The mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida revived the deeply divided sentiments of Americans over the Second Amendment and gun control.
Unfortunately, according to PEW Research center, the feelings and the arguments are not that different than those in the aftermaths of Virginia Tech in 2007, Tucson, Arizona in 2011, Aurora, Colorado and Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. Not to mention more recent mass shootings in San Bernardino, Orlando, and Las Vegas.
According to the most recent Gallup poll, 46 percent of Americans want stricter gun laws, while a whopping 71 percent are against banning guns. In fact, the latter is an uptick from a 2012 Pew poll asking the same question about a total ban.
Jurisprudence on the subject matter remains equally divided. By a five to four margin, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Heller decision authored by the late Justice Scalia, held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess guns for a lawful purpose, such as self-defense.
Some of the dissenters argued that the right must be limited to military uses or at least that the Second Amendment must not limit government’s authority to regulate civilian uses.
Two years later, the Heller decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court in the McDonald v. City of Chicago and again in 2016 in Caetano v. Massachusetts.
Despite the polls, policies, and laws, neither side of the debate has advanced productive policy in this arena, while young lives have been lost in each case adding to the universal anguish and sorrow of an entire nation. Perhaps it is time to consider a less competitive, but a new collaborative approach.
What can policy makers do to advance meaningful reforms in the gun culture of America?
Stop shaming 71 percent of Americans who value the constitutionally protected right to privately and lawfully own a gun. Stop comparing our country to Australia or other European countries, which are born from the culture of central power protecting citizens. America is born from the culture of self-defense.
We freed ourselves from the tyranny of a central power to decentralize. Those attacking the Second Amendment are effectively attacking the American culture. This attack never succeeded, and I predict it will not succeed anytime soon.
Our Founders expressly limited the power of the federal government to substantially empower people instead. I wrote in my article for the Fordham Urban Law Journal that our Founders “worked to create a functional republican structure strong enough to enforce national interests but limited enough to assure individual self-determination where citizens lived and worked.”
Through the 10th Amendment, this self-determination is written into the constitutions of each state of the Union. To effectively govern, local governments are given reasonable police powers.
Policy makers must use these powers for the greater good, but without injecting ideological and political rhetoric, which in this polarized climate are creating only more divisions rather than unity of purpose to save lives.
Equally, let’s stop claiming that the gun is not the problem. While technically this is true that someone must pull the trigger for the gun to fire, a gun in the wrong hands is a problem. In fact, a bigger and faster gun in the wrong hands is a public administration nightmare as we have seen in these mass shootings time and time again.
Neither Madison in proposing the Second Amendment nor our policymakers today could possibly intend to put guns in the hands of felons or the mentally ill. Justice Scalia in Heller’s majority decision recognized that some gun control laws remain “presumptively lawful.” Indeed, if this were not true, state constitutional police powers to protect the public would be meaningless.
Many gun control laws exist today. Some are more effective than others. City of New York’s gun homicide rate is 2.3 per 100,000 residents while Chicago is more than ten times that amount.
Governments at all levels must inventory the laws they have and enforce them. If we must enhance the existing laws, proponents and opponents must come together for the greater good.
No one wants to see young lives cut short in these senseless acts of violence. To inconvenience a gun purchase for the protection of all citizens under reasonable police powers is not equal to depriving a citizen of the protections of the Second Amendment.
Surely, our policymakers can agree that gun purchases must not be easier for underage minors than purchasing tobacco or alcohol. Policymakers on each side of this debate must find a way of aligning their interests to build consensus.
Finally, and perhaps more importantly, they must not point the finger to the other side every time we have a local or national tragedy, but meaningfully collaborate to address the deep-rooted social, health and economic reasons tormenting the “wrong hands.”