Modest Proposals to Address Gun Violence

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Law, Opinion, Politics

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Published on March 01, 2018 with No Comments

Illustration courtesy harvard.edu.

By Ralph E. Stone

March 1, 2018

Like many Americans, I am appalled at the level of gun violence in this country. Therefore, I favor reasonable federal gun control measures to limit such violence. While in the U.S. Army, I was trained in a number of small arms, including the M-16 rifle, the military version of the AR-15. As an officer, I carried a .45 caliber pistol during the Vietnam War. As a civilian, I never saw the need to own a gun.

Let’s start with a Congressional ban of AR-15-type semi-automatic weapons and bump stocks.

Background

Consider that this country already boasts approximately 300 million guns, or eighty-eight for every hundred people. Yet, a recent CNN poll showed that 70% of Americans were in favor of stricter gun control laws. To me that indicates that even law-abiding gun enthusiasts want to curb gun violence.

While it is impossible to eliminate gun violence altogether in this country, we can certainly reduce mass shootings. Eliminating weapons of war like the semi-automatic AR-15 won’t eliminate mass shootings, but it will certainly help. Over time the AR-15s already in circulation should be reduced over time.

“AR,” by the way, stands for “ArmaLite rifle,” after the company that developed the gun for use by the U.S. military in the 1950s. (The military’s version, nearly indistinguishable from the AR-15, is called the M-16.) “Bump stock” firing is a well-established capability that uses the recoil of a semi-automatic firearm to fire multiple shots in rapid succession.

In the wake of the mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 13, we heard the usual cry for more gun control laws. This was the 18th school shooting this year and 300th school shooting since 2013.

After these previous school shootings, there was a noticeable absence of action at the federal level about gun violence in America. This time may be different, however, as students across the country have said never again (#NeverAgain) will they be silent. Students formed March For Our Lives, which “was created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar.” March For Our Lives is planning a march to Washington, D.C. on March 24th to demand change from lawmakers.

President Trump, members of Congress, and politicians across the country seem to be listening. Trump even held a “listening session” with parents and students — including those impacted by the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting.

Gun Violence is a Public Health Risk

Let’s face it, gun violence in this country should not be a political issue; it’s a public health issue. Congress should embrace science in the fight for gun-law reform. The World Health Organization already considers violence a public health threat, whether a firearm is involved or not. And days after the deadly mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, the American Medical Association adopted a policy calling gun violence in the U.S. “a public health crisis.”

Ban AR-15s and Bump Stocks

The National Rifle Association (NRA) calls the AR-15 “America’s most popular rifle.” An AR-15, or a variant, was reportedly used in several mass shootings, including Aurora, Colorado; Newtown, Connecticut; San Bernardino, California; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Parkland, Florida, in which a total of 154 people were killed.

As the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held in Tardy v. Hogan, certain kinds of rifles, including assault rifles, are “weapons of war,” and are not covered under the Second Amendment for the purpose of self-defense. They have no use in hunting and are unnecessarily powerful as home defense weapons. Let’s face it, an AR-15 is not for hunting, it’s for killing. Common sense should tell us It is time to ban such weapons.

Congress should pass Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) proposed legislation that would prohibit the ownership, manufacture, or sale of AR-15s and bump stocks. The proposed legislation is similar to the 10-year 1994 Assault Weapons ban that was implemented by Congress under then-president Bill Clinton, but allowed to lapse in 1994.

President Trump did signal support for a ban on bump stocks. It is not coincidental, however, that banning bump stocks is also backed by the NRA, but such support would allow Trump to say he’s taking action. You will notice, however, that Trump did not signal support for Senator Feinstein’s assault rifle ban.

The state of our gun laws is not because of the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller that established “right of an individual to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home,” or the gun industry, but rather the real or perceived power of the NRA on its members, many members of Congress, and many politicians across the country.

However, the pressure to disassociate from the NRA is growing. For example, a number of companies — including First National Bank of Omaha, United Airlines, MetLife Inc., North American Van Lines, Hertz, Best Western, LifeLock, Norton, Alamo, Enterprise and National Car Rental, and Wyndham Worldwide, the parent company of Ramada, Days Inn, Super 8 and other nationwide hotel brands — have announced plans to terminate special discounts and benefits for NRA members. Also a petition is circulating online urging companies to #BoycottNRA, even trending to Twitter.

Let CDC Again Provide Research On Gun Violence

One side argues for gun control, and the other argues there is too little research proving those measures work. Whatever, we need more, not less, research on gun violence.

Why is there so little research on gun violence? It is partly because in 1997, Congress added an amendment to the bill funding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which prohibits the agency from funding any research that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” The amendment was added in response to a CDC-funded study that purported to demonstrate that having a gun in the home was associated with a higher risk of homicide by a family member or close acquaintances. The ban effectively stopped all research on gun violence by the CDC. This amendment must be rescinded.

Conclusion

As former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently remarked, “I think it is time to have a conversation about what the right to bear arms means in the modern world,” Rice told radio host Hugh Hewitt on February 23. “I don’t understand why civilians need to have access to military weapons. We wouldn’t say you can go out and buy a tank.”

I am always hopeful, but not overly optimistic that meaningful gun-law action will be taken at the federal level. But as they say, ‘Where there is a will, there’s a way.’

Ralph E. Stone

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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