The Cultural Divide Over Guns and the Second Amendment
The calls for newer, tougher, and more sweeping gun control are in the news once again in the wake of the mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado. Among the rationalizations for such controls is, as recently-appointed California Sen. Alex Padilla said, is it’s quicker for someone to buy a rifle than to cast a ballot.
The Cato Institute’s Trevor Burrus says that’s simply not true. If anything, the thicket of federal, state, and local laws surrounding guns makes them “the most heavily regulated consumer good in the country.”
Moreover, Burrus says, “[m]illions of Americans are federally prohibited from not only possessing a gun for even a fleeting moment but also from possessing even a single bullet.”
Everyone who purchases a gun from a gun dealer must undergo a background check. The background check system is fairly robust (even though false positives can be a problem), and it screens for a variety of conditions and offenses that would disqualify someone from legally possessing a gun. Ineligible individuals include, among others, felons, those who have been dishonorably discharged from the military, anyone who has been involuntarily committed or adjudicated as a “mental defective,” undocumented immigrants, and anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. If a prohibited person acquires a gun through a private sale without a background check, he is committing a felony. If the seller knew or had “reasonable cause” to know that the recipient was a prohibited buyer, then he is committing a felony too. Violators can serve up to 10 years in prison.
And that lengthy list does not include those who are even casual users of drugs like marijuana.
What about the charge that it’s easier to buy a gun than vote?
Obviously, registering to vote and casting a ballot are not subject to the same restrictions as purchasing a gun. In many states, felons are commonly restricted from voting during the period of incarceration, and in 11 states felons lose their voting rights indefinitely. But every felon in every state is federally prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition, and states are powerless to relax those restrictions. That’s true for someone who received a suspended sentence for tax fraud 30 years ago as well as for a murderer who served his time. (In rare instances, courts have restored Second Amendment rights to some felons—those with the resources to take their cases to court, at least. The blanket prohibition is the default rule.)
At the bottom, Burrus wrote in an earlier piece, the gun debate is really about culture:
Gun disgust is also one of the primary reasons gun‐control advocates promote laws that have little to no effect on reducing gun violence. On many questions, the debate over the effects of gun‐control laws on crime is surprisingly uncontroversial.
The National Academy of Sciences found that gun‐control laws have had no measurable effect on gun violence rates. The study was not written by gun‐rights advocates—in fact, all but one member of the committee were gun‐control advocates. Programs ranging from gun buybacks, to the famous “assault weapons” ban, to “gun‐free zones,” were all found to be ineffective at curbing gun crime.
Image Credit: By KAZ Vorpal (Flickr: Declaration of Independence, with Firearm) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons