In our society, gun control is often framed as an infringement upon our second amendment right- an attempt to strip us of our scared constitutional liberties. Countless brave men and women have died to defend our rights and so, we as a nation, must stand together, at all costs, to preserve this sacred protection from tyranny. Many would tell you that no precedent exists of a legal restriction of our basic civil rights and that any attempt to disarm the American people would be absolutely unconstitutional. They would be wrong. Would you believe me if I told you our first amendment right to freedom of speech has been, within the powers of the constitution and with the general acceptance of the public, regulated by the government? The Supreme Court case Schenck v. United States established the clear and present danger test: speech that presents a clear and present danger to the United States is not protected under our constitutional right to freedom of speech. If our constitution does not protect our most valued freedom when it presents a clear and present danger, why then can I purchase an assault rifle at my local pawn shop? A classroom full of bullet-ridden children seen as just another mass shooting of which we have one every 2 months, 58 people a day taking their own lives with the help of firearms, inner city gun violence robbing communities of entire generations- gun violence, without a question, presents a clear and present danger to the citizens of this country. The American people must act to give our fellow citizens a second chance, a renewed sense of safety, and to keep America great not by succumbing to fear but by creating a nation where we can live without it.
Many interest groups that lobby national and state legislatures pre-write model legislation they would like to see passed. They then send these bills to legislators to present on their congressional floors to amend and become law. You would be surprised how many bills are actually not written by elected officials but rather are prewritten models authored by lobbying groups and then passed by states; this trend can be seen by the greater likelihood of state bills being identified as extremely similar to other state bills on an issue in which a model legislation exists (according to plagiarism software). Actually, the Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, whose arguments were recently heard by the justices, centers around abortion legislation (HB2) written by Americans United for Life and then passed by the Texas state legislature. In this spirit of laws being presented by legislators but not written by them and the international mockery as well as domestic bloodshed we have incurred by not taking action, I would like to present and elaborate on the issue of gun violence by presenting a set of solutions, in the form of a gun control bill, that would address the growing gun violence crisis in our nation without unduly restricting our rights.
The Clear and Present Danger Bill
After a mass shooting, the media often pivots the conversation onto mental heath. Many people believe the reason for the prevalence of mass shootings in this country and gun violence in general can be attributed to the state of our country’s mental health more so then the fact that there are more guns in this country than people. Rarely mentioned within the mental health conversation is suicide. The majority of gun violence can be accounted for by firearm-assisted suicide. A common misinterpretation of this statistic, in the context of gun control, is the belief that suicide is inevitable. Yet, many believe that those who succeed in taking their own lives with firearms would have just end up taking their lives by alternative means if we eliminated their easy access to guns. Suicide by firearm produces far fewer failed suicide attempts (less than 10%) compared to other means of self-inflicted death; when a failed suicide attempt occurs lifelong disabilities often accompany it. A recent study, which complied multiple statistical analysis on suicide, found that, over the decade following a failed suicide attempt, less then 10% of people successfully take their own lives. Many of those who attempt suicide with a firearm do so with guns of which they are not the direct owners and many studies have shown limiting access to firearms reduces the number of successful suicides in a country. Those people who attempt suicide with a firearm do not receive the second chance so many of our fellow men and women take. Suicides are entirely preventable deaths and communities as well as governmental institutions must take steps to combat this manifestation of disease or tragedy through treatment and destigmatization. Suicide and mental health as a whole in this country carries a harmful stigmatism; many people in need of assistance go neglected especially among impoverished and minority communities. Mental health contributes to the gun violence in this country and so here are a few proposals to curb our nation’s gun violence without hampering our ability to purchase firearms:
I. Mental Health
i. All gun owners will be required to store their firearms in a case that is secured by a lock and key.
ii. Ammunition must also be stored under lock and key and in a separate room in relationship to the firearm.
iii. Guns may not be loaded when stored and their magazines cannot be stored with their corresponding firearms if loaded with ammunitions.
iv. Only the registered owner of the guns should have access to these firearms. v. These regulations will be enforced by random audits of storage locations by police officers with fair notice but the inability to refuse without facing confiscation and criminal charges.
vi. Funding should be expanded to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s programs that subsidizes and builds mental health clinics around the country that provide support for suffering individuals. States should be encouraged to contribute to mental health clinics by offering grants that can be matched by the federal government.
vii. Medically accurate mental health information should be incorporated into states’ sex education or anti-bullying curriculum to help eliminate the societal stigma around mental health that lead many individuals to not seek treatment.
Before I present any potential legislative restrictions on firearms, I must address a common trope: If we take away all the guns from the good guys, then only the bad guys will have guns (this phrase, in a variety of variations, has become so indoctrinated into our society that those who hear it often jump in to finish it). The military would not lose their weapons nor would our local police officers: unless you believe the police and military are not the good guys, any form of gun control does not allow only the bad guys to have weapons. If you are concerned with the institutionalized racism of some police departments, recent militarization of police forces, or the overuse of lethal force among some police officers (or believe the common man needs his firearms to rise up and tear down our tyrannical government with its massive military industrial complex), then those may not be the good guys with guns you imagine. Although, the good guys imagined in states’ stand your ground laws may also not be your imagined good guys due to the correlation of increased gun violence and gun deaths with such legislation. While the ‘good guys’ that we should not disarm in order to protect our safety remain ambiguous, the bad guys, who inspire our fear of disarmament, are clearly defined.
Since the beginning of the war on drugs, militant gangs and cartels have battled for territory and impunity. While drugs cross the border to be sold on US streets, weapons are being illegally bought and sold across the border with the ever-amassing wealth contained in the market for illicit substances. While it is impossible to pinpoint the number of illegal firearms on the US black market, the fact is that 86% of juveniles in correctional facilities admitted to owning firearms. All these ownerships are illegal and demonstrate the scope of the underground gun trade and its contribution to criminal activities and imprisonment. The unregistered ownership and unlicensed trade of firearms constitutes a viable avenue of gun control where the number and trade of [illegal] firearms can be reduced by bipartisan legislation.
While bad guys operate in the underground market, some criminals and other people who should not be able to purchase firearms according to our ‘bad guy’ logic (former inmates, sex offenders, people with a history of mental instability) are able to obtain firearms through a series of loopholes. While many will be quick to denounce the gun show loophole as a myth, the underlying premise behind this loophole remains: in many states, when a private gun owner wishes to sell his gun they do not have to perform a background check on any potential buyers and often fail to inform government institutions of such transfers. Another loophole lies in the 48 hour maximum background check time limit: if the FBI does not process a background check in 48 hours (sometimes this does not occur due to a backlog) then the background check returns to the seller as inconclusive and they can proceed with selling the costumer their firearm. Due to the amounts of requests for background checks and shorthanded staff, even completed backgrounds checks may return as inconclusive due to failure to run an extensive check resulting from lack of state agency cooperation or other bureaucratic issues which contribute to the lack of the adequate files and information of the gun buyer. In order to assuage these problems and track and destroy illegal guns, a service, much like a state DMV, should be instated to keep a registration of gun- just like car- ownership to help transfer pertinent documents to the FBI.
In order to keep guns out of the bad guys’ hands and move forward with further gun control by calming the fear for a need to purchase guns for protection, the second section of the Clear and Present Danger Bill follows:
II. Illegal Gun Ownership
i. All gun sales much be proceeded with a complete and not inconclusive background check.
ii. The 48 hour FBI background check time limit will be eliminated.
iii. The FBI, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, will create a singular system for background checks that holds all states to contribute all adequate documents in order to ensure conclusive and extensive background checks.
iv. All private owner gun sales must be overseen by a licensed third party gun dealer who will perform the necessary paperwork and background checks. This third party may only charge for 150% of the processing fees.
v. A national gun registry will be created in order to determine which firearms are illegal and who owns them and should be overseen by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (in conjunction with state law enforcement and the FBI) and function similar to the registration of cars.
vi. Any sale, even if private, must be reported and reflected in this national database.
vii. Stricter penalties will be enforced for the illegal possession of firearms.
ix. Police will be provided with funding from the federal government to initiate operations and help eliminate the illegal gun trade and illegal ownership of firearms with the help of the FBI, border patrol, DEA, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
x. The federal government will be barred from loaning military grade weaponry to local police departments to curb their militarization.
xi. Funding will be provided to train officers to not rely on racial bias and use lethal force less frequently in a new gun reduced setting.
xii. War on Drug legislation will be reformed to curb drug violence
xiii. Initiatives to end gang violence will also receive additional funding to curb another contributor to gun violence and educational funding for inner city schools will be increased with a future increase in the mandated years of attendance for students.
Having so far addressed the contribution of mental health and illegal firearms to the gun violence plaguing this country, I move forward under the simple assumption that the greater the number of guns in a country, the greater the violent crime rate. While I do not have the time to fully prove this assumption in the expanse of this editorial, I suggest everyone take a moment to watch a Youtube video created by the news organization Vox called “The State of Gun Violence in the US, Explained in 18 Charts”. I will simply state here that the vast majority of murders for example are committed by firearms (70%), not to mention the vast array of other crimes involving the use of firearms, if we limit access to firearms the ability of individuals to take another individual’s life would be greatly hindered. While many will continue to argue the extent of this relationship, the majority of Americans support gun control and wish to follow in the successful footsteps of western nations such as Japan, the United Kingdom, and Australia. With their low rate of violence crimes and mass shootings resulting from varying degrees of gun control legislation, these countries substantiate the claim that gun control is effective. Many critics to gun control believe the answer to the gun violence problem can be found in Switzerland: give everyone in the country a gun; this not only ignores personal morality but also ignores the multitude of laws Switzerland has in place to keep their country safe from gun violence- many lobbying groups in the US would ardently oppose such laws even if everyone was given a gun. When suicide spiked in the country, Switzerland did not drag its feet but instead responded with a series of gun control laws in alignment with their stricter counter parts in other Western countries. Giving everyone a gun, or every ‘good guy’ a gun, will not solve the issue of gun violence; however you frame the issue, gun control must be enacted and the ownership of firearms must be regulated by stricter laws if we are to see any improvement in this crisis.
There are a multitude of ways to remove legal guns from American streets without infringing on individual liberties. Australia, after a mass shooting tragedy, instituted a successful and voluntary buy-back program. Australia was able to destroy over 600,000 firearms both due to seizure of restricted weapons and voluntary trades. Because any private property confiscated by the US government must be accompanied by fair compensation, any gun type restrictions I discuss later will be enforced on this standard: if your gun is now illegal and you must cede it to the government because you are not able to obtain or do not meet the necessary requirements for an exemption then you will be paid for this firearm. Voluntary firearms buy-back programs already exist at the local level, but I am suggesting a national institution be established to facilitate the buy-back of as many weapons as possible at their purchase cost at the time of sale. I cannot find any logical opposition to removing guns from American households by allowing their legal owners to sell them to the US government for elimination. Another program the US could initiate would include disarming firearms; for example, if an individual owns a gun as a heirloom or decoration or for sentimental value the government could alter the weapon so it could not fired upon request for no charge. While a multitude of guns can be taken of circulation with this buy-back program and other voluntary measures, the US must yield to the majority belief of its people and go further to limit the number of guns in this country (and in turn lower gun violence) by restricting the legality of certain classifications of firearms and the requirements necessary to own them.
III. Legality of Firearms
i. An assault rifle ban must be instituted in the Unites States along with a ban on high powered magazines. Exemptions for competitive activities would be allowed but would be accompanied by strict security measures and limited situations of use.
ii. High powered rifles should be banned in this country excluding hunting or sport exemptions.
iii. Mandatory training sessions must be instituted in order to improve gun safety and ensure all gun owners are adequately informed and experienced.
iv. Background checks should be expanded to limit the number of individuals who can purchase firearms. A reason for purchase should be requirement and upon random request (such as the extra screening by the TSA) a mental health analysis by a doctor must also be submitted.
v. Stand your ground laws will be altered to reflect the new trends of gun ownership and to curb their contribution to gun violence.
vi. A national buy-back program will be created to purchase guns from voluntary private owners and compensate gun owners who must cede their weapons if they do not qualify or receive an exemption. This program will also function as an umbrella for all other voluntary gun elimination measures.
vii. The national gun registry, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and sporting associations, will be responsible for processing exemption claims.
viii. Police departments will receive funding to enforce these new laws and will assist in the elimination and processing of firearms. They will receive access to the national gun registry.
ix. Gun licenses must be obtained upon a purchase of a firearm and renewed every 2 years from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and FBI. This renewment process will involve a training session and a new background check.
x. A license for ammunition must also be purchased in order to ensure no individual stockpiles an excessive amount of ammunition.
xi. Gun selling establishments will be limited by increasing the standard to which they must comply. The police will also be allowed to randomly with due notice check the security of these firearms and their selling practices.
Throughout this essay, I have discussed the allotment of massive amounts of funding to new programs and existing institutions to implement and enforce these proposed laws. Many of you will wonder where I intend to obtain such funding. A simple set of four taxes will be put in place to fund these programs. First a yearly tax on gun ownership will be introduced and will function the similar to a property tax or car tax. Next an additional tax will be placed on the consumption of ammunition. Thirdly, a tax will be imposed on institutions that sell firearms in order to limit their number and ensure regulations are followed. Lastly, an import tariff will be put in place in order to limit the imports of weapons to the US. This will not only limit the number of guns available to buy but would assuage domestic producers who will suffer under these reforms. Some may fear these taxes will harm the American industrial military complex thereby lowering our capability to produce weaponry in the time of war; in order to address this concern, additional contracts will be distributed by the US government to ensure production readiness for the needs of the US military in the time of war. The domestic gun industry will see a decrease in profits but their infrastructure will not be eliminated in order to provide for the defense of this nation. Again, here are the taxes laid out, whose percentages may be altered, in order to provide the necessary funding for the all previous programs established above:
i. A national firearm tax will be established very much like that of a car tax and will be incurred by the individual gun owner on licensing of their firearm and ammunition. This will be incurred every two years with the necessary training and renewed background check. It should not exceed 10% the value of the gun at the time of purchase per year.
ii. The tax rate on ammunition will be increased just like that of cigarettes.
iii. An import tariff will be established to reduce the amount of foreign firearms being sold in the country thereby reducing their profitability and the number of firearms int the United States.
iv. Gun sellers will incur a tax in order to limit the number of institutions selling firearms to those with the ability to handle the necessary legal processes. This should not affect the ability of a qualified individual to purchase a firearm.
v. Lastly, a fund will be created to consolidate and distribute these funds only to the programs named in this bill, make decisions on tax percentages, and allocative decisions.
I often hear the joke: people kill people not guns. I would like to see an individual attempt to kill 26 people in under ten minutes without a firearm- the same number of children and staff killed at the Sandy Hook Massacre. Gun violence is not a joking matter. Gun violence has robbed this country of so many lives. Gun violence is preventable. I find the recent resurgence of nativism in this country deplorable. I find the blaming for violence on immigrants ignorant. By reducing gun violence through gun control measures that the vast majority of Americans support, we can create a nation without fear, a nation that does not need to direct its fear of crime or mass shootings unto immigrants, the mentally ill, or ‘Islamic radicals’ (who represent Islam just as much as Hitler represented Christianity). A nation who does not need to identify a scapegoat as an excuse for inaction. The gun violence crisis in this country is real and the only person who has the power to stop it or to be assigned the blame for it is you. Take a look in the mirror. Do you believe that we should not pass a single one of the proposals made in this paper? If you said no, if you believe it is time to take a stand against the unchecked scrooge of gun violence in this country, then make your voice heard. Gun control legislation has not been passed not because it is ineffective or because America does not have a gun crisis, but because our politicians lack the political will. Raise your voices- so no matter how much money the NRA spends on lobbying or how many politicians believe that gun ownership is more important then their constituents safety, your politicians will act. Do not rush into handing away your civil liberties to any government but recognize when society benefits from such action. Such a society exists today because in the end, your safety -your ability to live without fear- is in clear and present danger and there is nothing more important then that.