Moscow Mitch and Gun Safety
An overwhelming majority of Americans favor adopting certain gun safety laws now. Congressional Republicans sit on their hands, while Senate Majority Leader “Moscow Mitch” McConnell ignores legislation passed by the House. So we must ask why? What is it about gun safety or gun control that makes “Moscow Mitch” and other Republicans willing to watch tragedy play out across the country and ignore it.
Immediately after a mass shooting, these folks are quick to offer sympathy and prayers. But they refuse to endorse gun safety policies either at times of crisis and public outcry, or at times in between. At all times Congress has turned a deaf ear to the voices of the people it represents.
Gun Safety Laws and the Second Amendment
Perhaps they are opposed because they believe any such law would violate the Constitution’s Second Amendment. But that is false reasoning. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote for the majority in Schenck v. United States. “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”
Another judicial giant, Justice Antonin Scalia, confirmed that opinion when he issued the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia et al. v. Heller. In defining Second Amendment rights, he specifically stated they were not unlimited and provided a road map for constitutional limitations.
“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited…” It is “… not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Limitations on Second Amendment Gun Rights
As should be plainly obvious, background checks and red flag laws conform to the constitutional limitations Scalia described. They provide the means to prohibit the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or impose conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
His statement there is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” would seem to allow a ban on assault weapons.
Scalia’s opinion conveys the view that gun safety laws do not restrict law-abiding citizens from exercising a constitutionally protected right. So today, proposed gun safety laws encompass permitted limitations on those rights. The question is how long will this Supreme Court allow those limitations to continue. In the past, conservatives criticized the Supreme Court for making law, intruding on the political process. No longer. Now that they are in the majority, it appears making law might just be an operative principle. Certain Justices appear desirous of addressing this issue again and further restricting or even eliminating these permissible limitations.
If that happens, it will strike at the credibility of the Court as an impartial referee and imprint it as an instrument of political ideology. One hopes that Chief Justice Roberts will not want that as his legacy and allow the current political process to proceed. It is therefore critical for Congress to confront this issue while the constitutionality of gun safety laws can be defended.
Other Fallacious Arguments Against Gun Safety Laws
Aside from challenging their constitutionality, opponents of gun safety laws argue the real problem is not guns, but mental health. However, it is clear that this is a disingenuous argument. They concurrently oppose red flag laws and extensive background checks that could limit individuals with mental health problems to obtain guns.
“It takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun.” This is a catchy meme meant to encourage good guys to purchase guns. It asserts that well-armed law abiding citizens will be more quickly able to stop mass shootings. In reality it doesn’t work that way. Note the carnage, despite police—the good guys—responding to the recent mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio in 32 seconds.
Proponents of unregulated gun ownership have managed to frighten people. Only the criminals and evildoers will have them. Law-abiding citizens will be defenseless and unable to protect themselves against a government that’s gone bad. Their list is extensive and would be alarming if it were true. But this debate is not about banning guns. It’s about keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. It’s about preventing one person from killing more than thirty people in less than a minute with an automatic weapon.
Automatic and Semi-automatic Assault Weapons
Yes, there are law-abiding people who use automatic weapons for hunting and/or target practice. As noted above, banning assault weapons could be a permitted limitation of the Second Amendment. However, if automatic weapons were banned, these individuals would be deprived of the enjoyment of using them. But I ask, how many lives is that enjoyment worth?
Consider the recent mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio. Police reported the gunman had an AR-15 style assault rifle with a 100 round magazine. He killed nine people and wounded 27 in 32 seconds before the police shot him. How many lives would have been saved and less people wounded if the gunman didn’t have an automatic weapon? A majority of Americans must believe lives can be saved because 59% favor banning assault weapons while only 23% opposed.
Opponents of such laws argue they will not stop the dedicated killer. They are correct. Then again, all laws do not prevent what they are designed to. Murder is against the law, but killers murder. Seat belts are required in autos, but even wearing them does not always prevent deaths. Gun safety laws could prevent some dangerous individuals from obtaining a weapon, thereby potentially saving a life. And a properly enforced assault weapons ban that also includes modifications converting the weapon to semi-automatic can save lives.
It should cover not only the speed projecting the bullet from the weapon, but also the number of rounds its magazine holds. The Dayton shooter fired 41 rounds in 32 seconds or 1.28 rounds per second from a 100 round magazine. Surely a weapon of lesser velocity with a smaller magazine would have reduced the number injured or killed. This isn’t what it takes to kill one deer. This is what it takes to mow down a mall full of people, or a school full of children.
The Science Behind Gun Deaths
But proponents of unrestricted gun ownership laws are afraid that if studied, the effectiveness of gun safety laws reducing death tolls would be scientifically proven. That is why they have essentially blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from doing any research on this issue. The Dickey Amendment passed in 1996 mandated that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
Imagine if such a restriction were placed on measles or any infectious disease. Let people die by gun rather than examine the underlying cause of their deaths. Congress should eliminate this provision as part of addressing the issue of gun safety laws.
Moscow Mitch and the NRA
So we are at a moment in time when there is no rational argument for Congress to prevent consideration of red flag laws, extensive background checks and a ban on assault weapons. Conversely there is a very real reason to enact such laws. Yet, as stated at the outset, the one individual imbued with power by virtue of his position to stand in the way is Moscow Mitch McConnell. Over the course of his career the NRA has contributed $1,261,874 to his campaigns. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The tens of million dollar contributions the NRA has made to Republican Senators have played no small role in the Republican Party’s control of the U.S. Senate. In fact, at least 2/3 of current Republican Senators have received contributions from the NRA.
Still, the key is Moscow Mitch. If he allows consideration of these measures, it would force each Republican Senator to take a position on gun safety measures. That might not be very appealing to Republican Senators in purple states up for reelection in 2020. If they vote for gun safety, they could end up with a primary opponent. If they vote against, they could doom their chances of reelection. So Moscow Mitch’s strategy is to avoid the issue. After all, if he keeps putting it off, the public clamor might diminish and nothing will change.
While I’m hopeful that something positive can be accomplished, I suspect that Republicans will simply drag their feet. Therefore, real change will come only when Republicans are no longer in control of the Senate and this President is replaced by one who does not stoke fear, hatred, and violence.