Beware The "Simple Solutions" To Violent Crime

AP Photo/Teresa Crawford

The most overused phrase in the gun control movement is “common sense” (as in “we just need a few common sense gun safety measures like banning tens of millions of guns and hundreds of millions of ammunition magazines”). Not far behind, though, is the use of the word “simple”; as in “we can end gun violence if we just take these simple steps to prohibit people from carrying firearms in self-defense.”

The truth is that if ending violent crime was simple, we probably would have done it by now. I know of several strategies and tactics that can dramatically reduce violent crime (and without the need to criminalize the exercise of a constitutional right), but completely eradicating violence? Not going to happen. Completely eradicating violent crime by restricting or eradicating the Second Amendment rights of American citizens? Not only would that not reduce violent crime, it would likely make it far worse.

So I’m always wary when I see someone proclaim that they’ve found the answer that’s eluded everyone else, because inevitably it seems they’re missing the glaring flaw in their big idea. Such is the case with Rabbi Shaul Marshall Praver, the former Congregational Rabbi in Newtown, Connecticut, who argues in a new op-ed that it’s pointless for anti-gun activists to try to ram through new gun control laws through Congress. Instead, Praver believes he’s found an idea that both the left and the right could get behind.

It’s a simple elegant idea that is challenging to both sides, but is a plan both liberals and conservatives could embrace, and it could work. I have people who can deliver it to the conservatives, but I do not yet have people who could deliver it to the liberals. Are you ready for it? It’s so short and elegant you could miss it, so please pay attention. I will unveil it in one sentence.

Put the training and regulation of firearms in the hands of the National Guard who report to governors of states.

Uhhh, say what now? Why exactly would we do that?

Don’t confuse the word national with federal. The National Guard may get money from the federal government like any other state entity but they are governed by the state in which they operate. Their boss is the governor. All states can fashion training and regulations of firearms in their own image. And because it is not the federal government, conservatives would allow for higher training standards and dynamic robust regulation like the Israeli and Switzerland models that have lots of guns and little domestic gun violence.

In essence, Praver is arguing for a new interpretation of the Second Amendment. Well, an old interpretation, really. It’s the same one that gun control activists have been using for decades; there is no individual right to keep and bear arms. Instead, your right to own and carry a firearm is predicated on your service in a militia, in this case the National Guard.

The Supreme Court has already rejected that view, so I’m not sure why Praver believes conservatives would be eager to adopt that standard going forward. But then, Praver’s also apparently confused about the role that the federal government has in determining training and regulations for members of the National Guard. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution specifically notes that Congress has the authority “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” As much as Praver might believe there’s no role for the federal government to play in “fashioning training and regulations” for the Guard, the Department of Defense would most assuredly disagree.

Even leaving those constitutional considerations aside, I’m confused as to what Praver thinks the result would be here, other than hoping to carve out space for blue states to impose restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms that would otherwise be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Praver also seems to believe that Second Amendment activists only object to gun control laws imposed by the federal government, which is just laughably absurd. In fact, with Congress gridlocked on gun control, itss the states where most of the action is taking place at the moment. Certainly the vast majority of court cases challenging gun control laws are originating at the state and local level and aren’t a response to any new federal infringements on our 2A rights. So no, we’re not going to clap our hands and eagerly embrace our rights being curtailed because it’s the governor and adjutant general of our state’s National Guard doing the infringing and not Congress or the White House.

Praver’s also incorrect, by the way, about the “robust regulation” of places like Israel and Switzerland when it comes to domestic violence. Nearly half of all Swiss women report being the victim of domestic violence, along with 24% of men. In Israel, experts estimate about 25% of women are in an abusive relationship, and cases are soaring over the past few years. Praver might believe the United States would be different if we regulated gun ownership through the National Guard, but he doesn’t provide any evidence to back up his claim.

I almost feel bad pointing out the shortcomings in Praver’s “simple elegant idea”, because I do believe his heart is in the right place. His head, however, is buried in the sand and oblivious to reality: gun owners aren’t going to willingly acquiesce to having a right of the people turned into a privilege of National Guard members, no matter who suggests it. The organized militia falls under the purview of the Guard and reserves, but the body of the people capable of bearing arms are the unorganized militia, and that’s the way it should and will be in the future. If Praver is looking for a simple and elegant solution to violent crime I don’t think he’s going to find one, but the most effective path forward is to focus on the perpetrators of violence and not the tens of millions of responsible and peaceable gun owners.