Discussion Leader: Charles Salmans
Interpreting The Second Amendment – The Right to Bear Arms
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
The historical debate over the language of this amendment, as to whether this is an individual right or a right in conjunction with service in “a well regulated militia”, has antecedents before the amendment was drafted. John Adams wrote that Congress should not prevent peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms. James Madison, in Federalist Paper 46, wrote about the right to bear arms within state militias as a means to keep in check a federal army.
In a 2008 Supreme Court ruling, District of Columbia vs. Heller, Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, argued that the right to bear arms was a “right of the whole people, an individual right.” Justice Stevens disagreed in a minority opinion, arguing that this was a right in conjunction with service in a well-regulated militia.
The following Wikipedia entry summarizes interpretations and rulings over the years:
Legal restrictions on weapons ownership that comply with the Second Amendment
The right to bear arms does not guarantee the right to buy or possess any weapon. Wikipedia on Federal Gun Control Laws
In 1939, in US vs. Miller, the Supreme Court upheld the law banning the right to buy, sell or possess a sawed-off shotgun.
From 1994-2004, there was a Federal ban on assault weapons, but that lapsed when Congress refused to renew it under pressure from the NRA. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Assault_Weapons_Ban for definition of “assault weapons” under the law.
In the 2008 Heller decision, Justice Scalia wrote that the right to bear arms had boundaries. “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” For example he cited laws that prohibit the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or that forbid them in places such as schools and government buildings, or impose conditions on their sale. In other words, gun enthusiasts are wrong when they claim that any limitation on firearms is unconstitutional.
President Trump has called for a ban on “bump stocks” that effectively turn a semi-automatic weapon into a full automatic weapon, but although this has been filed as a proposed rule change by the Justice Department, it has not yet been implemented by the Justice Department and will be challenged.
There are also concerns that it will be hard to enforce, as some 500,000 are in circulation.
The President has also called for the age limit for purchase of a firearm be raised to 21. That proposal is opposed by the NRA and has not been implemented as yet. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/president-trump-vows-care-bump-stocks-executive-action/story?id=53421961
CDC and other Data on Gun Deaths
Gun death statistics kept by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) counted 38,658 deaths in 2016 (including suicides). Data collected by Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that tracks media and law enforcement reports of shootings estimated that
3,964 children and teenagers were shot in 2017 including fatal and nonfatal shootings (CDC: 6,400 children and teens have been shot each year)
Incidents of defensive gun use were 2,030 in 2017 (the majority of gun owners cite self defense as their primary reason for owning a gun.
Unintentional shootings dropped by 9%. Only four states have some form of law requiring gun owners to safely store their guns when not in use, a practice linked to lower rates of accidental shootings.
A trauma surgeon describes high velocity wounds, such as from an AR-15 or an AK-47, that are much more destructive than those from a low velocity weapon. The bullet destroys whole areas of the body and shatters bone into hundreds of microscopic pieces.
Correlation between rate of gun ownership and gun violence, effect of Background Checks on gun deaths and suicide rates
Among US states and among countries, there is a correlation between the rate of gun ownership and gun violence.
Gun ownership correlates with gun deaths. Connecticut and other New England states rank low in gun ownership and gun deaths.
Developed countries with more guns have more gun deaths.
America has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada, 16 times as many as Germany.
The US has 4.4% of the world’s population, but nearly half of all civilian-owed guns around the world.
There have been more than 1,600 mass shootings since Sandy Hook (defined as four or more people shot in an incident) but these are a tiny percentage of firearm deaths.
States with Universal Background Checks had fewer gun deaths and those with stricter gun provisions had fewer suicide deaths.
Federal law requires background checks for anyone purchasing a firearm through a licensed dealer, but says nothing about private sales or transactions at gun shows. Many buyers slip through this loophole. A survey of 1,613 gun-owners published in 2017 found that 42% had acquired their most recent weapon without a background check. The internet has made sales even harder to police. A probe by private investigators hired by New York City in 2011 found that 62% of online private sellers agreed to sell guns to people who stated they “probably could not pass a background check”.
Proposals to further restrict gun ownership
Constitutional Amendment or Supreme Court ruling that departs from the 2008 District of Columbia vs. Heller ruling and links the “right to bear arms” to militia (National Guard?) membership.
Both these seem unlikely.
Proposals by the Parkland Students.
Ban semi-automatic weapons that fire high velocity rounds.
Ban accessories that simulate automatic weapons such as bump stocks.
Establish a database of gun sales and universal background checks paired with data on individuals’ infringement of gun laws, criminal offenses, and mental records.
Change privacy laws to allow healthcare providers to communicate with law enforcement.
Close gun show and secondhand sales loopholes.
Allow the CDC to make recommendations for gun reform.
Raise the firearm purchase age to 21.
Dedicate more funds to mental health.
Increase funding for school security.
“Red Flag Laws” – Extreme risk protection orders allowing the police to take away guns from people deemed by a judge to be dangerous, often after a family member or acquaintance raises concerns. Connecticut was the first state, in 1999, to pass such a law.
Require gun-buyers to apply for permits or licenses and to pass safety training. Twelve states and Washington, DC have such laws, several of which require would-be handgun-buyers to pass safety training. Canada has such a requirement. Some require people to turn up at their local sheriff’s office or police department. This may deter so-called “straw purchases”, in which someone stands in for a debarred buyer.
The Australian Solution. Make it illegal to own an unregistered firearm and then have periodic amnesties to allow people to turn over firearms without prosecution. To date, some 700,000 firearms have been surrendered to authorities in Australia.
“The good guy with a gun” proposal.
Allow teachers and officials to carry guns in K-12 schools. Case history of an Ohio school where unnamed teachers have received training and have secured access to firearms.
Allow concealed carry without a permit and in more places. Concealed carry reciprocity would allow citizens who live in a state that allows concealed carry to legally carry in states that do not have concealed carry.
Problem of Overhang of Guns already in Private Possession
If new controls were imposed upon the sale and/or possession of firearms of various types, there still would be the problem of the weapons already in circulation. Presuming that the US attitude toward guns is different than in Australia, it’s unlikely that a high percentage of guns in private ownership would be turned in. Arguably, those that remained would command a high price on the black market (and bid on by those with nefarious purposes).
Of the roughly 300 million firearms owned by Americans, an estimated 8.5 million to 15 million are AR-15 and similar assault style rifles according to the NRA
Even if the ban on “bump stocks” was imposed today, there are some 500,000 in circulation.
I was unable to find an estimate of the number of high capacity magazines in circulation.
American Gun Violence and Culture
It is not more difficult to buy guns or ammunition in Canada than the US, but the rate of homicide by guns is much less. Homicides in Canada are 5.1 per 100,000 vs 29.7 in the US. Virtually every gun used in an American mass shooting is legally available for purchase in Canada.
One difference: nobody legally buys a gun in Canada without first taking the Canadian Firearms Safety Course. Then they have to submit an application for a license where they are screened for risk factors such as criminal history and mental health. Unlike the US, where gun ownership is closely correlated with self defense, according to surveys most Canadians believe the only reason for owning a gun is to kill animals or to shoot at paper targets.
Most guns in school shootings come from home.
NYT’s Opinion – How to Reduce Shootings