On Saturday the March for Our Lives saw hundreds of thousands of protesters descend on Washington D.C. In 752 cities across America, similar marches took place, around the world an additional 104 cities saw marches to express solidarity with the activists. There is no longer an argument about whether we are standing on the precipice of a movement, the question is now what the government can and will do to address it.
The stated goal of the march was to demand: a law that bans assault weapons; a ban on high capacity magazines for guns, and; a law which mandates background checks for every person who purchases a gun, including at gun shows and online.
To me, and to millions, these seem like eminently reasonable requests in the face of continued gun violence in America which remains unparalleled in the developed world.
The unfortunate reality is that there is a lot of misinformation about guns in America. That misinformation is espoused on both sides of the debate on gun control, and a good deal of it depends on your preconceptions. It is easy to twist the narrative, and it results in the gridlock which has become the hallmark of gun legislation in the United States.
However, it is my contention that all reasonable people can agree that gun violence is a problem in America, that mass shootings are the most difficult aspect of that problem to justify, and that common-sense solutions are within reach.
The second amendment provides that the “right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” – and I know there will never be a day where the majority of Americans do not believe this right to be inalienable. So, I will not spend much time in this piece arguing the validity and practicability of the current interpretation of the amendment after the Heller ruling in 2008.
But, before gun owners and supporters go crying about limitations to their second amendment rights, I submit the following comparison: Every American has the right to own and operate an automobile. That right is conditional on a permitting system which licenses drivers, tracks them in a database, regulates their cars, and has a complex system of misdemeanors and criminal offenses to determine if people can continue to drive. We do this because we understand that cars, and the people driving them, can kill people.
Guns should be no different. When talking about gun ownership, we must take into account the danger which they pose to society. They are devices designed to kill things, and regulating them is reasonable, in the same way we regulate poisons, prescription drugs, and explosives. It also might be worth considering that 70% of Americans are in favor of tougher gun laws.
An assault weapons ban seems like the logical place to start. These guns are designed specifically to inflict massive casualties in a short amount of time – anyone who feels this gun is necessary to defend their home had better live in Syria. Never mind that the Center for Injury Control found that for every one instance of self-defense with a gun there were seven assaults and murders, 11 suicides and four accidents, these rifles are disproportionately connected to incidents of mass violence. This is because of their easy modifiability (think bump stocks, etc.) and their high-volume magazines, occasionally holding as many as 100 rounds. They are a mass shooter’s dream.
These guns should not be available to private citizens for the same reason they are not allowed to have mortars, machine guns, and grenades. The risk to the public far outweighs the “benefits” of having these weapons in circulation.
Anyone who feels that their right to bear arms extends to the right to kill in huge quantities is simply on the wrong side of history. A ban on assault weapons has shown a correlation to lower gun deaths overall.
Make no mistake, it’s not just the people with guns that kill people. A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that gun violence is proportional to gun ownership, in that for every percentage point increase in gun ownership there is an equivalent increase in people being shot.
Then there is the issue of background checks, which many pro-gun folks claim do nothing to deter violent crime. However, blaming the background check does not address the real problem, which is that there is no national system of background checks, and in some 40% of gun sales a check is not mandatory. Each state has different regulations, and the responsibility for reporting information which would make a buyer ineligible for a gun is distributed over multiple points of contact and gets backlogged quickly. If the system of checks were standardized and overseen by a single body, there is a compelling argument to be made that it would reduce the number of guns getting into the wrong hands.
Finally, I would like to address one of the most pernicious responses I have seen peppered around the media to the March for Our Lives – which is that liberals and elites simply do not get guns or gun culture. This is not a liberal or conservative issue, this is a right to safety issue. This movement is about the right of people to demand that the government prohibit devices which have repeatedly been used to rob life from innocent people. We cannot control someone’s mental state, nor can we control their impulse to kill their fellow man. But we sure as hell can keep them from buying guns that make that job easy. And we should.