Inaction and opportunity on gun laws around the country

Messages hang on a fence as hundreds of students and parents arrive for campus orientation on Feb. 25 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Attendance at the orientation was voluntary, but it was being held in anticipation of the school officially reopening on Feb. 28. (CNS photo/Angel Valentin, Reuters) Messages hang on a fence as hundreds of students and parents arrive for campus orientation on Feb. 25 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Attendance at the orientation was voluntary, but it was being held in anticipation of the school officially reopening on Feb. 28. (CNS photo/Angel Valentin, Reuters) 

The Ash Wednesday murder of 17 students and staff in Parkland, Fla., has once again mobilized advocates against gun violence to press for effective legislative responses to the seemingly endless series of mass murders that occur throughout the United States in churches, schools and entertainment venues.

No law can stop a determined individual from killing, but legislation can make it more difficult—or easier—to obtain and use weapons of mass murder. Gun control advocates focus on “A.B.C.” initiatives: “A” for assault weapon and ammunition bans; “B” for background check enhancement; and “C” for closing the gun show and private sale loopholes that permit buyers to avoid existing federal checks.

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Congressional (In)Action
Numerous bills have been introduced in the 115th Congress that would support the A.B.C. goals, but no action has been taken on them so far. The only gun legislation to pass this Congress was Public Law 115-8, which revoked a prohibition on the sale of guns to Social Security disability recipients who are mentally incapable of handling their finances. It took just one month to enact this law—suggesting that Congress and the president can act quickly when motivated.

The bill currently considered most likely to be enacted this year is the Fix NICS Act of 2017. This modest, bipartisan bill would strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It includes compliance incentives for federal agencies—the Air Force failed to input a 2012 court-martial conviction that would have prevented a veteran from legally buying the assault rifle he used to kill 26 churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, Tex., in November—and authorizes funding for state grants through 2022.

No law can stop a determined individual from killing, but legislation can make it more difficult—or easier—to obtain and use weapons of mass murder.

Fix NICS does not mandate state compliance, however, and funding for it also must be included in each year’s budget appropriations. President Trump’s current budget proposal reduces spending for these programs, allegedly because many states do not qualify for grants due to their failure to comply with mental health reporting requirements or “relief from disability” procedures that permit restoration of gun ownership eligibility. The Fix NICS bill also does not currently include a provision to lengthen the default proceed rule that permits sales whenever the F.B.I. takes longer than three days to review a firearm purchase application.

Since the Parkland shooting, support for a federal age limit on purchases of what are commonly known as assault weapons has gained momentum, but the National Rifle Association opposes it. The only other gun bill that, until the Parkland shooting, had a chance of enactment, is the pro-gun Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017.

That proposal would grant anyone allowed to carry a concealed weapon in their home state the right to carry a concealed weapon in every state and on federal land. The House of Representatives passed it in 2017 (231 to 198), and its Senate companion bill has 40 co-sponsors.

The 2017 massacre of concertgoers in Las Vegas increased awareness of bump stock or bump fire devices designed to permit semi-automatic rifles, which require a trigger pull for each round, to fire multiple rounds with just one trigger pull like an automatic weapon. President Trump ordered regulatory action to ban the devices, but the proposed rule has not been finalized and it is uncertain whether such regulation is permissible under current law. Several bills introduced in Congress would change that law, but, to date, no action has been taken.

Anti-gun activists are eager to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which was enacted in 2005 and prohibits most civil lawsuits against firearm manufacturers and sellers and may prevent Sandy Hook families from holding the manufacturers, distributors and sellers of the weapons used to kill their loved ones accountable.

State Action
State gun laws vary greatly and mirror the values of their local voters. After the Sandy Hook killings, New York and Connecticut passed strict assault weapon and high-capacity ammunition bans, strengthened state background checks and allocated funding for mental health treatment and school safety programs. Pro-gun states, such as Arizona, have few restrictions. State laws, of course, do not stop illegal activity, including the transportation of assault weapons across state lines. Nevertheless, statistics show that states with the strictest gun laws have fewer gun deaths.

Voter Action
The Supreme Court held in a 5-to-4 vote that the Second Amendment protects the right of licensed individuals to keep loaded handguns in their homes, but it has never ruled that the Second Amendment protects the right to carry loaded weapons outside the home or to own high-capacity weapons; and it has rejected opportunities to rule on those issues.

That inaction means that for now the future of gun control in the hands of the voters.

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Charles Erlinger
9 months 3 weeks ago

Another helpful discussion from Prof. Boegel.

Charles Erlinger
9 months 2 weeks ago

I have this to add to my one-liner above:

Do we U.S. citizens view the killing and maiming of innocents by gunfire in our country as an undesirable event? Do we think that there is some risk to ourselves associated with such a killing or maiming occurrence? Would it be good to reduce the likelihood that this type of occurrence might strike ourselves, our loved ones, our fellow citizens? How would we evaluate the magnitude of the risk, the reduction of which we determine to be good?

Risk is defined as a collection of pairs. Pairs of what? Each component of a pair consists of an outcome and its associated likelihood. For example, outcome “no casualty” and its likelihood, and outcome “at least one casualty”and its likelihood. Conventionally, likelihood is derived on the basis of numerous observations of events. In this context likelihood means the frequency of occurrence, usually per unit of time or per capita.

For example, every year on a certain date a parade is held in many towns nation wide. In some years no deaths or maiming of innocents by gun occur, among the watchers or the paraders. In other years, one or more does occur. These outcome pairs can be collected in various ways, for example by grouping the observations from all such parades on this date nation wide, and consolidating all observations over a ten year period. They can be grouped by the number of casualties per occurrence and the associated frequency. They can be grouped nation wide per year without distinguishing type of event. They can be grouped by geographic area within the nation. They can even be grouped by number of casualties by type of gun and shooter profile type and even by victim type, such as event participant or not.

The distribution of these outcome pairs is the risk profile of innocent casualty by gun. The risk profile of innocent casualty by gun is the basis for risk assessment. Assessment is completed by: enumerating sequences of events that can contribute to whether the outcome is either no casualty or casualty; and if casualty, in what numeric range; and by identifying failure modes of casualty prevention measures assumed to have been in place. Risk management consists in lowering the likelihoods within the risk profile.

Risk management involves applying changes to event environments (physical, social , political and legal) and event sequence chains, and providing changes to personnel, equipment, procedures and training judged to be helpful to reduce the likelihood of the casualty outcome. Note that risk management is concerned with probabilities, not certainties. This means that the rejection of a proposed change that has some non-zero probability of lowering the likelihood of a casualty event due to gun fire, on the basis that its likelihood will not be reduced to zero, is not management, but mismanagement.

Risk management tools and expertise abound in industrial, public health and even financial settings. The same tools, or variations thereof, that are used to assess and manage the risk of a nuclear power plant meltdown, an epidemic spread, or an aircraft engine failure, are available to adaptation for management of the risk of innocent casualty by gun. What is missing is the good will of one citizen towards another. Citizens seem quite content, for example, to accept the legal impediment to funding gun casualty research by the Centers for Disease Control.

Because the management of gun casualty risk is the management of a systemic phenomenon, it is necessary to approach the problem from a system point of view. Tools for doing this are in daily use in our society, continually finding solutions through “big data” collection and “data mining,” isolating actual and potential factors influencing the risk profile, and systematically altering the influence level of those factors.

Tim Donovan
9 months 3 weeks ago

Although I favor the right to own a gun or rifle for hunting or for legitimate self-defense, I favor the most stringent gun control laws possible. Although this topic wasn't discussed, as a retired teacher, I strongly oppose the proposal to permit teachers to carry concealed weapons in school. I believe that teachers should engage in their primary task, to educate children. This may give some indication of how strongly I feel about the need for gun control. When my Dad died in 1994, I discovered a handgun in his bank safety deposit box. I immediately turned the gun into my local police department. I think that it may be beneficial for police departments to have gun "buy back" programs. Although it is difficult to know how many guns are in our nation, I've read that in a nation of about 320 million people, that there are at least 265 million guns. That means that there is one gun for each adult in the United States. I'm not at all sure what to do regarding this, but I do certainty think that this is far too many guns in our nation.

Ellen Boegel
9 months 3 weeks ago

Thank you for your important comments. I agree with your opinions, especially that arming teachers (and students) is a terrible idea. Police buyback programs have been tried with varying success. The best answer is to either ban, or strictly limit, the sale and ownership of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

J Cosgrove
9 months 3 weeks ago

I agree with your opinions, especially that arming teachers

Why can't a teacher carry if she or he wants to for the protection of themselves or their students. It is currently happening at many places in the United States at this moment. It would have saved a lot of lives if there were some in Florida or in Connecticut. There are a lot of teachers very interested in this form of protection.

Especially since local government authorities are failing in such obvious ways. One cannot depend on local police who may be ruled by political correctness or school guards who may be cowardly. We just saw this to the extreme.

J Cosgrove
9 months 3 weeks ago

Although I favor the right to own a gun or rifle for hunting or for legitimate self-defense, I favor the most stringent gun control laws possible.

The issue over guns has nothing to do with hunting or self defense. Both of these are reasons to have guns. The main issue over guns is protection from an oppressive government and a way to fight back.

Many will scoff at this but it is becoming more and more apparent that the previous federal administration was misusing the internal powers of the government to spy on their opposition and to use foreign entities to affect internal election results.

Stanley Kopacz
9 months 3 weeks ago

The idea of using small arms to defend against a repressive government in the 21st century is a Hollywood fantasy. To realize how useless they are, one has only to look at one of those drone videos. The van full of terrorists or what-have-you and probably armed to the teeth is driving down the road at 70mph. The drone operator presses the delete button. Poof!

J Cosgrove
9 months 3 weeks ago

In some ways I agree with you but we are not there yet. Your scenario to control internal unrest involves a real change in thinking by the masses. The civilian population will get the drones almost as fast as the government when that time comes. My guess is that 90+ % of the population would be anti-government if this were to happen.

.Unless there are major changes in thought patterns, there will be a lot of sympathy from those working for the government (those pushing your button) for the local population. It's kind of hard to imagine that many people controlled by the government who would push your button. My guess is that the form of government would have to change drastically for this to happen and there would be lots of dissension from within and splits in authority before any of this could happen.

Stories about the NRA and how evil it is will seem ancient by then. Right now it all posturing about guns and how bad the NRA is solely for the next election because the Democrats have no reason for being

I think your scenario is a ways off and there will be other steps used before the drones if indeed they come. IED's which are common now elsewhere will be used to make assault weapons secondary. I pointed out elsewhere the most deadly school killing was by a bomb.

Until then 80 million people with guns are a force especially if most of those with weapons in the government agree with them. Right now there are very few liberals who are willing to die for their government or anything.

Edward Graff
9 months ago

So let me guess: you Support Our Troops, but want to have the option to kill them when you decide the time is right?

Mary Gillespie
9 months 3 weeks ago

Tim Donovan - your comments ring true for me, too. Blaming our previous administration or feminism smacks of scary right logic.

Douglas Fang
9 months 3 weeks ago

Facts:
1. It’s been 19 years since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that left 12 students and one teacher dead. The massacre stunned the nation, yet now, it’s not even in the top ten deadliest shootings in modern U.S. history. Indeed, four of the five deadliest gun rampages were in the past year and a half.

2. It is legal for an 18 person to buy an AR-15 (assault weapon) in many states but illegal for that person to buy a handgun, which requires the person to be 21 years old! (Such absurd insanity only exists in America!)

Conclusion:
The NRA is not fighting for the second amendment or for responsible gun owners. The NRA is a LOBBY FOR THE GUN MANUFACTURERS and their clients want to sell high ticket-price, high margin assault weapons. So they twist the minds of Americans and corrupt the political system to conflate responsible gun ownership with a free-for-all of unchecked violence.

Mike Macrie
9 months 1 week ago

Let’s face it unless politicians see the consequences of being voted out of Office nothing is going to change on gun control. I give Governor Scott of Florida credit of enraging the NRA with the gun control laws he just signed. This will be his legacy, his finest hour as Governor. For his Efforts the Terrorist NRA Leadership has brought suit against the State of Florida on violation of 2nd Amendment Rights.

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