The problem with ‘common sense’ gun control

The Cranston Herald ·

In the ongoing debate about gun control in America – how much is too little, how much is too much – the shift of legislative and judicial balance has historically tilted in favor of the Second Amendment.

It is not particularly surprising that a country that sewed its roots in a violent uprising that usurped its colonial overlords thanks to everyday residents shouldering and firing muskets is especially sensitive towards allowing a slippery slope of taking guns away from “the people.”

Although some may criticize the belief that any modern day militia of commercially-available weapons could even muster a pitiful defense against Abrams tanks and airborne artillery controlled by a suddenly malevolent U.S. military, that philosophical stance remains a significant reason behind why some hang on so tightly to their firearms.

The other reasons for the non-action are less romantic and are more nefarious. They include incredibly powerful gun lobbies that are composed primarily of the National Rifle Association and the major U.S. gun manufacturers whose livelihoods literally depend on more weapons being made and circulated throughout the country and abroad.

This is why even political action as seemingly innocuous as trying to prevent violent criminals, those who are mentally unstable or those who reasonably pose a risk to other people from being able to walk into Walmart and purchase a semi-automatic “sports rifle” will generate hundreds of thousands of reactionary wannabe revolutionaries from shouting “stay away from my guns!”

Recent studies published on CNN have shown that Americans own nearly one full half of the estimated 650 million commercially-owned firearms in the world. Although the United States only makes up 5 percent of the world’s population, and studies have shown gun violence is higher in South and Central America, a whopping 31 percent of mass shooters have called the United States home.

So while it is essentially impossible to enact sweeping, widespread changes to gun laws in America, it may be possible to slowly change the nation state by state. And in terms of localized gun control, Rhode Island and Governor Gina Raimondo are trying to lead the charge, as evidenced by the executive order signed by Raimondo on Monday in Warwick.

The so-called “Red Flag” law that Raimondo is urging the legislature to draft and pass would allow local police forces and the state police to investigate certain “at-risk” individuals who have been either long known by law enforcement as a potential hazard or have been identified by family members or other community members as a potential hazard – and through a court order making it impossible for them to acquire a gun or requiring them to forfeit any guns they own.

On its face, this is one of those “common sense” gun laws that progressive party politicians herald as necessary first steps towards better gun laws nationwide, however it is likely this law will face its fair share of fiery criticism by pro-gun advocates as well.

For instance, who will be able to report somebody as being “a potential hazard?” While a family member may certainly be able to tell that their loved one is behaving in a concerning manner, would this law essentially allow a nosy neighbor to call the police on a perfectly safe, law-abiding, gun owning citizen and have them be hassled by law enforcement? Would this waste police resources in communities whose officers are already stretched thin?

If the matter was investigated and the person was found to be a risk to themselves or others by local law enforcement, what criteria were used to make that assertion? Although the decision would still have to be made by a judge to issue a court order against the individual, will there be an appeals process to this decision? Will that clog up the courts?

These questions may be completely silly, but they should be asked. While gun control is a particularly frustrating and emotional topic – especially as nearly 100 people are lost every day to gun violence in this country – few good policy change have ever been made in knee-jerk fashion.

This publication agrees that certain people should not have access to firearms at all, however we also recognize the dire importance of not infringing on the Constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

If we are to take smart, responsible action on gun control, we must do so in a way so that it does not open the door for the suppression of other rights in the name of public safety – as has been done with warrant-less wiretaps and other domestic surveillance tactics enacted following 9/11 through the Patriot Act.

No criminal or mentally unstable person should be able to walk into a store and buy an assault rifle without a proper background check, but once the conversation turns to deciding, legislatively, who is “too risky” to allow possession of a firearm, we must be very careful in crafting a solid policy, with no gray area.