By: Kameron Hillstrom
To protect and serve – and apparently violate the law. New York may want to consider adding the latter portion to its police force motto, as every officer in the state is currently in violation of the state’s new gun control statute. New York hastily passed through the NY SAFE Act in the wake of the tragedies in Newtown and Aurora. The Act prohibits the sale of large capacity magazines, and bans the use of magazines with more than seven bullets. In its rush to push the bill through, the state legislature failed to include exceptions for law enforcement officials. Though no one is likely to enforce this restriction against police officers carrying larger magazines, it highlights some of the larger issues currently being voiced regarding the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
More than one hundred days have passed since the Newtown tragedy in which twenty children and six teachers were killed by a crazed gunman who ended his killing spree by taking his own life. President Obama promised swift action in gun control legislation, appointing committees of Senators and Representatives to “deal with” the gun control issues. His message was clear and resolute: change is coming. Yet, one hundred days have passed, and nothing has come from the federal government. The key tenets of Obama’s original plan were to ban high capacity ammunition magazines, to ban the sale and possession of assault weapons, to increase the penalties for gun trafficking, to require background checks on the sale of all firearms, and require more stringent mental health evaluations for possessors of firearms. Persuading this deeply divided congress to agree on anything is a feat; getting them to agree on gun control legislation would be a miracle.
State governments, on the other hand, have had marked success in passing gun control legislation. Last week Connecticut passed the nation’s strictest gun control legislation to date. The legislation bans the sale of magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds, extends the ban on assault weapons to more than 100 models, including the weapon used by gunman Adam Lanza in the Newtown tragedy, and requires background checks on the sale of all weapons. This adds Connecticut to a short list of states that have enacted new gun control legislation after Newtown, including New York, Maryland, and Colorado. While many believe that these states may serve as a model for the rest of the nation mark a substantial step in the right direction for gun control, others argue that state legislation is simply not enough. The ban restricts the sale of large capacity magazines, but does not restrict their possession or use. The compromise on this point is that current owners must register their high capacity magazines. There is also an issue of whether these restrictions address the real issue: the mental health and wellness of the individuals in possession of the firearms.
The NRA has not been silent on this matter. In an unusual move for the Association, they have worked jointly with legislators on a bill strengthening mental fitness requirements for gun owners. Their position remains that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and thus the NRA have focused on the root issue of mental illness. They believe taking guns from the unfit, while supporting the Second Amendment rights of others is the appropriate manner for gun control moving forward. This NRA supported bill would generally defeat the Obama administration’s desire for universal background checks, but would meet the goal of more stringent mental health evaluations.
One area in which the NRA and federal government actually concur is the imposition of harsher sanctions for firearm violations. The NRA has always been a supporter of the use of firearms for recreation and self-defense. The imposition of harsher penalties for the illegal use of firearms serves association’s goals of keeping lawful possession and use of firearms unencumbered for law-abiding citizens. Harsher penalties would serve the federal government’s ultimate goal of deterring criminals from using firearms in the commission of crime. Surprisingly little has been resolved on this point of agreement in the current drafting of legislation, and appears unlikely to change in this session of Congress.
The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is likely going to be greatly affected by the choices of this legislature. The real question is whether the outcome will be what Congress intends. The United Kingdom attempted gun control legislation by banning all handguns, believing that violent crime would decrease. Law-abiding citizens turned in their handguns, while criminals did not. The result was a forty percent increase in violent crimes committed while in possession of a handgun. The prior deterrent of a victim being armed as well disappeared, resulting in a better armed and less fearful criminal population preying on the people the legislation was enacted to protect. Restricting access to large capacity magazines, requiring stringent background checks, and banning particular weapons will simply drive criminals to use black market weapons and deter law-abiding citizens from gun ownership. Instead, the legislation should focus on the mental health of individuals at risk for committing these tragedies, and coming up with alternative means of preventing another massacre.