Should US Gun Laws be Changed?

With mass shootings being in the news recently in the US, we explore whether the laws and regulations around guns and their use should change.

Unfortunately, in the past few weeks mass shootings have taken the news in the US and worldwide. With there being two mass shootings on consecutive days at the start of August in Texas and Ohio, the never-ending debate to whether or not the government need to enforce some changes becomes even more heated and ever topical.

This month, I decided to get in touch with some US attorneys to find out their arguments to whether or not the US needs to address current gun regulations. We have some arguing against any reforms, on the basis that the 2nd amendment is a constitutional right, stating the main issue is regarding the sentences of those who violate gun laws face; and we have some attorneys speaking on why there needs to changes in the regulation and laws, in order to ensure mass shootings decrease.

Before we begin the debate, Nora Demleitner, Chaired Law Professor at Washington and Lee University, shares a little background into guns, its laws and the impact it has had.

“Much of the current debate focuses on high-profile mass shootings. Yet, those are just the tip of the iceberg of gun-related injuries and deaths in the United States. After a long decline of gun death rates throughout the 1990s and stable rates in the decade following, in 2017 the rate went up substantially, with about 40,000 Americans dying from gun-related injuries. The rate of gun deaths is still lower than in 1993, the previous high (though the absolute numbers are virtually identical).”

Many argue, correctly in my view, that weapons of war have no place in the civilian population.

The sale of guns had been going up steadily since 2000 until the beginning of Trump’s presidency. Since then it has been falling. Perhaps more importantly, the percentage of US households with firearms has been going down from about half in 1978 to slightly above a third in 2016. Nora expands: “That implies a smaller percentage of gun owners but with a larger arsenal of guns. This may explain why a larger percentage of Americans are in favor of more restrictive gun legislation (including many firearms owners, of course).”

As a result of violent crime during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Congress banned so-called assault weapons in 1994, a ban that expired in 2004. It is reinstituting that ban which has been the legal action most in the news. “Many argue, correctly in my view, that weapons of war have no place in the civilian population. Even if such a ban is in place, it needs to be supplemented by a buy-back plan, similar to the one in New Zealand”, says Nora.

FOR: 

Our system is not fair, we have work to do.

Dameka Davis is a licensed attorney in South Florida who states “Now is the time for gun reform more than ever.”

There need to be changes in who is able to buy, sell, and purchase firearms. Especially as it relates to assault rifles.

The most important things that our legislators need to regulate is the purchase of guns by the mentally ill, persons who have been committed to impatient residential facilities, and convicted felons.

I have been on both sides as both a former prosecutor and now a Criminal Defense Attorney. People want to feel like they have the right to protect themselves and their family. While on balance, Criminal defense attorneys want to make sure that those accused of firearm crimes are given a fair process with fair and proportional sentences. Particularly where certain classes of people are facing enhanced sentences as a result of firearm crimes.

Therefore, I believe that we need massive reform on who can own and/or possess guns. Our country also needs criminal justice reform without mandatory minimums.

Our system is not fair, we have work to do.

AGAINST:

Scott Sanborn is an Ex-Green Beret and California attorney who joined the US Army National Guard at age 17. He explains the reason to why he thinks no reforms should take place.

We need more good guys carrying guns that ready to defend others in an active shooter scenario.

The gun laws should not change, at least not in a manner that would be any more restrictive to people. Guns have an important role in empowering people of the United States of America. As part of a system of checks and balances, armed citizens are an oversight mechanism and deterrent for any government considering tyranny. The USA has the most powerful government in the world. Gun control laws work in other countries because they can rely on USA intervention for protection. But the USA is different. We have a duty, not only to ourselves, but to the rest of the world to keep our people armed and ensure the US government is acting right, within the limits of the Constitution. If you don’t trust that the US government will always do the right thing, then US citizens must be armed. With regard to mass shooters, we need to execute them. We need to give them some due process and a swift prosecution. Then we need to execute them in a manner that will leave an impression on any person wanting to one-up the last shooter. We need more good guys carrying guns that ready to defend others in an active shooter scenario.

FOR: 

Touching on a slightly different area, domestic gun violence, Michael Stutman, Founding Partner of Stutman, Stutman & Lichtenstein, a NYC-based matrimonial law firm, speaks about why there should be better regulation for those going through a divorce who also own firearms. 

Michael believes that in order to mitigate the dangers of domestic gun violence, there ought to be a law or regulation that requires all firearms to be surrendered during divorce litigation. As soon as divorce has been filed, those with guns should be brought to the local police station (those with illegal firearms would be given amnesty) and would get them back upon settlement of the divorce. With the rate of domestic violence and gun violence in this country, Michael thinks this law would be common-sense safety.

FOR: 

The ambiguity in the language of the Constitution has opened up debate among many different areas of the Constitution including the right to bear arms.

David Reischer, Esq., attorney & CEO of LegalAdvice.com explains what reasonable gun laws should be and the impact better gun laws could have.

The ambiguity in the language of the Constitution has opened up debate among many different areas of the Constitution including the right to bear arms. There is a natural tension between protecting the rights and liberties of the individual while also promoting the general welfare and common good of society as a whole. Recently, society has started to debate the limits of the “Right To Bear Arms” enshrined in the ‘Second Amendment’ of the Bill of Rights. Specifically, there is a push that would require background checks, a national gun registry, red flag laws and prohibition on anybody owning semi-automatic weapons. In my opinion, Congress should pass reasonable gun laws that make sure guns are less likely to get into the hands of malicious actors, but they should not outright prohibit law-abiding citizens from owning a gun. A reasonable gun law would 1) raise the required age to own a gun to 21, 2) Require all gun owners to undergo a mental health evaluation, 3) Mandate that all gun owners pass criminal background checks and, 4) Extend the waiting period to purchase a gun.

AGAINST 

Criminal defense attorney Arash Hashemi, host of the “Hashing Out The Law” podcast, simultaneously supports the 2nd Amendment and gun control in the US. 

I’m more pro-second Amendment than con. People should have the right to bear arms, but it shouldn’t be a free-for-all, for any kind of person to get any kind of gun they want. We need background checks, to keep guns out of the hands of convicted criminals.

Unfortunately, most gun-related crimes — not the mass shootings, but the gang murders and street crime — involve guns that were not obtained legally. They are either stolen in burglaries or bought off the black market. And no matter how much gun control we have, we’ll always have a black market.

It doesn’t matter that assault rifles didn’t exist during the time the Constitution was written.

But that doesn’t mean you have to take away legal gun ownership rights. Stricter gun control doesn’t mean criminals will stop burglarizing homes to steal guns. But for someone convicted of a violent felony, they can lose their right to vote, so they also lose their right to bear arms. That is why we must have criminal background checks for gun purchasing. But petty theft? That’s a different case. We can’t take away a Constitutional right for that.

It doesn’t matter that assault rifles didn’t exist during the time the Constitution was written. Our Constitution’s search and seizure laws apply to cell phones, and those weren’t around either. Constitutional laws apply to present-day technology. That’s why I don’t agree with banning certain types of guns, for law-abiding citizens who pass a criminal background check. You can have whatever kind of gun, for whatever kind of reason. The government has no business inquiring about what ‘reason’ you might have for owning one type of gun over another. This is a Constitutional right, whether you want to use it for hunting or as a doorstop.

Guns, for good or ill, will always be a part of America’s story.

The reason the 2nd Amendment was adopted was because under British law, you could not have arms — but the Founding Fathers felt it was important, to keep the government in check, from becoming tyrannical. Citizens bearing arms is a check on government power. The British wanted to prevent ownership of arms because they feared Colonists would turn their weapons against them — which is exactly what they did.

This is how deep the importance of guns goes in US history — they go to the very founding of this country. Guns, for good or ill, will always be a part of America’s story.

FOR

Nora continues her debate to whether guns should be regulated differently in the United States, to avoid mass shootings and/or “the wrong people getting their hands on guns.” Her general consensus is yes, they should be.

In addition, to a ban on new sales of automatic and semi-automatic guns and a buy-back plan, the US could also benefit from German- and Swiss-style regulation. Both countries have very high gun ownership but a much smaller violent gun crime rate (though suicides remain an issue). Regulations would include more than criminal background checks, such as potentially psychological assessments and questions about the motivation for gun purchases, and training (akin to driver’s training). I suspect, however, that such searching inquiries would be anathema, especially in light of the Heller decision.

None of these laws will prevent all gun-related killings or mass shootings. Yet, they have the potential to lessen deadly violence in different settings.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Heller in 2008, in which it basically re-evaluated the meaning of the 2nd Amendment, reading it to include an individual right to gun ownership, will make many such regulatory moves more difficult. Still, the Amendment has not been read to allow all gun ownership of any type of firearm with no limitation (at least not yet).

Of course, in addition to legally owned guns, there is also a number of illegally owned guns around. Buy-backs are a start (though not always effective) as is enforcement of criminal laws. Here, the disparity in gun laws between the states causes substantial enforcement challenges. In addition, illegal gun ownership is often prevalent in neighborhoods that are less safe, which provides a rational basis even for law-abiding citizens to buy such guns.

None of these laws will prevent all gun-related killings or mass shootings. Yet, they have the potential to lessen deadly violence in different settings.

A broader rethinking of America’s relationship with violence and guns is long overdue. Switzerland, for example, allows gun ownership for defense against outside enemies. In the US, gun ownership is styled as a defense against criminals and an overbearing government. That attitude lends itself to vigilante action and undermines state authority. In addition, a better-funded mental health system will not be able to prevent all mass shootings but would provide assistance to those who may need it long before violence occurs.

 

It remains to be a contested issue for US citizens and their government. Whether or not any changes will be made is a question in itself, and whether those changes will have a positive impact, is another. What worked for countries like Australia, may not work for the US, yet, on the other hand, controlling devasting mass shootings from frequently reoccurring ought to be a priority. 

 

If you enjoyed this article, you may want to take a look at our: ‘What Would Happen If the US Applied A Gun Amnesty?’  article.

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