Does America’s Gun Control Debate Need a New Focus?

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Monday saw the Supreme Court pass on a gun control case, preferring to remain outside the issue as it has since its last ruling in 2008 with District of Columbia v. Heller, which ruled in favor of handguns in the home. In the case, it chose not to hear expansions upon that point, and claimed that, “The Second Amendment guarantees the right to carry weapons for the purpose of self-defense — not just for self-defense within the home, but for self-defense, period,” as the court brief read, according to USA Today. The case was brought with the support of the NRA and Gun Owners Foundation.

Seeing as how the Supreme Court has indicated a hesitancy to get involved at least for now, the discourse over gun control seems like even more of a strategic open door. What will walk through it? Different groups and different sides are suggesting new ways to go about modifying gun policy and technology in order to improve the state of American gun violence and safety, and some of them are worthy of note, even if they offer their own problems.

The Washington Post’s Danny Franklin, who also advises the White House, noted recently that since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, most gun laws seen passed in state legislatures have reduced gun control rather than greater regulation. This is not a new or unique reaction to gun violence. The event sparks anti-gun sentiment, which eventual leads to pro-gun backlash, backed by stronger organizations and groups, which ultimately win out. That is perhaps a major part of the problem — the highly politicized nature of the debate as it sits at present.

Franklin’s suggestion is that rather than framing the issue as a political one, it should become a question of public health. Pointing to a poll by The Washington Post, he notes that public opinion on guns has reversed in the last 14 years, making it so more people now believe having a gun in the house makes it safer, and that this public opinion is often far more important than actual facts — which show that guns are 12 times more likely to be used on members of the same household than on a burgler or the like. The focus, says Franklin, should be on gun accidents and the risks to health that guns represent just by their presence, referencing a Michael Bloomberg ad that features a young girl accidentally finding her parents’ gun.

Michael Bloomberg has been the biggest piece of news recently in the gun control debate, but is hardly an un-politicized figure that Franklin seems to be seeking. Bloomberg professes to be aimed at creating the anti-gun version of the NRA, and is pouring a great deal of money into ads and programs — money that many doubt will be enough to compete with the long entrenched NRA and its like. Something else Franklin brings up is the possibility of new gun technology in the form of smart guns.

This is another new way to approach the gun control debate, but one that recently made a very short lived debut, before being — if you’ll excuse the phrasing — shot down. Andy Raymond, owner of a Maryland gun business, announced that he would be getting into the sale of smart guns imported from Germany. The guns are only usable by the owner who wears a special watch which allows them to fire the gun. But the response to this announcement led to him quickly canceling such plans. The pro-gun community was angry. Very angry. Angry enough to result in an outpouring of threats and responses of all sorts. “Things went crazy,” Raymond said, according to CBS.

“People just started calling. All three of our lines were just boom, boom, boom. A hundred emails. I mean, just like that.” Concerns were largely that in selling a gun of this type, Raymond would eventually spark gun legislation that would make these types of weapons the only ones allowed on the market. Raymond, for his part, disagrees, saying people should take take issue with legislation and legislators if it comes to that, rather than the gun itself, which he says is useful for those households that want a gun but want it kept away from their kids. His actual statements, made on video and available at The Washington Post, were considerably more aggressively stated, involving a few more expletives than are included here, but the sentiment is clear: frustration.

 

To take a step back, in an earlier article we took a look at the three largest gun legislation items seen recently. Here’s a recap of that:

1. The Safe Carry Protection Act

Number one on this list, and most recent, has to be Georgia’s “Safe Carry Protection Act,” called the “guns everywhere bill” by opponents. The bill allows licensed gun owners to carry their weapons, well, basically everywhere — including bars, schools, churches, and certain government buildings. Religious organizations will be able to choose whether or not to allow guns, and school districts may make the decision to choose staff members who will carry firearms in the school as well. The new law also applies to gun owners from twenty-eight other states as well and is being called “the most comprehensive pro-gun reform legislation introduced in recent history,” by the National Rifle Association.

For his part, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) was pleased to sign the bill Wednesday, saying, “Our state has some of the best protections for gun owners in the United States. And today we strengthen those rights protected by our nation’s most revered founding document,” according to USA TODAY.

2. Idaho’s Concealed Weapon Bill

In March 2013, Idaho became the seventh state to permit the presence of concealed weapons. In signing the bill, Idaho Gov. C.L. Otter (R) was considerably less enthusiastic in rhetoric than Deal, writing in his statement upon signing that “As elected officials, we have a sworn responsibility to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States — not only when doing so is easy, convenient or without cost, but especially when it is not.”

Bob Kustra, president of Idaho’s Boise State University, said that he sees the legislation as a solution to a problem Idaho campuses have not had.

I’m puzzled for the simple fact that our campuses in Idaho are safe now,” said Kustra in an interview with Boise State Public Radio. “I think the Second Amendment was designed to protect lives. And the strange thing about this legislation is that I think it may have the opposite effect intended by the Second Amendment.”

3. SAFE Act

The SAFE Act is a less recent piece of legislation; it passed in 2013, but had an important deadline recently on April 15. The act required that assault weapon owners register their guns with the state of New York, but as of April 16 The Christian Science Monitor reported that a solid 1 million gun owners had ignored the new gun control legislation and had failed to do so.

The refusal to act on the bill in such a large population places New York’s government in a difficult situation. “The line in the sand has been drawn, and if Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to send state police out on house-to-house searches and put hundreds of thousands of people in prison, they can do that,” said Dave Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute, to The Christian Science Monitor.

The weaponry in question includes semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines, pistol grips, folding stocks, second hand grips, bayonet mounts, and flash suppressors, and the law made it illegal to purchase said guns, but allowed those already owned to be retained so long as they were registered.

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