Guns don't kill people. People kill people. But they mainly use guns to kill people. Every year twelve thousand Americans are gunned down by other Americans; in addition there are more than twenty thousand American suicides by gun annually. In the past 20 years we have lost over 600,000 Americans to gun violence. That's more than we lost in combat in World War II; twelve times more than we lost in Vietnam; thirty times more than we lost in Korea; one hundred times more than we lost in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined; and three hundred times more than we have lost to terrorists. In fact, over the last 20 years we have lost more Americans to gun violence than we lost in combat in all of our wars and every terrorist attack over the last 80 years.
We think of war as a terrible scourge. Domestic gun violence is four times as deadly as war.
It is way past time for this country to adopt common-sense gun control legislation. What laws would be constitutional?
As currently interpreted the Second Amendment protects the right of the people to own handguns for personal self-defense, so we can't ban guns altogether. But there is a lot of room for common-sense laws that will protect the right of the people not to be gunned down in theaters, schools, and the streets.
1. Laws banning the manufacture, sale, and possession of certain types of weapons. No-one would seriously contend that people have the right to own grenades, rocket launchers, or machine guns. There is no legitimate reason for people to own dangerous ordnance. Those weapons are not necessary for self-defense nor are they used for hunting. Nor is there any legitimate reason for people to own weapons like the Colt AR-15, a semiautomatic rifle modeled after the military's M-16. The AR-15 can shoot 800 rounds per minute, and has been used in a number of recent mass murders. It is time to remove all automatic and semiautomatic weapons from the civilian arsenal. Their manufacture must be strictly regulated and sale restricted to the military and police.
2. Background checks. Thanks to various loopholes such as those for "gun shows" forty percent of guns are sold in the U.S. without background checks on the purchasers. Until those loopholes are closed any other laws regulating who may purchase a gun -- criminals, insane persons, or domestic abusers -- are useless. Background checks should be thorough, accurate, and inexpensive ... but not necessarily speedy. In light of the fact that so many people commit suicide shortly after purchasing a gun, a "cooling-off period" wouldn't be a bad idea.
3. Gun licensing. It's not enough to regulate who may purchase a gun. If we are going to keep guns out of the hands of persons who cannot be trusted with them it's also necessary to regulate who may own or possess a gun. No criminal has the right to own a gun. No person with mental instability has the right to own a gun. No domestic abuser has the right to own a gun. The only way to protect the rest of us is to require people to apply for a license to have a gun.
4. Gun registration. Fewer than half of all murders are solved. Gun registration is a simple and direct way to keep track of who has which guns. Gun registration is also the only way to prevent people from accumulating large arsenals of firearms. People have a constitutional right to own a firearm for the purpose of personal self-defense; people don't have a constitutional right to own guns just because they like guns. If someone wants to collect a large number of guns as a hobby, those weapons should be permanently disabled.
5. Carry permits. The Supreme Court has ruled that people have a constitutional right to possess a handgun in their home for purposes of self-defense. It also makes sense for certain businesses -- bars, gas stations, and convenience stores -- to keep a gun handy. Persons in certain occupations -- those working security in different settings or people who regularly carry large amounts of cash or other valuables -- need to be able to carry a gun in public. Hunters obviously must have the right to transport and carry a gun in the field. Otherwise the right to carry a firearm outside the home should be strictly limited. This will protect all of us.
6. Other laws. Limits on the sale of ammunition; ammunition fingerprinting; and gun insurance all make sense. No-one needs more than a few rounds of ammunition at one time for hunting or self-defense. If someone is shot at there should be no objection to finding out whose ammunition was used. And if an injury or death occurs from the use of a firearm there should be funds available to compensate the victim or the victim's family.
It's time, folks. We have to begin to address this terrible problem. You may not support all of the proposals I've outlined above, but if you agree with any of them, please find an organization whose goals are consistent with your values. Here are some organizations promoting a variety of responsible gun laws. Take a look at them and pick one you can support.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, at http://www.bradycampaign.org/.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, at http://csgv.org/.
The Violence Policy Center, at http://www.vpc.org/.
Americans for Responsible Solutions, at http://americansforresponsiblesolutions.org/.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, at http://everytown.org/mayors/.