A win-win on gun control?

Updated: Jun 3

Why is it that our government is unable to find ways to reduce gun violence when liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, are equally horrified by recurring mass shootings at schools and the tens of thousands of murders, suicides and accidental childhood deaths that occur annually in America? Is there really nothing we can do to find common ground on sensible measures to save lives?


The mystery over the gridlock on gun-control issues is compounded by the fact that there is overwhelming public recognition of the legality and necessity of regulating firearms. Nobody wants to board a jet at the airport with a bunch of strangers carrying loaded firearms, and nobody disputes the federal government’s right to prevent that from happening. Similarly, we all want the government to prohibit felons from buying weapons, and we all recognize the validity of laws preventing the public from bringing firearms into the White House or Congress or schools.


There are many other popular gun-control regulations. So the question is not whether to have gun control, rather the question is “What is the mix of laws and regulations that can best protect legitimate gun rights while reducing tragic violence?”


The lack of progress is partly due to the fact that we have two very different communities in America, rural and urban, with utterly distinct experiences and perspectives regarding firearms. In rural America weapons are routinely used for hunting and sports such as trap or skeet. It is a part of the culture and tradition. Additionally, people living in isolated areas often cannot count on assistance from neighbors or a rapid police response if threatened, so many feel the need to be able to defend their families and property if necessary. For many urban communities by contrast, guns are more likely to be associated with drugs and crime rather than heading into the woods with Dad on the opening day of deer season. Consequently, members of each community have radically different contexts and experiences with firearms.


But the greatest barrier to reducing the shockingly high number of gun fatalities in America is the false fear that any change to existing gun regulations is another step down a slippery slope leading to repeal of the Second Amendment. The National Rifle Association is right to point out growing public support for repeal of the Second Amendment, but there are two crucial points we all need to recognize.


First, repeal of the Second Amendment, or passage of any constitutional amendment for that matter, is virtually impossible. Even if the White House and both Houses of Congress were in liberal hands, they would still have to muster a two-thirds majority in House and Senate and then have the amendment ratified by three-quarters of the 50 state legislatures.


Repeal of the Second Amendment is impossible if only 13 state legislatures remain in conservative hands. Consequently, repeal of the Second Amendment is not an issue for gun owners to lose sleep over. In fact, to the extent there is growing support for repealing the Second Amendment, it is primarily because of misplaced opposition by the NRA to even limited, modest measures, such as closing loopholes on background checks. When nothing happens and deaths continue, frustration and anger necessarily grows. Until recently, most Americans have not cared one whit about the Second Amendment or where Uncle Fred keeps his gun. To the extent that is now changing it is largely the fault of those opposed to any change.


The tone-deafness, of course, goes both ways, including people in urban areas who do not understand or respect the culture or lifestyle of citizens in rural areas. But if the assessment above is valid, there may be a way forward from which all can benefit.


My proposal is for the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate to make a deal with the Trump administration and the Republican leadership. In exchange for specific, pragmatic measures to reduce gun deaths and mass shootings – such as eliminating loopholes in background checks -- the Democratic leaders would pledge in writing to actively oppose any effort to repeal the Second Amendment.


Additionally, with the passage of new gun legislation they would introduce and vote for a Concurrent Resolution of Congress reaffirming congressional support for the Second Amendment. If necessary, they might even apply sunset provisions to any new laws to provide a chance to evaluate the efficacy and impact of new gun laws and reassure gun owners that any new measures enacted by Congress are not an irrevocable step toward compromising our inherent constitutional right to own firearms.


Beyond tightening background checks, a new bill should reinstate the assault-weapons ban supported by Ronald Reagan, eliminate “cop-killer” bullets and institute a federal gun-trafficking statute.


This approach would address sincere concerns held by different groups of Americans living in disparate circumstances in different parts of our vast nation. Perhaps if we are willing to listen respectfully to one another and stop pointing fingers, we might not only reduce firearm deaths, but also establish a precedent that could facilitate pragmatic solutions to other urgent challenges facing the nation.


Read the original article on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.