Calls to Tighten Most Lax Gun Laws in the World
After last week’s horrific massacre in Newtown, Connecticut that left 26 people dead including 20 elementary school children, calls for new gun control laws have echoed across the nation.
An official petition calling for immediate legislative action to restrict gun access set a record for the most popular ever posted through the White House portal, after five days clocking in at 190,000 signatures and counting. According to a CBS news poll, 57 percent of Americans support tighter gun laws, up from 39 percent in April and the highest mark in a decade.
Conservative Democratic Senators and NRA members Mark Warner from Virginia and Joe Manchin from West Virginia have called for tighter restrictions, joining a chorus of other Democratic lawmakers and even some conservative pundits like former House Republican Joe Scarborough, who said Monday that the Bill of Rights “does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military-style, high-caliber, semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high-capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want.”
The United States Conference of Mayors, many of whom see the devastating effects of gun violence first-hand on the streets of their cities, also issued a call for stronger laws. However, any push for new restrictions must fall within the interpretation of the nation’s citizen’s right to bear arms, which is constitutionally protected by the Second Amendment.
Second Amendment Rights
The Supreme Court has made clear in recent rulings that states or localities cannot ban people from keeping handguns in their homes, based on Second Amendment rights. After a federal appellate court recently struck down Illinois’ ban on concealed carry permits, the high court will likely have a chance to clarify if the right to own a gun extends to the right to carry it outside the home.
What the court has always acknowledged, however, is the right of governments to impose restrictions on firearm use and purchase in order to protect public safety. “The Supreme Court made clear . . . that while there was a Second Amendment right for law-abiding responsible citizens to have a gun in the home for self-defense, that a wide variety of reasonable regulations for guns are constitutional,” says Jonathan Lowy, director of the Legal Action Project for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “And the court specifically said that restrictions and prohibitions on dangerous and unusual weapons are constitutional.”
Among the proposed ideas that have been circulated this week:
- A ban on the most deadly types of weaponry, such as the assault rifles that were used in the Aurora theater massacre and the Newtown shootings. Manufacture for sale to civilians of assault weapons was illegal from 1994 until 2004 under federal law.
- A ban on accessories that allow shooters to kill faster, such as high-capacity magazines that hold more than then 10 rounds of ammunition.
- Harsher penalties and more enforcement against straw purchasers, who legally buy guns in order to illegally supply them to people who would otherwise be ineligible to purchase them.
- Strengthening background checks and making it more difficult for people with a history of mental illness to obtain firearms.
- Give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms greater regulatory control over guns
- Repeal a 2005 law shielding gun manufacturers and dealers from most civil lawsuits
Inspiration might also be found in other countries. The United States has the most lax firearm laws of any developed country in the world, and perhaps not coincidentally, the highest death by firearm rate of developed countries, about 20 times the average. Among laws in nations that have dramatically lower homicide rates than the United States:
- Germany makes gun owners prove their suitability at least once every three years.
- Italy requires medical certification that a gun buyer is “sound in mind and body.”
- Great Britain bans semi-automatic rifles and handguns, and does not allow gun ownership for self-defense.
- Australia bans semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, requires all guns be registered and does not allow ownership for self-defense.
On Sunday, President Obama weighed in with a speech to a grieving Newtown community, saying, “No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.”