While Federal Government Mulls Gun Control, States Could Move Forward

December 20, 2012

by E. Sebastian Arduengo

Earlier in the week, the ACSblog covered the loopy arguments that pro-gun forces are making in the aftermath of the tragic school shooting in Connecticut, including a suggestion from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) that if the school principal had been armed, then the shooter could have been stopped before any of the children were killed. The commercial market responded to the shooting too, with an upsurge in parents buying bulletproof backpacks for their kids.

Legislators at the federal level have responded by hinting that they might be open to moving through legislation that would more tightly regulate guns like the AR-15 style rifle that was used in the Connecticut shooting, and President Obama formed a working group led by Vice-President Biden to provide specific recommendations by the end of January. Any gun control measure, however, will stir up a political firestorm on Capitol Hill and the National Rifle Association has proven adept in the past at slowing federal legislative responses to mass shootings.

But there are common sense measures that state and local governments could move on very quickly. Many of those states, however, would have to reverse a trend of approving laws that put the gun lobby’s interests ahead of community safety.  

Before the Newtown shooting most gun legislation in the states moved in the wrong direction and was more about supporting the interests of the gun lobby than keeping our communities safe. For example, several states have passed variations of “stand your ground” or “shoot first” laws that allow someone to respond to threats with deadly force, without first having to retreat. Some states also passed so-called “Firearms Freedom Act” laws, which declare that guns that are manufactured, sold, and retained in the state are beyond the reach of federal firearms regulations. Another pro-industry law that has support in the states are immunity statutes, which protect the gun industry from allegations that they distributed guns in such a way that they knew that an illegal secondary market for weapons would be created or that they failed to create safer designs that would prevent unauthorized use. Some immunity statues, like the one in Indiana, go even further by immunizing gun dealers and even gun owners if they report their weapons as lost or stolen. Finally, a lot of states have broad state preemption statutes that prevent municipalities from regulating guns even if they wanted to. In Florida, this led to the ludicrous situation of the Tampa city council banning “clubs, hatchets, switchblades, pepper spray, slingshots, chains, shovels and all manner of guns that shoot water, paint or air” in the run-up to the Republican National Convention in August, but not real guns, because they had no power to do that under state law. The situation in most of the country led exasperated commentator Bill Moyers to argue that “[t]oys are regulated with greater care and safety concerns than guns.”

It is long past time for legislators to put the safety and security of our communities above the rights of gun owners. As one Newtown resident said, “We live in a town, not a war.”

Fortunately, there’s plenty that states and localities can do that will make it both harder for unauthorized persons to get weapons, and not burden the millions of Americans who exercise their Second Amendment rights in a safe and responsible manner. First and foremost, states should require full background checks on all sales of guns, even those sold by private dealers and at gun shows. States should require people to have permits to purchase a handgun, and require owners to report lost and stolen guns to law enforcement. States should also make standards for obtaining a concealed handgun license much stricter, moving away from “shall issue,” where officials have no discretion to refuse a license if an applicant meets the legal requirements, to “may issue” where officials have the prerogative to decide whether an applicants’ protection needs warrant the granting of a concealed handgun license. Not only will laws like this keep guns from falling into the hands of criminals and lunatics, but they will also reduce the prevalence of “crime gun exports” where a gun sold by a dealer in a state with weak gun laws is found to have been used in a crime in a state with strong gun laws.

While pro-gun advocates will argue that Connecticut had among the strongest gun laws in the country and was still the scene of a heinous mass-shooting, the facts show that the states with the strongest gun control laws also tend to be those with the lowest rates of gun-related crime. And in the Newtown there had only been one homicide in the last decade. More regulation won’t stop all gun violence, and it certainly won’t stop those who are determined to carry through deranged plans, but what it will do is increase the difficulty curve for obtaining military-grade weaponry.

[image via WikiMedia Commons]