My Two Cents on Gun Control Law in America

Finally today, I wanted to thank Barry for bringing up the issue of gun control law in America on ACL. He’s right that it’s a very serious and timely issue, unfortunately due to the terrible recent events in Connecticut. And it does of course fit well within the scope of consideration of this blog. I thought I would add a few of my thoughts to those Barry has already expressed in his posts.

The horrific shootings at an elementary school in Connecticut have caused me to do a good deal of thinking and soul searching about this issue, as they have for so many people in America.

I am a gun owner myself, and have been around guns all my life. My family is from the American South, and some of my fondest memories from my childhood and adolescence are going out target shooting with my dad, or going hunting with my dad and granddad and uncles at Thanksgiving. I go target shooting fairly regularly, and enjoy it as a hobby. I’ve just started to teach my twelve year old daughter how to shoot as well. I see it as a life skill that she should have.  So I’m someone who has seen what responsible gun ownership and use look like, and how guns and shooting sports can be a part of family traditions. And I know that by far the majority of people who own guns in the American South are like me in these regards.

Years ago, when I was in law school, I was a member of the NRA and was a pretty serious proponent of the rights of gun ownership under the second amendment to the U.S. constitution.  I still think that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision – the decision in which the Supreme Court interpreted the second amendment to protect an individual right to possess firearms – was decided correctly as a matter of law and history.  However, my own views about what reasonable legal limits can and should be placed on gun ownership in America have evolved significantly over the last ten years or so.

Again, I know that guns can be possessed and used safely and responsibly. And if everyone who wanted to possess and use guns would do so in a safe and responsible manner, as I’ve seen countless people do, then we wouldn’t need to be talking about laws restricting possession and use. But clearly that is not the case in this country, and guns clearly do enable those who commit crimes to kill far more people than they would if they didn’t have guns, or at least certain types of guns. And so I do therefore think that we need to make significant changes to our laws in this country, restricting the types of guns that are lawful to possess.

I won’t go through all the law and policy considerations, because I want to get this done. So I’ll jump right to the chase. In my opinion, bolt action rifles and pump shotguns holding the standard 5 shells should be lawful, as they are now. These guns have clear uses for hunting, home defense, and sport shooting. These are the legitimate purposes for which reasonable gun owners want to possess guns, and I think that a reasonable cost/benefit analysis of these types of guns favors their legality.  

But after long thought, I have come to the personal conclusion that all handguns, and all semi-automatic rifles, fail the reasonable cost/benefit calculus, and that reasonable gun owners should support these guns being made illegal.

Now I know that this is revolutionary stuff to hear from a gun owner like me. And I know well that there is a mountain of opposition in this country, and particularly in the area of the country in which I live, to ANY restrictions on firearms types, let alone the kind of quite significant restrictions I’m proposing here. And my prescription here would mean that I personally would have to give up several of my guns – some of my favorites. But on the whole, I have become convinced that the reality of the harm that the easy availability of handguns and semi-automatic rifles causes in this country, requires these reasonable restrictions on the types of guns lawful to possess.

We gun owners need to set ideologies and absolute principles aside, and be practical and reasonable, and above all compassionate to the present and future victims of gun violence. We should agree on reasonable restrictions that, while not a panacea to violent crime, will save countless lives, while still allowing those of us who possess and use guns responsibly to continue to do so for generations to come.

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3 Comments on “My Two Cents on Gun Control Law in America”

  1. bkellman says:

    Dan,

    If you and I ran the country, we’d be of the same mind. But the Supreme Court has made it clear that handguns (at least in the home) may not be prohibited.

    So, I think this is a perfect example of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I’d prefer to be successful in getting semi-automatic weapons prohibited than fail in getting all guns prohibited.

  2. Richard H. says:

    As a non-American, I have always been surprised how Americans seem to be caught off-guard whenever school shootings happen. There are more than 300+ million guns in that country – a gun for each of you at least. How do you expect school shootings NOT to happen? Someone somewhere will always be having a bad day and will take it out on innocent civilians. Pulling something off like that in Europe would require a careful planning (e.g. Breivik’s spree), otherwise guns are not that easily available, and contrary to a popular belief – even in countries such as Switzerland.

    I am not an expert on the Second Amendment, but it seems that a considerable number of lawyers consider Heller interpretation to be “a fraud”, to paraphrase Chief Justice Burger. Seems it can always be overturned, all you need is a different composition of the Court. Good thing consistency never was a US Supreme Court thing!

  3. Once again, it is physically impossible to ban all firearms in the US, even limited to handguns (almost certainly by far the most owned firearm) and semi-automatic rifles. There is absolutely no chance whatsoever that enough firearms could be recovered by any means short of Ross Perot’s house-to-house search by the US Army (and not even then, IMO) that it would have any significant effect on the active shooter problem.

    Not to mention that concealed carry handguns have a very definite place in personal security. The classic case is a woman I read about years ago who was seized and thrown in a car trunk in a supermarket parking lot. What the kidnapper intended we’ll never know because when he stopped in a remote area and opened the trunk, she put several rounds of .38 caliber in his chest.

    Guns stop crime as well as assist in their commission.

    “Good thing consistency never was a US Supreme Court thing!”

    In other words, you’re prepared to have the law incompetently interpreted as long as it’s in your favor… Why doesn’t this surprise me? It’s the attitude most people have. Fortunately, as an anarchist, I know it’s ALL “fraudulent.”

    But by all means, bring on the stupid gun ban laws. The black market which will result will guarantee that I can go to any street corner and buy any kind of gun with no annoying background checks. The price might go up – or even down – but they’ll always be available.


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