An Immodest Proposal: What If We Treated Gun Rights Like Abortion Rights?

constitution_gunThis is a thought experiment. The mass shooting in Las Vegas two days ago killed and wounded more Americans in 30 minutes than the battle of Fallujah. Attempts to legislate gun regulations to make it harder for criminals to obtain weapons of war have failed because of powerful gun lobbyists with deep pockets and spineless congressional representatives who value campaign contributions more than the safety of their constituents.

I see many parallels between the gun rights arguments and abortion rights arguments. For example, abortion opponents will argue that the right to an abortion isn’t specifically spelled out in the Constitution and any claim to that right is the result of judicial activism. When the Supreme Court determined in Roe v. Wade (1974) in a 7-2 decision that the right to privacy in the 14th Amendment extended to health care, decisions regarding abortion became no one’s business but the woman and her doctor.

And while the 2nd Amendment does offer some specific gun rights, until District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) the right to bear arms was considered a collective right, that is a right given to the states, not individuals. In a 5-4 decision, SCOTUS overturned more than a century of precedent to say the 2nd Amendment applied to individuals. For some reason, conservatives didn’t see that as judicial activism.

So, given that both individual abortion rights and individual gun rights are the result of split decisions by SCOTUS, we can look to how legislatures’ attempts to regulate these rights can inform each other. Perhaps, through creative thinking, we can find some common ground. Or at least lay bare the hypocrisy.

I mean, conservatives bent on curtailing abortion rights are nothing if not creative. They have come up with dozens of “TRAP laws” (Targeted Regulations at Abortion Providers). They have legislated waiting periods, scripts for doctors to read, regulations for clinic facilities, hospital affiliations, invasive ultrasounds, and affirmed the rights of protesters to line the sidewalks outside clinics to offer street-level “counseling.”

What if we applied some of that creativity to the problem of gun violence? Below are some suggestions for how this might work.

All Gun Stores Should Be Required To Build and Maintain A Below-ground Shooting Range

Think about it. It offers gun buyers access to better information about the gun they are considering. If something terrible happens, like a misfire or a stray bullet, the range is surrounded by earth and no outsider would be injured. The range can be limited to one person at a time to ensure no “lone wolf” decides to use their weapon on anyone but themselves. 

“But wait,” you say. “My local gun shop is located in a place where an underground shooting range can’t be built.” That’s unfortunate, but your safety is our main concern. This legislation undoubtedly will lead to closings of sub-standard gun shops around the state. But in the name of safety, and providing potential gun owners with necessary information with respect to their options and their rights, this is a good thing for gun owners.

“But wait,” you say. “My local gun shop can’t afford to take on such expensive renovations.” You’re not alone. Some estimate that these new regulations will close upwards of 90 percent of gun shops in your state. But those remaining 10 percent are going to be reeaaaallly successful and busy. In fact, you may have to start making appointments to purchase weapons because of the demand. 

All Gun Purchases Should Require a three-day waiting period.

Potential customers may use these three days to fire the gun in the underground firing range, read various pamphlets offered by the state, and a law enforcement officer will offer counseling about the dangers and responsibilities of gun ownership.

“But wait,” you say. “I don’t need three days to make my decision. I’ve got to drive a four and a half hours to get to a gun store. Why should I have to wait three days after I get there?” We like to think of this part of the legislation as “reflection enhancement time.” If you make a rash decision, you will regret it for the rest of your life and there are psychological implications to that of which you need to be aware.

All Gun Purchasers Should Be Required to View Images of Gunshot Victims

You may never fire your weapon at another human and we really hope you don’t. But if you decide to take that momentous step, you need to do so with your eyes open to the results of your decision. Studies show that people who use their guns to kill, even in defense of their own lives, often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. It is important that you understand the deadly nature of your decision and how it may affect you for the rest of your life. Firing your gun at someone could result in you being unable to fire your gun at anyone else. Then where will you be?

All Gun Dealers Should Be Required to Properly Dispose of Waste

This includes spent shells, casings, used targets, etc… Reusing these materials creates an environment where ammunition isn’t strictly regulated. An unsuspecting gun owner could inadvertently use substandard ammunition which can cause injury to him or herself or others. Therefore, reloading and reusing ammunition components is prohibited. Proper disposal of spent rounds, casings, targets, and shells will require proper labeling, packaging, and disposal using a commercially licensed handler of hazardous waste material, all of which must be buried or incinerated in the presence of a licensed disposal agent. 

All gun dealers should be required to have an off-duty law enforcement officer on the premises 24 hours a day.

This will facilitate the required counseling as well as create jobs and give law enforcement a better access to information about gun ownership in the state. Also, if an emergency occurs, having law enforcement on hand will better protect the gun owner and gun dealer from danger. 

“But wait,” you say. “However many guns I own or want to own or plan to own isn’t anyone’s business but mine.”  Sure, sure. You’re fine. You’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s the shady, back-alley gun shops that we’re going after. “But I can’t afford to pay an armed guard/counselor to be on site 24 hours a day.” Again, this may cause the closure of some substandard gun shops, but that’s the price you pay for safety and access to good information about your decision to buy and own a gun.

All gun purchases must be done in person with a licensed gun dealer and law enforcement officer present.

If something does go wrong during the purchase, to protect the health and safety of everyone involved, we’d feel better about having some professionals present. This isn’t the sort of decision one should make via computer or through the mail. There may be questions to be answered. Plus, this way, we can ensure that you’re in compliance with the other regulations we’re creating. So, no gun purchases online or over-the-counter. You need to see a licensed professional and have someone present with jail-admitting privileges should an emergency happen.

All Gun Store owners and employees should be screened for lead poisoning every six months.

The health and safety of everyone involved in the totally legal and constitutionally guaranteed right to own a firearm dictate that steps be taken to head off any potential risks to the wellbeing of gun shop owners and employees. So regular inspections of the facilities including sweeps for carcinogens, the presence of lead, and other environmental contaminants will help ensure the safety of all involved.

Gun Purchase Counsellors Shall Remain Outside the Fixed Buffer Zone of the Gun Store and Outside the Floating Buffer Zone of Individual Gun Purchasers.

In the interest of ensuring you have all the information you need to make your gun purchasing decision, some gun stores may attract the attention of street-level counselors who may shout helpful information at you while you walk toward the store. They may also show you giant images of gun-shot wounds or dead people who suffered from gunshot wounds. They may use bullhorns or PA systems to yell their advice at you. They may take your photo or write down your license plate number. This is all for your benefit and depending on the state, they may be required to stay back a few feet from the door and a few feet from you. Your gun store may provide an escort to help you navigate these well-wishers.

All Gun Purchases Will Be Recorded and Filed with the  State Government Health Departments.

We need to study the effects of gun ownership on a variety of public health issues. To do this, we need the best information available. So the Department of Health will keep a file on every person who buys a gun and every gun bought. This way, we can know and others can find out.

Do these regulations sound unreasonable? Do they sound like attempts to stop you from exercising your rights to purchase and own guns? Do they sound like excuses and pretenses? They are. But so are TRAP laws.

Now imagine the government enacting some or all of these regulations, resulting in the closure of all but one or two gun shops in your state. Now, to purchase a gun, you have to take off from work, drive several hours, get a hotel room, navigate a gamut of protesters screaming at you, begin the process (which includes your gun dealer and law enforcement officer reading a state-mandated script about the evils of gun ownership), wait two or three (or five) days (and in some states weekends and holidays don’t count toward this waiting period); and then have an unnecessary and invasive medical procedure (such as a prostate exam) before you’re allowed to make your purchase, which the Constitution and the courts say is legal. Oh, and the government may spend your tax dollars funding stores that look like gun shops but don’t actually sell guns, just advice on why you don’t really want to own a gun anyway. The government might also pass legislation saying your liability insurance doesn’t cover shooting anyone, so you’ll have to get a special mass shooting rider which they will make illegal to sell to you.

Every one of these regulations, which seem silly and unnecessary are based on actual legislation proposed or enacted by states to limit a woman’s right to abortions. All the justifications which seem egregious are based on the justifications for various TRAP laws. If you can recognize it when applied to gun rights, then you should be able to see it with respect to abortion and understand why so many fight against them.

The truth is that we need gun control regulation. Not to prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves. But to prevent someone accumulating an arsenal and murdering 50 people and injuring 500 in a matter of 30 minutes. Currently, Congress wants to make it easier to purchase suppressors for weapons under the guise of “hearing protection” and armor-piercing bullets under the guise of . . . well, I’m not sure why civilians need armor-piercing rounds. But it seems like we’re moving in the wrong direction here.

Contact your members of Congress. Tell them to return the blood money the NRA has given them. Tell them to take action to protect your right to be safe in public. Because the answer to the shooting in Las Vegas isn’t hotel security screenings or limits on outdoor events. It’s regulations on ammunition and weapons. We can do better than what we’re doing.

Advertisements

DACA Policy Is a Mirror Image of Republican Gun Culture

sessions

If you were to ask unreconstructed old racist Attorney General Jeff Sessions, racist Republican Representative Steve King (R-Iowa), or any of the other Republican members of Congress who are proud of their state’s gun “culture” their opinions on a proposal for a national gun registry, you would find unanimous condemnation.

And while the arguments for a gun registry are solid — it can help track weapons used in crimes, prosecute people who provide guns to criminals and terrorists, and recover weapons stolen from legal gun owners — their argument would be that the danger to 2nd Amendment rights far outweighs any good that can come from having a list of guns or gun owners.

You see, a corrupt government will make the decision to take away your rights and use that list as a means of rounding up guns and removing them by force. Such a thing cannot be countenanced under our Constitutional Democracy and so it is best we do not go down that road. We simply cannot trust the government with that information.

Why is it, do you suppose, that these people are so certain that the government will act in bad faith? Why do they suspect that the government is fundamentally corrupt and it will misuse the registry for anything other than its intended purpose?

I believe it’s because they themselves are willing to act in bad faith. The Republicans are in power and they are demonstrating that they are willing to use that power in odious ways that are not just unAmerican, but corrupt in nature.

Yesterday, President Trump shoved Jeff Sessions in front of the cameras to announce that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) would be rescinded. DACA was a program began in 2012 by President Obama to allow people who are American in every aspect but immigration status to be educated, get a job, join the military, and live their lives without the constant fear of deportation.

To be eligible to participate in DACA:

Illegal immigrants must have entered the United States before their 16th birthday and prior to June 2007, be currently in school, a high school graduate or be honorably discharged from the military, be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, and not have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three other misdemeanors, or otherwise pose a threat to national security. The program does not provide lawful status or a path to citizenship, nor does it provide eligibility for federal welfare or student aid.

The program is for people who were brought to the United States as children. Under DACA, they were allowed to register with the government, pay a $500 fee, and they were given semi-legal status (legal “presence” rather than legal “status”). DACA participants have to renew their status every two years and must have no criminal record. Today there are about 800,000 DACA recipients (which means the fees alone bring $200 million a year into the treasury). The average age is 26 and most were brought to this country before their 6th birthday. This is the only country they know. Many of them speak no language other than English. So in many ways, these are model immigrants. They have assimilated into our culture because it’s their culture.

But requiring these people to register with the government in good faith created a list of people whose immigration status is on hold, essentially. Now, racists like Jeff Sessions and Steve King want to use that registry to kick these people out of the country. Sound familiar? The same people who are absolutely certain that the government is so corrupt that we can’t have a national gun registry without abusing it to take away the rights of gun owners are now announcing they want to use a different government registry to take away the rights of brown people. They are champing at the bit to deport this low-hanging fruit of self-identified “illegal” immigrants. These are people who pose no threat. They’re not committing crimes. Kicking them out won’t raise anyone’s wages or lower anyone’s taxes. They’re not on welfare. They’re not getting Pell Grants. They’re living and working in the only country they know. But many of them are brown. So bigots like Sessions and King are gleeful at the opportunity to deport them.

“Hold up,” you’re saying. “The right to bear arms is in the Constitution. These people don’t have the right to stay here illegally.” Which is a fair point to bring up in a debate about these issues. But it isn’t the end of the argument. For one thing, DACA participants are innocent of any crime. They were brought here as children. In this country, we don’t hold children accountable for the crimes of their parents. We just don’t. These people are your neighbors, your friends, and your colleagues. They have by definition kept a clean criminal record. They pay taxes. They contribute to our society. To argue that they are illegal is to argue that their existence is illegal. How can it be illegal just to exist? If you throw out the deal we made with them in good faith, then they have a legitimate grievance.

“Hold up,” you’re saying now. “DACA is unconstitutional. President Obama enacted the DACA program illegally.” Again, that’s a point you can bring up (and man does it get brought up a lot in the right-wing media) but that’s an opinion, not fact. The fact is the courts have yet to rule on the Constitutionality of the DACA program. The fact is that the president has prosecutorial discretion with respect to immigration. He can (and did) choose to focus his immigration enforcement efforts elsewhere. In fact, when Arizona passed a law banning DACA participants from receiving state benefits, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction, saying the ban itself was a violation of the law. Both Michigan and North Carolina briefly tried to stop DACA participants from getting drivers licenses but were stopped by the courts.

DACA will work its way through the court system and we’ll eventually get an answer as to the Constitutionality of it. But anyone who makes a claim one way or the other is issuing an opinion, not fact. This includes unreconstructed old racist Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

We do know some facts about DACA participants thanks to studies by various groups using the information in the registry.

So why act now? I mean President Trump campaigned on being tough on illegal immigration, but he campaigned on a lot of things that he hasn’t acted on yet. Why DACA and why now? After all, just last week Trump said he loves these people.

A handful of states attorneys general led by Texas threatened to sue Trump if he didn’t end DACA and start deporting this low-hanging fruit. They gave him an arbitrary deadline of Sept. 5. So Trump trotted out Jeff Sessions who was positively giddy about it.

But the president has been sending enough mixed signals to keep Alan Turing busy for the next decade. For starters, he didn’t actually rescind DACA. He announced he was going to rescind it in six months. Then this:

So Trump wants to end DACA, but he wants Congress to enact DACA?

So if Congress doesn’t manage to get a DACA bill done in six months, the president won’t end DACA? What else can “I will revisit the issue!” mean? He’s already announced an end to the program in six months. Now he’s saying in six months he’ll look at it again. So does he want the program to end or not? How does this mealy mouthed half-measure actually fulfill his campaign pledge to end DACA?

The simple answer is that it doesn’t. This announcement is a cynical attempt by the president to ensure that the backlash for any bad outcome is on Congress and the praise for any good outcome goes to Trump. While in the business world, that might make you canny, in government, it makes you a coward. That’s not leadership.

There is no reason other than racism to end DACA. The act of rescinding this program is itself a corrupt act because the participants acted in good faith with the government of the only country they know. Using their own willingness to play ball against them is a cowardly act. Perhaps that’s why White House staff were secretly afraid that Trump might find out what DACA really was because he might have changed his mind.