Gun control activists are generally of the same mind about the end result of their agenda: a gun-free society or one where gun ownership is a privilege doled out to only a select few. How they get there, however, still results in some intra-movement disagreements. On the one hand, there are guys like historian Allan Lichtman, who calls for repealing the Second Amendment in a new book (no, I won’t be running out to buy a copy). On the other hand you’ve got activists like Nancy Farrar Halden, a longtime advocate for gun control laws who argues for a more incremental approach.
Ironically, Lichtman’s “repeal it” position, which on the face of things is the more extreme point of view, would be far more likely to fit within the confines of the Constitution than Halden’s incrementalism. Lichtman at least recognizes that the Constitution poses a barrier to the enactment of the kinds of gun control laws he wants to see in place, while Halden simply ignores the protections of the Constitution in her calls for a rolling series of gun control laws.
Halden’s first problem is comparing gun ownership to owning a car. Back in the 1960s, she argues, traffic fatalities were much more common than they are today, but thanks to a steady stream of technological improvements and legislation, fatal car accidents have dramatically declined. Why can’t we do the same with guns, she wonders?
The first bit of technology that Halden mentions is ShotSpotter; a privately owned company that contracts with cities to “alert police when and where gunfire is occuring,” in her words. In fact, that’s the only bit of tech that Halden includes in her column, which is odd since her entire premise revolves around comparing the technological advances in the automotive industry that reduced fatal accidents to today’s firearms industry. Halden doesn’t even bring up so-called smart guns, which would theoretically align with her idea that technology can work to reduce accidents and misuse of firearms.
I say theoretically because, practically speaking, there are all kinds of issues with smart gun technology. Still, it’s bizarre that a gun control activist like Halden didn’t even bring up the idea of mandating smart guns given the fact that Joe Biden has stated that eventually, only smart guns should be allowed for sale in the United States.
Instead, Halden embraces more old school gun control measures, and a lot of them.
We should learn from the historical development of auto safety and enact legislation and adopt policies that are designed to reduce gun violence. In many states, promising laws like universal background checks and extreme risk protective orders (ERPOs) have proven track records for saving lives.
No, they actually don’t. There’s absolutely no evidence that universal background check requirements actually lead to an increase in background checks, and given the impossibility of proactively enforcing the measures, it’s shouldn’t be a surprise that in states like New Mexico, which put a universal background check mandate on the books in 2019, there have been no arrests or prosecutions for violations of the law.
Exreme risk protective orders, or “red flag” laws, also don’t have a track record of success. In Indiana and Connecticut, the two states where red flag laws have been in place for the longest period of time, firearm-related suicides have declined, but the increase in non-firearm suicides has more than made up the difference. Red flag laws do absolutely nothing to ensure that individuals deemed to be a danger to themselves or others receive any sort of help, which is a glaring red flag of its own.
Permit to purchase laws put local law enforcement in charge of issuing a permit to buy a gun. Who better than they know who should and shouldn’t have a gun? All these laws have been shown to be effective, yet the gun lobby and its advocates automatically oppose every proposed gun law that has the potential to save lives.
I’m curious to know what Halden thinks about the idea of systemic racism in the criminal justice system. I assume that she’s bucking the views of most of her fellow progressives, since she’s okay with the idea of cops determining who, exactly, gets to exercise their right to keep and bear arms. Meet all of the qualifications but still just don’t seem “suitable” under the discretionary standards of local law enforcement? No right for you.
There are many incremental changes that we can make to ensure better safety from gun violence: closing the gun-show loophole, adopting ERPOs to protect abused partners and spouses and those with suicidal tendencies, holding gun manufacturers to rigid safety standards, banning assault-type weapons or regulating them like machine guns, limiting magazine size and enacting safe-storage laws to protect children.
Yeah, there are so many “incremental changes” that can be made that Halden repeats herself. “Closing the gun show loophole” is covered under universal background checks. We’ve already gone over ERPOs.
“Holding gun manufacturers to rigid safety standards” is code for “suing them for the criminal misuse of their products,” while banning commonly owned firearms and ammunition magazines and placing them under the auspices of the National Firearms Act is anything but incremental. That would be the biggest attack on the right to keep and bear arms in our nation’s history, and would impact most of the 100,000,000 Americans who own firearms.
Again, Lichtman at least acknowledges that the Second Amendment is an impediment to these types of gun control laws. Halden has no such concerns. In her mind, banning the most commonly owned ammunition magazines in the country is just like automotive manufacturers making three-point seat belts standard in cars. For Halden and other gun control activists, it’s not really about making firearms “safer” through technology, it’s about reducing the number of gun owners. Their idea of gun safety ultimately boils down to “you shouldn’t own a firearm.”