Much energy has been expended debating whether individual citizens in America have a right to own and carry firearms. For some Americans the issue is a priority, while others have not thought much about it.
In the typical urban or suburban existence, firearms play only a small role. While the presence of firearms for many folks may be nearly non-existent in their daily activity, they do see consistent reference to “gun violence” in the media. Many choose to have no contact with firearms because they feel guns are dangerous and menacing and not deserving of their time and attention. The feeling may be that the potential for all deadly force should reside in representatives of the government or licensed personal security.
Typically the more rural perspective views firearms as valuable tools. They are instruments of personal protection when necessary and may be used to gather food for the meal pot. This view is prevalent in American places without round-the-clock or sparse law enforcement resources and families who have the tradition of hunting or the necessity of protecting themselves, their families, domestic animals and fowl from predators.
There appears to be so little common ground to base any limitations on individual gun ownership and use throughout America. A 2004 law journal article by Edwin Chemerinsky “Putting the Gun Control Debate in Social Perspective” clearly explains how this differentiation occurs and how the individual and collective rights views interrelate.
The Chemerinsky article was written before the findings in District of Columbia v. Heller. The 2008 Supreme Court Decision established a federal right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within a home. A law journal article by Benjamin H. Weissman provides additional background about the history of firearms limitations and outlines how both Heller defined a basic right and McDonald v. Chicago (2010) incorporated and applied this right to the States. The general media debate on guns is often about context, political and personal factors. In contrast, the law journal article does a good job providing historical and legal context which is prerequisite for a mature consideration of beneficial progressive gun policies.
While the Courts have considered various cases and controversies, the political battle has waged. A stark party divide appears to have increasingly developed between Republicans who embrace broad individual rights under the Second Amendment and Democrats who are increasingly focused about “gun violence” which they maintain can be reduced through legislative and regulatory prohibitions. Their argument is by eliminating the gun, the violence will also be abated. Because this has not necessarily worked with local legislative efforts in some large cities, Democrats increasingly look to broad-based national prohibitions to address interstate commerce (both legal and illegal) in weapons.
Republic Party Platforms typically include language about protecting Second Amendment Rights. Democratic Party Platforms in 2004, 2008, and 2012 specifically contained language about protecting Second Amendment Rights. In 2016, there was no specific mention of the Second Amendment and instead the focus was on “preventing gun violence.”
With 33,000 Americans dying every year, Democrats believe that we must finally take sensible action to address gun violence. While responsible gun ownership is part of the fabric of many communities, too many families in America have suffered from gun violence. We can respect the rights of responsible gun owners while keeping our communities safe. To build on the success of the lifesaving Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, we will expand and strengthen background checks and close dangerous loopholes in our current laws; repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) to revoke the dangerous legal immunity protections gun makers and sellers now enjoy; and keep weapons of war — such as assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines (LCAM’s) — off our streets. We will fight back against attempts to make it harder for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to revoke federal licenses from law breaking gun dealers, and ensure guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists, intimate partner abusers, other violent criminals, and those with severe mental health issues. There is insufficient research on effective gun prevention policies, which is why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must have the resources it needs to study gun violence as a public health issue. Democratic Platform, Page 34.
The political action behind this platform language made it difficult for some “blue steel” Democrats to enthusiastically support the Democrat’s 2016 campaign. While they may agree with many Democratic initiatives, the antipathy of the Democratic leadership to the importance of firearms in many American cultural settings has generated for some a personal political crisis. They do not embrace typically Republican approaches that largely rely on unaccountable market mechanisms. They see a need to universal health care and they are supportive of civil rights that does not focus on a personal denouncement of racism levied against some person or group. While there is great apprehension about the incursions and possibly tyranny of the administrate state, they do see the value of “good” though limited government. For them “small is beautiful”, both in terms of business and government.
Does such a philosophy have any standing in the American political scene? In the past, it may have been seen as a progressive expression of “good government”. Government should advance individual safety and support personal protection. It should facilitate equal protection of the laws, economic stability, be transparent and seek engagement with its constituencies and always progress towards solutions. It should be resilient and sustainable. The view that firearms ownership and use has its place in the modern America is embraced by the Liberal Gun Club. The March 30, 2016 Mic article “2nd Amendment Snowflakes: In Trump’s America, liberals are finally reaching for their guns”: outlines why many liberal gun owners feel a better course is to look for underlying causes for the violence in our culture rather than focusing on proscribing specific firearms or their more visually menacing accoutrements.
A Liberal Gun Club blog article written on March 21st defined exactly its prescription for success. “We favor root cause mitigation for violence prevention, stronger mental health care, addressing poverty, homelessness and unemployment rather than focusing on prohibiting or restricting one tool.”
Addressing these various social factors is the essence of a progressive approach. There has, however, been liberal efforts to solve these endemic issues for a long time. Much money has been spent, but the problems are not solved and instead, today, we have drugs, despair, gangs and death from many weapons. In my opinion, the inability to effectively address the persistent violence has required scapegoats. While in many of these neighborhoods personal firearm ownership for self-protection is largely proscribed, the gun continues to be presented as the underlying culprit because it can be purchased illegally, is a tangible instrument of empowerment for individuals and gangs and is a common instrument of indiscriminate and violent death. The general impression is not nuanced, it is easy to present it in the constantly-on and graphic media.
Most recently, The Guardian has done a nuanced analysis and has found that this violence occurs in relatively few neighborhoods. By viewing the issue from a local perspective and addressing the underlying causes with appropriate organization and resources, we may make significant progress on addressing the violence without ineffectively making the focus of banning scapegoated pieces of steel.
While the Guardian article address the need to address root causes in specific neighborhoods, there is value in addressing from a progressive perspective, the actual language of the Second Amendment. This should focus on the “well regulated” language in the amendment. A progressive approach must embrace the right articulated by Heller in the Second Amendment while achieving significant safety through public and private firearm safety education programs and research into firearm related subjects that will enhance the safe use of firearms. Examples of areas where progress may be achieved include:
- Consistent firearms training must be available throughout the United States. The successor to the many governmental militias are local sheriff departments. Federal funding should be available to support efforts where local sheriff departments make training and qualification available to support safe firearm use. This would improve firearm safety and would enhance sheriff-community relations.
- The NRA has an extensive firearms safety training program. Every effort should be made to advance firearms safety training through private youth organizations such as scouting and 4-H. The often-articulated aversion to firearms by some media outlets encourages a lack of firearm safety knowledge. In terms of safety there is no advantage minimizing this knowledge. The active effort should be to enhance it as a progressive policy.
- Additional study of firearm subjects is important. The key is that it must not be agenda-driven, either pro or con. Balanced and active review processes must be utilized to assure the conclusions reached are balanced based upon the research conducted.
A progressive approach to firearms policy offers the greatest advantage to preserve the right and apply it in a safe manner. Over-time a transparent and interactive effort may develop common ground between constituencies that will lead to a safe application of a fully embraced American Constitutional right.