You’ve probably heard about the “gun show loophole” that enables 40 percent of firearms in the U.S. to be purchased without a background check. Or perhaps you’re familiar with the “default proceed” law that allows someone like Dylann Roof get a gun when they’re not eligible, just because the FBI’s “instant” background check took longer than three days to clear.
These are serious problems. But the solution is not, as some Democrats in the Senate suggested after the massacre in Orlando, to create a government watchlist. That “No-Fly List,” like many government watch lists, was based on arbitrary criteria that disregarded due process of law. Many innocent people ― especially those with Muslim-sounding names ― ended up on the list, among them children and babies and government employees. And as good as the Obama-era mental health gun restrictions may have sounded, they were similarly flawed.
In general, these kinds of laws disproportionately affect people of color, labor organizers and other marginalized and left-leaning groups — who have historically had to defend themselves from tyranny. That’s exactly why the Second Amendment exists, and while I certainly hope it never comes to that again, I wouldn’t want to leave those communities at risk, especially now. If, as progressives, we truly believe in liberation and equality for marginalized people, we can’t propose laws that continue to oppress those same groups.
So what can we do for background checks? Increase the default proceed wait time for the 10 percent of people who don’t automatically pass their background checks, for starters. We could standardize the information that states are required to send to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, too — which also means keeping better records of other than honorable or bad conduct discharges and domestic violence cases, to examine on a case-by-case basis.
4. We also need to focus our fear on handguns ― not assault weapons.
Sure, they might look like badass Rambo weapons, but AR-15s and their ilk are technically no more deadly than your average wood stock long rifle. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not fully automatic machine guns, but rather shoot one bullet per trigger pull. They’re also one of the most popular guns in the country, thanks in part to their versatility— which means they’d be harder to get rid of, too.
While it’s true that AR-15s are a common factor in mass shootings, it’s worth remembering that mass shootings only comprise a tiny fraction of gun homicides in the US. This makes them no less tragic, of course. But if someone is hellbent on mass murder, they can do it just as easily with a semi-automatic handgun.
In fact, handguns are already responsible for about two-thirds of the gun homicides in the country. They’re also easier to handle and conceal-carry than their long-barreled counterparts (which tend to have more practical application for rural gun owners in particular, plenty of whom lean left). Statistically speaking, if we wanted to save the most lives, it would make more sense to focus on handguns. The U.K. saw a huge drop in violence after banning handguns and semiautomatics, even though plenty of people still owned long rifles. Granted, this is a wildly unpopular idea here in the States, but maybe, just maybe, it’s something worth exploring.
5. Gun reform may hinge on experience with guns.
According to a recent Pew Research Center report, gun owners are also significantly more likely to be politically engaged on gun issues than other Americans.
If we actually want to make any progress to stop or slow this epidemic of violence, it will have to be a partnership between gun users and those who want reform, which will require finding some common ground. I have come to believe that the assumption that all guns are bad because all violence is bad is the same blind reactionary tribalism that leads gun enthusiasts to fear the worst about the government stealing their guns.
Since getting my gun license, I’ve found it easier to discuss gun violence solutions with gun enthusiasts, who tend to be conservative and with whom I share few political convictions. It’s as if that little bit of knowledge I’ve obtained suddenly lends credence to my arguments. This makes sense, when you break it down: Why would we trust anyone to legislate an issue they don’t know much about?
We owe it to ourselves to do better than that.