Now more than ever, gun rights in this country are under scrutiny. The United States is notorious for its higher frequency of gun-related deaths compared to other western nations–by a factor of eight, specifically, if populations are identical. Let’s be realistic: banning guns outright would be foolish, unworkable, and would not address the root causes of most gun violence (more on that later). Conversely, wholly unregulated gun rights are a distant hope that ignores the necessary and wise background checks and licenses for firearm ownership. There is an immense quantity of firearm legislation already in place in all fifty states that re-affirms to various degrees the importance of the 2nd Amendment while simultaneously acknowledging that it is not uncompromising and does indeed have its limits.
How this vendetta between rights and public safety should be balanced is hotly debated whenever a gun-related tragedy occurs like in Orlando this summer. In early June, 100 people were killed or injured at a nightclub shooting by an Islamic extremist. It seems that a large segment of the media and many politicians pounce on the fresh opportunity to crack down on guns, reigniting past outrage that continually simmers just below the surface. But who is to say those who are protected by armed guards and those at the anchor’s chair are the ones with the proper authority to tackle this issue? And are they providing sound advice?
A smart, proactive way to address this issue is to first gather the opinions of those who most often have to confront guns head-on, police officers. The results run contrary to the prevailing notion that regulating or eliminating firearms across the board is the best response. For instance, a recent survey by the National Association of Chiefs of Police polled over 20,000 officers and found that 86.4 percent “support nationwide recognition of state-issued concealed weapon permits” and 76 percent believe that “qualified, law-abiding armed citizens help law enforcement reduce violent criminal activity.” Another survey by PoliceOne in 2013 found that over 90 percent of law enforcement believe that an assault weapons ban would either have no effect or would make things worse. Three out of four believe that legally armed citizens are important in reducing crime. And when asked, “Considering the particulars of recent tragedies like Newtown and Aurora, what level of impact do you think a legally-armed citizen could have made?”—80 percent believed casualties would have likely been reduced. In sum, the vast majority of those in law enforcement have not jumped on the bandwagon of calling for a rollback of individual gun rights. They base their opinions on experience; their experience comes from what they encounter daily on the streets; what happens on the streets is real. What results is a practical framework to address gun crime as opposed to a rigid political agenda or flaccid newsroom-borne hypotheses.
With this in mind, I suggest that when we hear advice on what steps should be taken to prevent future Orlando’s, consider the trustworthiness and experience of the source. First, that source is saying what some do not want to hear: heightened gun regulations would not be the ideal solution that it is often played up to be. Secondly, law enforcement says that the biggest cause of gun violence is not the availability of firearms, nor is it any sort of economic inequality, but rather a decline in parenting and family values. And this determining factor, as we all know, has a broader effect than just gun related issues.
If, by simply making something illegal, we could end all social ills, then there would be no drug problem, no drinking and driving problem, no robberies, and so on. Imagine a scenario wherein guns are outlawed; then only criminals would continue to possess them. In John Lott’s book, The War on Guns , his research finds, for instance, that from 2013 to 2015, the states that banned open carry (six plus Washington, D.C.) had higher rates of police deaths than those that did not (20.2 percent vs. 17.3 percent for every 100,000 officers). The deep-rooted causes of and motivations for a crime do not disappear if the means to conduct it are altered. Also, why punish responsible gun owners for the recklessness of a few? A homeowner should not have to relinquish his right to own a gun because of an accident committed by another. We do not propose such solutions when it comes to cars, cigarettes or alcohol, each of which causes more deaths per year than guns.
The bottom line is that in this policy realm, makers of the law should not overlook the advice of those who enforce the law. In accordance with the police survey results, it would therefore be wise to reject bills that attempt to unnecessarily restrict concealed carry and to support initiatives that uphold it:
- The following petition is for an amendment to “Michael’s Law” which would affirm one’s right to self-defense by prohibiting states from restricting carry rights of citizens crossing state lines. It is named after a trucker who was shot to death in 2014.
- Texas Sen. John Cornyn’s proposal dictates that 1) the attorney general would be given three days to show probable cause for denying a gun sale to an individual on a terror watchlist, and 2) law enforcement would be alerted when such a transaction occurred. Cornyn’s proposal is constructive to an end while remaining within its constitutional bounds.
Each of these measures (the carry rights petition and Cornyn’s proposal) is a practical solution that lies in the middle ground on the spectrum of pure 2nd Amendment rights on side and state regulation on the other. Each is in accordance with the needs of law enforcement, whose recommendations should be heeded moving forward.