Gun control advocates are in a bit of a pickle at the moment. After all, their entire agenda requires armed agents of the State to enforce their gun control laws, even when that enforcement leads to large numbers of young black and brown men going to prison for non-violent possessory offenses. At the same time, there’s a growing chorus of voices calling for everything from reforming police departments to abolishing them altogether. What’s a gun control advocate supposed to do?
Washington Post columnist Robert Gebelhoff thinks he’s found the answer: advocate for both police reform and sweeping gun control measures that would require an even more militarized approach by law enforcement to disarm American citizens. In a new column headlined “No police reforms would be complete without gun reforms,” Gebelhoff tries his best to lay out the case for sweeping gun control laws in the name of reforming law enforcement agencies around the nation, even while he reluctantly acknowledges the limits of simply putting new laws on the books.
None of this is to suggest that gun reforms will solve our problems in policing. They must be paired with overdue structural and cultural changes needed to excise the bad behavior in law enforcement. That should include the demilitarization of police, a greater investment in local social services and a national reconciliation effort in communities plagued with officer-involved violence.
But more stringent gun laws would also represent an important step to reduce police shootings and to make communities safer overall. There are a number of remedies available — from mandating safe storage of firearms to requiring licenses for ownership, many of which states have already implemented — that can reduce gun deaths without violating Second Amendment rights.
Gebelhoff focuses entirely on police shootings, which is only one part of a much broader issue, and he utterly ignores the fact that the policies he calls for disproportionately impact young men of color. In New York, for instance, the vast majority of prosecutions for violations of the state’s SAFE Act take place in just two boroughs of New York City. In Brooklyn and the Bronx, most prosecutions are for simple possession of a firearm without a license, which is a felony punishable by more than three years in prison. In more than a dozen states with constitutional carry laws on the books, possessing and carrying a legally-owned firearm without a license isn’t a crime at all, but in New York it could land you behind bars and leave you with a felony record to carry with you in the future.
Gun control advocates can’t have it both ways. If Gebelhoff wants to reduce the footprint of police in high-crime neighborhoods, he can’t also demand that a host of new state and federal gun laws be enforced. Or rather, he can demand such a thing, but he shouldn’t be taken seriously. In a nation with 400-million privately owned firearms and millions of Americans choosing to exercise their Second Amendment rights for the very first time over the past few months, supply-side gun control policies are impractical, ineffective, and in many cases unconstitutional as a strategy to reduce violent crime.
If advocates of police reform are serious about also reforming our nation’s gun laws, they should start with an end to licensing and registration laws, particularly those that require a “special need” in order to receive a license or permit. For those states that remain committed to gun licenses, there shouldn’t be a cost associated with acquiring a license to own or carry a firearm. In New York City it costs hundreds of dollars in fees simply to obtain permission to exercise your right to keep and bear arms, and that high price tag inevitably falls harder on Americans with less income.
Money should also be spent not only on local anti-violence efforts, but to rebuild a culture of lawful and responsible gun ownership in cities where, for decades, politicians have made it legally difficult and culturally taboo to own a gun. We need more ranges, more access to training, and an end to the demonization of gun owners and the Second Amendment. It’s far easier, and far more constitutional, to restore a culture of responsible gun ownership in deep-blue Democrat-run cities than it is to try to disarm tens of millions of Americans who aren’t interested in giving up their guns.