In the wake of a Valentine’s Day slaughter at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead, lawmakers, pundits and the American people are debating solutions to gun violence more fervently than they have in years. For perhaps the first time, the NRA is facing real consequences over its drive to militarize every facet of American life, with several major companies severing ties with the powerful lobbying group. But despite the courageous protests of youth across the country, real political action still feels far away.
The Florida legislature recently rejected an assault weapons ban, but approved a bill that allows teachers to carry guns. This is a non-solution born in the furthest-right fringes of the country. It’s what the cult of gun fanatics – and it is a cult – most desire. Their fantasy of dead-eyed, Rambo-like teachers who can put down a mass shooter in time for kids to finish their math quiz is particularly laughable given the cowardice and inaction of professional law enforcement at the scene.
Much of the difficulty in finding real solutions is owed to the gun cult’s hysteria. Any regulation is treated as the first step toward absolute tyranny. Through the NRA and right-wing politicians, the most extreme fanatics enjoy unusual domination over our national gun dialogue. But with the NRA hobbled and student protesters showing no sign of surrender, change may be more likely than it’s been in a generation. There are plenty of real solutions worth discussing, many of which are already extremely popular among the American people.
- Universal background checks
One of the most popular proposals is universal background checks. Under current law, a customer who wants to purchase a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer must first be cleared by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. However, the system is notoriously feeble and contains numerous loopholes, and people purchasing guns from a private vendor or at a gun show – often called the “gun show loophole” – are not required to undergo a background check at all.
Far-right sites like Breitbart have argued that because the Florida shooter passed his background check, background checks are pointless. Current laws and loopholes have allowed guns to fall into the hands of killers, but this requires a tightening of the system, not a loosening, as many far-right ideologues argue. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, a staggering 97 percent of Americans support closing loopholes and requiring universal background checks for every gun purchase.
- Licensing and registration
In most states, owning a firearm is as easy as being of age, passing a background check, and paying the seller. It’s often easier than obtaining a driver’s license or a voter ID. Laws on gun registration and licensing vary widely from state-to-state, but most states have no such laws at all. Some lawmakers and public interest organizations have argued that a more rigorous and uniform procedure to license firearm holders and register their weapons would lower gun violence.
Licensing would be a more comprehensive way to determine the fitness of a person trying to purchase a firearm, beyond a rudimentary background check. Registration, which was officially banned by The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986, would provide a way to keep better track of the weapons themselves. These processes could include mental health screenings, a character witness to cosign for the gun, training, a declaration of purpose, and possibly microchipping the gun. Gun cultists will argue that such regulations violate civil rights, but licensing and regulation seems within the spirit of the “well regulated” militias called for by the Second Amendment.
If cars had been around in the 1700s, the Founding Fathers might well have guaranteed a right to personal automotive transportation in the Bill of Rights. Representatives from the auto industry would today decry the big-government tyranny of licensing exams, traffic laws and vehicle registration. But those regulations are in place and almost nobody complains, because society at large understands that they help prevent dangerous or unfit people from endangering the rest of us. The same logic applies easily to guns.
- Lower the magazine capacity limit
Readily available magazines for an AR-15, the semi-automatic rifle used in the Parkland massacre and a frequent lightning rod for gun control controversies, can hold 30 rounds. This means a shooter can fire the weapon 30 times before needing to reload, with each round fully capable of inflicting a mortal wound. Opponents of gun control often argue that people who want to kill will find a way to do so, but there’s no harm in making mass murder more difficult by limiting magazine capacity. Since the previous ban on high-capacity magazines expired in 2004, larger numbers of them have been recovered at crime scenes, suggesting that the ban did help to keep them out of the hands of criminals.
Plenty of other proposals, including raising the legal age to buy a gun, have also been proposed. They may help, but no solution will be enough on its own. Gun violence is embedded in our national DNA, from Indian genocide and slave patrols to the modern militarized police force. But the NRA pushes us in the wrong direction, with a radical agenda that seeks to flood every nook and cranny of American life with deadly weaponry. The child victims who have taken to the streets deserve to be heard above such deranged hysteria, and Americans must work to ease the uncertainty now lingering in our public spaces.