PIAC Gun Control Series: Possible Legislative Actions

By:  Ridgeway Woulfe

Thus far in our Gun Control Series, we have discussed why there is a need for gun control solutions and we have discussed who can provide these solutions.  Now we address what gun control legislation could actually look like.  These methods are not guaranteed to withstand Constitutional challenges.

Banned Gun Types

One of the most simplistic concepts may be one of the harder to implement.  This system is simply a ban on selling the types of guns and ammunition, in the same way automatic weapons have already been banned.  Commonly proposed bans include bans semi-automatic weapons (where the weapon automatically reloads), assault rifles (where there are multiple firing modes, including automatic), and guns with a high-capacity magazine (storage) guns. 

The Bump Stock Ban

This action aims to eliminate the sale of bump stocks, a device which can make ordinary rifles fire as automatic rifles do.  These devices have made news for their use in mass shootings.  President Trump has even addressed implementing such a ban, though without any concrete development.  In banning their use, proponents seek to not only reduce the number of dangerous tools available.  Additionally, this ban could prevent any guns from producing automatic fire.

Individual Consumer-Based Sales Restrictions

Alternatively, restrictions on gun and ammo sales could provide a more compromised solution.  This approach would see gun and ammunition sales limited in two ways.  One is on a per purchase basis.  This means limiting the number of guns and/or ammo purchased at a single time.  This method could help prevent potential mass-shooters from suddenly stocking up. 

Another method is to create a database, whereby consumers would be generally limited to a certain number of guns and ammunition over a given time period.  This method could be extended to limit certain types of guns (e.g. only permitting one semi-automatic rifle and unlimited handguns).  In doing so, it could ensure that stockpiles of firearms are not developed over time.

Background Checks

This measure is presented more simplistically than can be implemented.  While requiring background checks is a good start, that only provides the seller with data.  When background checks are required and what they mean for the sale are separate issues. 

Current Law

Federal law currently requires any licensed firearms seller to run a background check with the FBI before a firearm is sold to a specific customer.  The FBI then determines whether a criminal background (a felony punishable by at least a year or a misdemeanor punishable by at least two) or other ground requires the seller to deny the sale.  Other common grounds requiring a gun sale to be denied include being a fugitive, having a misdemeanor domestic violence history, illegal possession of a controlled substance, having a domestic violence restraining order placed upon them, being under indictment, having a severe mental health defect, or state specific reasons for denial. The determination is intended to be done immediately, 9% of cases require additional time.  When more than three days pass without notifying the dealer, the dealer is free to complete the sale.  Thousands of guns are sold under this method every year.

Desired Changes

With these background check requirements in place, what are activists looking to change?  A simple change is to require a background check for all sales of guns, not just those from licensed firearm dealers.  Most notably, this would require gun show sales to do background checks.  This change would close one “loophole.” 

Another area of interest is in creating a universal background check, which did not vary state to state, in order to increase the checks’ accuracy.  This background check could also be expanded to include background checks for purchasing ammunition.

Some activists want to expand the waiting period in order to conduct more thorough background checks.  Dylan Roof, for instance, was managed to get a gun despite being unqualified because more than three days passed.  This trigged a “default proceed,” enabling the gun to be sold.  Extending the waiting period could help against poor record-management inadvertently leads to a gun sale.

Activists would also like to see the categories which bar gun ownership expanded.  The categories could include if a person has been convicted of any violent crime, criminal stalking, and persons included on the “no fly” list for suspected terrorism.

Screening

In addition to background checks, there are two other key requirements which could be implemented before a person buys a gun.  One is an explanation of why the person wants a gun.  As an isolated measure, it would likely amount to little.  But when put together with other legislation, it can force an explanation which could show the risks the buyer presents.

Additionally, countries have required doctors’ notes to demonstrate mental stability.  This requirement would stop those who are mentally ill from buying guns, even when the illness does not show up on a background check.  Either of these screening requirements would place an additional hurdle to owning a gun, with minimal burden on any party.

Gun Safety Training and Management

There is plenty of room for legislation is to make gun use more secure after the gun has been purchased.  One option that has been implemented to require gun training in order to receive a permit.  Much like a drivers’ test ensuring a legal driver is relatively safe, the same could be done for gun owners.  Training requirements could come in a variety of forms.  The training could come before receiving a gun license, it could require gun owners to maintain a minimum number of hours practicing at a shooting range, it could require psychological evaluations, it could require continuing education.  Any combination of these, or any other requirements for owning a gun could be instituted.  Other countries have seen success using these methods.

Gun Safe Requirements

Gun safe requirements have also been promoted as a method to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands after the initial purchase.  For instance, Germany requires gun owners to keep their guns in a safe and subject themselves to periodic police searches for compliance.  Upon inspection, a form must be filled out to prove compliance.

Mandatory Gun Removal

A lot of conversation revolves around preventing dangerous people from getting guns in the first place, but it may be equally valuable to create a system to retrieve the guns after a gun-owner is found to be dangerous.  The reasons for taking someone’s guns could mirror the reasons for denial.  If a person is involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment, if they have committed or pose a threat of domestic violence, if they have any other reason to be prevented from buying a gun—don’t allow them to keep their guns.  This solution reduces risk when the initial purchase shouldn’t have happened or when the warning signs manifest after the purchase.

Enforced Technology Changes

Some activists view futuristic technology as a means to prevent gun violence.  One option is to begin mandating guns which only fire with the user’s fingerprint.  Though other concerns may arise, making this a requirement could prevent criminal gun sales and help authorities identify the shooter after a violent attack.  In the same vein, the technology now exists for gun cartridges to “microstamped.”  That is, the cartridges could provide identifying information about the gun.  This will allow authorities to trace the exact gun if cartridges are left at the crime scene.  This gives a strong first clue.

Conclusion

Other countries have created interesting gun control measures which aren’t listed here.  Ranging from proving the need to police interviews to drastically restricting permitted sellers, a number of methods have proven to reduce gun violence but are impracticable in the United States.  In any case, the United States has many options to legislate changes to reduce gun violence.  It’s important to recognize that piecemealed legislation will not have the same impact as a comprehensive gun control plan.  Still, something needs to be done in response to continuous mass shootings.  Any one of these solutions would be step in the right direction.

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