waiting periods, there's no way to control for individuals who abuse more lax laws in Southern states to acquire firearms, and then traffic them into states who seek to better control the supply of guns. It's this inconsistency which has prompted the need for federal intervention on the issue, to promote consistency of policies across states and help protect the entire nation from the abuse of this gaping loophole. Action by the federal government would by no means ban private sale of guns, but require some conduit (e.g., existing federally licensed firearm dealers) that could enforce a background check against the purchaser to ensure they are not unfit to own a firearm due to criminality or mental instability.
Wayne Lapierre has stated on numerous occasions that we need a national mental health registry, a policy with which I agree entirely. If this registry is used to help control who can acquire firearms and help us conduct a more humane justice policy in treatment of the mentally ill in criminal cases, then it can be a very positive influence on our society. However, what good is this idea if there is a private sale exemption that allows the mentally ill to circumvent the background check?
Closing the private sale exemption is a move we must undertake to help prevent both the straw purchase of guns off the record that have been shown to lead to higher illegal trafficking of weapons to criminals and the purchase of guns by individuals with mental instability and criminal records. While it's a shame that responsible gun owners will suffer waiting periods and background checks in their purchase of firearms, it's a small price to pay to ensure that criminals and the mentally unstable do not have the ability to acquire deadly weapons with ease.
National Standards for Firearm Licensing
The analogy between automobiles and firearms is undeniably strong. Both are considered a tool first and foremost, which do a lot of good and are necessary by current cultural standards, for smooth operation of our society. Additionally, firearms and automobiles are both killing machines, responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths annually in the United States, either through malice or accident. Finally, they are both ubiquitous in our society and ingrained in our cultural values.
Given the high levels of use of both guns and cars by individuals in the United States, accidents are bound to happen, and so too are violent crimes. This is unavoidable, but we have to set standards to help reduce the occurrence of such incidences involving both tools.
When someone close to us is victimized in an accident or incident involving a car or a gun, we don't play politics and insist that people should be able to operate cars or guns freely regardless of consequences. Instead, we should ask ourselves, “could this have been avoided with simple systemic regulation?”
In reponse to this question, it becomes immediately puzzling that individuals in the United States may purchase a gun in some states without demonstrating a single clue on how to use it. We wouldn't let anyone drive around the streets of a single state in the country without having a license (in good standing), which demonstrates that the individual can indeed operate an automobile and does not have any infractions that would call into question their safe operation of such a tool. So why would we let individuals buy or use guns without having demonstrated a similar standard of safe operational knowledge?
The issue, similar to the private sale exemption enforcement, is that on a state-by-state basis there are inconsistencies in the standards that an individual must meet in order to legally purchase a firearm. Some states allow you to buy guns no questions asked, other states closely restrict ownership. There is an imbalance in the regulatory structure for purchasing of firearms that leaves states who wish to have stronger control vulnerable to the laissez-faire approaches of other states.
One model that may be looked at for successful processes of vetting and licensing ALL gun owners (not just concealed carry permits) are states like Florida, which have a process to verify that those who wish to lawfully carry a concealed weapon can demonstrate that they can operate a firearm safely and understand the rules of engagement and accepted use. Instead of limiting this licensing process to concealed carry of firearms, it should be applied to all gun ownership. There should be federally-enforced national minimal standards, and then put into the states' hands the responsibility to issue the licenses that meet the standard. This way, states will be able to customize their program but enforce it on some agreed standard that all states can live with. We don't let states abolish driver's licenses and allow people without a clue on how to safely operate a motor vehicle go around our roads risking our safety, and we shouldn't allow individuals to own guns without having demonstrated the ability to operate them safely.
This is essentially the question we need to be asking ourselves: why isn't there a federal standard which sets a bare minimum required by states to regulate the ownership of a firearm? Not just concealed carry (which should be separated from the issue of licensing of gun ownership), but if you want to be a gun operator, just like if you operate an automobile, you should have some proof that you know what you're doing. Like an automobile, a firearm is a tool that can be deadly, and safe operation is critical to society's interest in maintaining order.
Handling private sale exemption or gun ownership licensing on a state-by-state basis is a losing solution. We live in a united nation where we wish to travel freely across state borders and have minimum standards across the country. Implementing state regulations to cover private exemption loopholes or gun ownership vetting/licensing without federal minimum standards will not work. If there is even one state that shirks on a responsibility to the nation by avoiding background checks of all firearm sales, or by allowing gun ownership without demonstration of ability to operate safely, then the integrity of the system collapses.
Addressing the private sale exemption and lack of gun operation licensing on a federal level is a necessary step for the nation to take in order to address devastating shortfalls in our regulatory framework. These two basic measures should be an area of common ground for all individuals across the political spectrum. Details of how action in these areas will by implemented may differ from person to person, but the guiding principles must be embraced by those on both sides. Nothing we can do will prevent mass shootings or gun violence (save for the impossible task of confiscating all guns on earth), but this will at least set a foundation for us to make changes as a society toward reducing unnecessary deadly events. With this established commonality, we can move forward with a bi-partisan compromise to engage in further gun control that may vary by state depending upon local culture and standards.