Yesterday, President Obama announced, in response to the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, his plans to curb gun violence. In setting forth his agenda, the President is asking Congress to renew a ban on the sale of assault weapons, ensure the performance of background checks on all guns sold and pass new gun-trafficking laws. The President himself is taking steps to improve the background check process, reinstating funding for federal research on gun violence, ensuring more counselors are available at schools and providing greater access to mental health services.
The Senate is planning to begin discussing the President’s agenda starting next week; the House of Representatives is expected to wait and see what the Democrat-Senate passes before they act. Once discussions begin, it is expected that there will much opposition to the ban on the sale of assault weapons, as well as a proposed prohibition on high-capacity magazines. On the other hand, there appears to be much stronger support for universal background checks on gun sales and stricter gun trafficking laws.
There is much support for stricter gun control, and there are many arguments as to why the President’s proposal is overreaching. Whether for or against the President’s recently stated objectives, there are some obvious issues that the government will have to deal with before crafting any further gun control laws.
The first most obvious concern will be whether these laws violate the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution. The true import of the 2nd Amendment has been debated whenever gun control laws are proposed. The question becomes, does a citizen’s right to bear arms (and what type of arms?) trump the safety and welfare of other citizens? Will these proposed measures even provide for the greater safety they propose to create? In the Sandyhook Elementary School shooting, the shooter obtained the gun from his mother; increased and improved background checks cannot determine whether a gun obtained by one person, who is able to pass the background check, will be used by another.
A second issue is the failure to create a sufficient database to ensure background checks are thorough. In order to create a federal database of people prohibited from purchasing firearms, states must provide the necessary data. Without complete records, some people who should not be permitted to purchase a gun will slip through the crack. Even though a gun seller does all they are required to do under the law, without proper notification guns may still be sold when they should not be.
Finally, and perhaps most difficult will be to define what constitutes an “assault rifle”. On one side, people advocate that any semi-automatic weapon with detachable magazines and “military” features like pistol grips, flash suppressors and collapsible or folding stocks should be deemed an assault rifle. However, gun advocates state that the term “assault rifle” should be used to describe only fully automatic weapons; they believe that many of the features used to designate “assault rifles”, other than being fully automatic, are merely cosmetic. With such debate over what does and does not constitute an assault rifle, manufacturers may be able to side-step restrictions with minor alterations, much as they did under the 1994 ban.
Whether one sides with the President’s agenda or feels it is overreaching, the above issues will have to be dealt with in order to ensure any legislation that is written fulfills its intended purpose: help to prevent further gun violence while maintaining the rights of United States’ citizens. The legislation will have to be drafted to be very specific, and cooperation by all states will be required. The government cannot prevent all acts of gun violence as no system will be perfect, but the government must also exercise caution in creating a law which has no real effect or overly violates citizens’ rights.
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