Resetting the Gun Control Debate

Gun control advocates erected a memorial to the shooting victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School outside the National Rifle Association (NRA) to call attention to what they called the organization's 'incendiary and racist actions' in Fairfax, Virginia, USA, 14 July 2017. (Photo: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA/REX/Shutterstock)

In the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting, the American lawmakers are under increasing pressure to deal with the issue of gun control. A bipartisan group of governors called for Congress to finally take action, while headlines across America feature one of two competing messages: “Gun control now,” or “Now is not the time to talk gun control.”

Why the duality? In the wake of every mass shooting, the debate is continually the same. The debate is perpetually stuck because, despite pleas for action, few, if any, pragmatic proposals ever surface. Instead, emotional appeals dominate headlines and television.

Unfortunately, this means nothing substantive. The “do something” mantra leaves proposals up to the imaginations of those implored. Such vagaries lead to simple criticism rather than constructive dialogue. Worth noting, despite similar single-party control of the House (2009-2011), the Senate (2009), and the Presidency (2008-2016), gun control did not take place during Obama’s presidency. The duality mentioned before is a product of a political issue that is too politically beneficial to solve.

A few things must happen to deconstruct this duality. Some harsh truths must be confronted to have a productive conversation about guns, violent crime, and gun control. The harmful and dismissive rhetoric, which is taking over the public discourse, further hampers the conversation. In such atmosphere, it is hard to reach solutions that are actual solutions, and not merely assuaging of guilt.

Supporters of the National Rifle Association (NRA) counter demonstrate against gun control advocates who were rallying outside the NRA to call attention to what the gun-control advocates called the NRA’s ‘incendiary and racist actions’ in Fairfax, Virginia, USA, 14 July 2017. (Photo: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA/REX/Shutterstock)

Perhaps the most difficult fact to confront is that no society is immune to criminal, heinous, or violent acts. This is a simple but necessary start to the conversation, as there is no world in which crime can be diminished to zero by virtue of legislation.

It is also necessary to understand the prevalence of firearms in the United States, and the harm they cause. The percentage of households with firearms in the United States has, largely, remained steady while the population has increased (Thus, a total increase in guns owned). In 2017 alone, violent crime rates fell by 0.8%.

The gun death statistics that are passed around so frequently in the wake of these tragedies exclude the fact that over 60% of all gun deaths annually are suicides. From 1966 (52 years) to the present day, America has lost 1,077 people in mass shooting deaths. Relative to gun ownership, the United States has a comparatively low murder rate. Even when compared with murder rates in Europe, the United States isn’t in the top 10 in murders per million people from mass shooting deaths.

What this all suggests is, simply, that America’s “problem” with guns is not as serious as it would seem. While advocates on either side of the debate will point to Australia or Switzerland in support of their stance, these don’t hold up to scrutiny either. Australia, the pro-gun control poster child, experienced no appreciable decline in violent crime due to gun buybacks and confiscation.

Gun control advocates rally outside the National Rifle Association (NRA) to call attention to what they called the organization’s ‘incendiary and racist actions’ in Fairfax, Virginia, USA, 14 July 2017. (Photo: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA/REX/Shutterstock)

Pro-gun advocates rest on Switzerland requiring citizens own firearms as a model for U.S. observation. This misses the mark as well, since the Swiss also have strict ammunition regulations and require storage in central locations, with minimal exception. When terms without legal definitions — such as “assault rifle” — and tautological reasoning, such as “Country X with fewer guns and fewer people has less gun crime,” are added to the discussion, there is little to no honest discussion to be had about real solutions to gun violence in the United States.

So as one side of the debate pleads for action — any action — and the other side of the debate is left to piece together these vague demands, what does a policy solution look like? The roadmap to an actual solution is particularly difficult because the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms.

Although some view the 2nd Amendment with disdain, rights are not rights simply because one likes them or exercises them. Rights are rights. Any restriction, solution, or limit on the 2nd Amendment must be able to pass Constitutional muster and should be subject to the same intellectual scruples one would apply to any other Constitutional right (express or implied). Beyond the Constitutional question, some broader policy questions should be asked to ensure that proposals are actionable and germane.

A young woman holds up her hands with words that read ‘Don’t Shoot’ as students demonstrate for stronger gun control laws outside the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 21 February 2018. (Photo: MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Would proposed solution stop gun crime without overriding the rights of others? The benefit of this question is that it tailors the solution to the problem without punishing bystanders. Such a policy consideration ensures that all rights are being handled in a manner consistent with how all rights should be handled — that it’s not up to individual belief whether a right is fair or appropriate. Failure to pass such a threshold analysis means that an action is most likely a reaction, and not a proactive solution.

Will this solution produce consistent results under similar fact patterns, regardless of who runs the analysis? Not only does this safeguard rights and rules from abuse, but it also sets a standard that can adapt as times change. Failure to answer this question in the affirmative means that the result is likely tailored to the proponent, not the situation.

Have the facts, as they exist, been addressed? This necessarily tightens the broad scope of a regulation to meet the needs of fixing a specific problem. While the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, failure to observe facts in a rational and sober manner makes every direction look like a potential highway. Emotions will change, and anger will dissipate. The self-righteousness of the moment will subside when long-term consequences become evident.

US President Donald J. Trump pauses to deliver remarks as he walks to board the ‘Marine One’ helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 23 February 2018. (Photo: SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

It’s worth noting that there are attempts to answer the call to “do something.” David French at the National Review has advocated for universal adoption of Gun Violence Restraining Orders. Such orders would allow temporary confiscation of weapons for individuals deemed immediate threats. Elisha Krauss at the Daily Wire advocates for increased armed security at schools — after all, armed guards tend to deter violent crime or stand a chance to end it. In Kentucky (nonpartisan), an attorney is using donations to his firm to place metal detectors in schools. Perhaps the most realistic solution is that espoused by Kevin Williamson at the National Review: start by enforcing gun laws already on the books.

Ultimately, there is no satisfying piece of legislation that will safeguard anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances. That’s uncomfortable for many people. We live in an open society where an unhinged individual can extinguish lives in numerous ways. If we wish to be proactive and prevent future tragedies such as Parkland, it’s incumbent upon us to rethink how we discuss these issues. We must discard the emotional appeals and political pageantry exploiting emotions and tragedy, and stop distracting ourselves with secondary and tertiary issues.

Instead, we must come to the table as honest brokers in search of a solution, not as political advocates in search of a victory. Until Americans can agree to such terms, no action will happen, and no progress will be made. I hope, on behalf of all of us, that we see to it to do better because I genuinely believe that we are better.

(Brandon Davis)

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