Can We Now Agree on More Restrictions on Gun Ownership?
Another horrific mass school shooting. This time, Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen kids and two teachers murdered. Instead of getting to praise their children for getting great grades, some parents spent the night in hospitals wondering if their children would survive.
Other parents grieved.
Most Americans naturally wonder whether additional restrictions on gun ownership would have prevented this tragedy. We will never know. But there seems to be bipartisan support that we at least try something. And contrary to the views of some, the Constitution does not forbid that effort.
Gun Ownership Is Widespread In the U.S.
Gun ownership is deeply ingrained in our society. In the U.S., there are more guns than people; estimates place the number of firearms at 400 million. According to a recent Pew Research poll, about 40 percent of people live in a home with a gun, and about 30 percent personally own at least one. Their main reason? Personal safety.
Meanwhile, many folks view gun violence as a problem. Nearly half of polled Americans rate it as "a very big problem" in our country today, and slightly more than half favor stricter gun laws. And that was before the uptick in mass shootings.
Americans Largely Agree on Certain Gun Restrictions
Despite the polarization in U.S. politics, there is general agreement that certain gun restrictions are appropriate. For example, most poll respondents support background checks for guns purchased privately or at gun shows. They also believe that the mentally ill should be prevented from buying guns.
Americans Disagree on Other Restrictions
Other proposed restrictions meet stiff ideological resistance. Most Democrats support assault-weapon bans, bans on high-capacity magazines, and the creation of a federal gun sale database; most Republicans don't.
Conversely, most Republicans support allowing concealed carry in more places, and allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns in K-12 schools; most Democrats don't. Nonetheless, the repeated mass shootings we have recently experienced are bound to have an impact on the political will.
What About the Second Amendment?
Some gun rights advocates contend that the Second Amendment prohibits virtually all firearm restrictions. That amendment states, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
The phrase "shall not be infringed" is the rub.
But as a legal matter, the phrase isn't to be taken literally. In 2008, the Supreme Court suggested as much in the landmark case of District of Columbia v. Heller. That case involved a special policeman who wanted a handgun for home defense. Although the court held that an individual has the right to own a firearm, it did not strike down all laws that place reasonable restrictions on that right. Virtually all states currently place at least some widely accepted limits on gun ownership (conceal carry permits, for example).
True, some states have gone farther than others. For example, New York is one of seven states that conditions the right to carry a concealed firearm in public on having a job that makes you a target (e.g., judges) or a showing of a particular proper cause; that is, a need specific to that particular person.
A firearms advocacy organization challenged New York's law in court, and the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in June 2022. It may decide that the state can't condition gun rights on a showing of special need, but still uphold the general principle underlying a conceal carry requirement. We will see.
When Will We See More Gun Restrictions?
Experts will debate the root causes of the carnage at Robb Elementary. We will never know what was running through the shooter's mind, just as we may never know the terror in the hearts of the victims.
However, what is clear is that gun rights have jumped to the top of the national agenda. As we engage in justifiable and much-needed soul-searching, our legislators may be forced to decide, as most Americans already have, that doing something is better than nothing.