Opinion: Gun Control Activists are Asking the Wrong Question – by Yosef Stein

ysIn the wee hours of Saturday morning, a radicalized Islamic terrorist armed with a pair of submachine guns opened fire in an Orlando club, gunning down forty-nine civilians. Despite the magnitude of the tragedy and the heartbreak and trauma of family, friends and bystanders, despite the fifty-three other innocents lying injured in Orlando hospitals, reactions on both sides of the political aisle were swift and fierce.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and other Democrats took to the Senate floor to filibuster a spending bill, Ted Cruz-style, until Republicans agree to compromise on gun control. And in a gross display of his oversized ego and his ambivalence about the loss of human life, Donald Trump took to Twitter mere hours after the attack to claim “congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” This despite the fact that the country was still reeling from the worst shooting attack ever committed on U.S. soil. And despite the fact that his proposed Muslim ban would have done absolutely nothing to prevent an attack carried out by a natural-born US citizen born in New York. But this article isn’t about Donald Trump. It’s about gun control. More specifically, it’s about why gun control activists are wrong.

President Obama’s recent move to expand background checks via executive action drew strong reactions from those on both sides of the issue. While gun control activists hailed the president’s actions and in some instances complained that he hadn’t gone far enough, virtually all conservatives slammed the president for restricting access to guns and for working around Congress by legislating from the Oval Office. Gun control advocates immediately began plotting their next steps, looking for more ways to impede people’s ability to access weapons. Essentially, their question was: What more can we realistically do to hamper American citizens’ ability to own guns?

However, the gun control activists are asking the wrong question. My goal is to spell out the questions we should be asking about gun violence and the efforts to curb it, and to offer commonsense, constitutional suggestions. Conservatives are not any less concerned about gun violence than liberals are, but we have a more nuanced and less arbitrary approach to the issue.

The first question that must be asked is whether universal background checks (which Obama is attempting to implement via executive action) actually help or harm America’s effort to combat gun violence. While it may seem obvious on its face that broadening background checks will prevent more criminals from getting their hands on guns, there is reason to believe otherwise. Following the unveiling of the president’s new executive actions, officials within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (or the ATF) began to fret that the need to enforce the new regulations might undermine more important efforts elsewhere. Being that weapons used in crimes very rarely come from gun shows, expanding background checks to include such sales is unlikely to have much of an impact. Furthermore, the ATF’s new responsibility to enforce background checks at gun shows is likely to divert attention from illegal gun-related activity on city streets, where a majority of violent criminals are getting their guns.

There is a way to balance this concern with the need to keep guns away from dangerous people. Expanding background checks to cover all gun sales is not a bad idea in itself; the concern is that the need to enforce universal background checks will hamper the ability of law enforcement to combat illegal gun sales. This being the case, the solution is simple. We should certainly expand background checks to all gun sales, but we shouldn’t waste valuable resources enforcing them. The law should require all gun sellers to conduct background checks, and law-abiding vendors will do so. However, we should concentrate our efforts and resources where criminal gun activity is more commonly found.

Another integral question that gun control advocates fail to ask is whether the president’s actions were even constitutional. While the implementation of background checks do not in any way conflict with the Second Amendment, the president may have overstepped his constitutional boundaries by sidestepping Congress. I am neither a legal expert nor a constitutional scholar, but many of those who are have raised serious concerns about executive overreach in Obama’s actions. Larry Klayman, an influential conservative lawyer, has filed a lawsuit alleging that only Congress has the power to implement such regulations. There are prominent experts on both sides of the issue, and the case is likely to end up before the Supreme Court. However, gun control promoters have for the most part ignored the potential legal issues pertaining to the president’s executive orders.

Thirdly, instead of focusing exclusively on (relatively uncommon) mass shootings, gun control activists should be asking what more we can do to combat gang-related gun violence. Every single day, young men and women lose their lives in cities all across America because of illegal guns. These shootings account for the vast majority of gun-related deaths in America. Liberals are scared to focus on gang-related violence for fear of being deemed racist, but the truth is that gangs are at the heart of our country’s gun violence problem. There is no mass shooting epidemic; the gun violence epidemic is primarily an inner-city issue. We will only defeat the real gun violence crisis in America if we focus our efforts where the problem is instead of investing our limited resources elsewhere.

So what can we do to help limit shootings without overstepping constitutional boundaries? First of all, we should require gun owners to take any necessary measures to keep their weapons out of the hands of children as well as emotionally and mentally disturbed individuals. In the case of the Sandy Hook school shooting, for instance, such a law would have required shooter Adam Lanza’s mother to keep her gun locked up in such a way that her unstable son could not access it.

Along with obligating people to keep their weapons out of dangerous hands, we should hold irresponsible gun owners accountable if their weapons are involved in criminal activity. Instead of holding the gun manufacturer liable, a ludicrous proposal supported by Democrats, we should hold responsible the person who owns the gun. This is the fair thing to do, and it will motivate people to keep their weapons safely locked away. If someone is killed or hurt due to your negligence, it’s only reasonable that you should be held liable.

The third step we should take to help curb gun violence is to encourage the elimination of gun-free zones. While intended to keep people safe, gun-free zones actually have the opposite effect. Take the 2012 shooting in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. Bringing firearms into the theater was prohibited, so no law-abiding citizens brought their weapons in. But (surprise, surprise) James Holmes, who opened fire on the crowd, killing twelve people and wounding 70, didn’t care that it was a gun-free zone. Or maybe he specifically chose the theater as his target because he knew nobody else in the building was armed. Gun-free zones are ridiculous and dangerous unless they are properly secured in such a way that nobody can get in with a weapon. While the government cannot force private businesses to abolish these zones, it is the right thing for businesses to do.

Lastly, we need to implement a No Fly, No Buy policy with regard to individuals on the no-fly list. It is mind-boggling that we allow people with suspected terror ties to purchase guns as long as they don’t have a documented criminal history. Barring people on the no-fly list from acquiring firearms is perhaps the most basic and obvious step we must take to rein in both gun violence and terrorism, which is why it’s so troubling that there is any controversy about it. If we are suspicious about someone to the point where we do not allow him or her to board an airplane, we certainly shouldn’t hand them a submachine gun. Some posit that it’s unconstitutional to prevent anyone from buying weapons, but by that definition of the Second Amendment we would be required to allow prison inmates to possess guns as well. We are permitted and obligated to take commonsense, reasonable actions within the boundaries of the Constitution to prevent gun violence to whatever extent we can.

These are the steps America can and should take to actually reduce gun violence. Instead of following our gut reactions to shootings, we must be reasonable and strategic in effectively targeting illegal activity where it’s most concentrated. We need to allow law-abiding civilians to carry guns in as many public places as possible, and we have to bar suspected terrorists from buying weapons. And while we should certainly expand background checks to all gun sales, we cannot afford to lose sight of where the bulk of the crisis lies. Finally, we must continue to ask the right questions about gun violence and preventing it, because gun control activists are not going to do that for us.

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  1. No fly, no buy? Mr. Stein you fell into the liberal trap, Flying is not a constitutional right, the 2nd amendment is a constitutional right; therefore you need due process. Can anyone tell me of other constitutional right that is suspended before due process? 8th amendment “cruel and unusual punishment” maybe the 1st lets suspend free speech, religion, etc. How-about the 6th? Flying is not a constitutional right, the 2nd amendment is, this is a terrorism (Islam/Muslim) issue not a gun issue.
    Second, “This is political distraction; this is political gamesmanship.” Cruz said. “And I think the American people find it ridiculous … this is not a gun-control issue. This is a terrorism issue.” “You don’t defeat terrorism by taking away guns,” he added later, “you defeat terrorism by using guns.”

  2. In general I look forward to reading your articles as they are based on very rational and thought out ideas. In this specific article though, you are mistaken on so many points to the extent that I am disappointed.
    1-Contrary to what you wrote, no machine gun was used in the attack. This is an important point as any gun owner is well aware of. The left constantly paints a picture of big bad guns that almost don’t exist in society. It is almost impossible to get your hands on a legal machine gun in America. The gun(s) used was a semi-automatic which means that each shot necessitates another pull of the trigger. The reason so many were killed is because law enforcement did not get to the gunman for a very long time and he faced no resistance.
    2- The entire basis of this article is mistaken. Anyone who believes that making it more difficult to acquire guns will stop a terrorist who is looking to wage Jihad is dreaming. It’s completely ludicrous.
    3- Your understanding of back round checks and its enforcement is sadly lacking and not very well researched. (Would take too long to get into now.)
    4- There is no mass shooting epidemic right now, but clearly there are those that look to achieve such a goal. If we don’t look for ways to curb such actions we are closing our eyes and jumping off a cliff.
    5- A bit of research would have allowed you to come up with information on the Youth Handgun Safety Act. In short it is a federal crime to allow minors access to your guns. Regarding the mentally unstable, this would open a can of worms re who is considered unstable et al
    6- The elimination of Gun Free Zones is a hot button issue with numerous statistics supporting each side of the argument.
    7-No Fly-No Buy would be a terrible law! Would be unconstitutional and would give the government “Gestapo powers”. The idea that we should ban citizens without due process a legal right is very very scary.
    At the end of the day gun laws are not the answer. We do need to try to find solutions to the grave danger of terrorism in our midst, but focusing on a mistaken point will only endanger us more as we take our eyes off true solutions.
    May G-D have mercy!

  3. Basic Sense, very well said.
    Mr. Stein Fell for every Red-Herring.
    “armed with a pair of submachine guns opened fire in an Orlando club” No, these were semi-automatic weapons. A big differences, basically every handgun, rifle, and shotgun is a semi. Google this information please.
    Second, Adam Lanza was 20 years old, how could his mother be responsible for his actions, imagine he stole the family car and ran over a group of kids, his mother should be held responsible? How about if someone steals your firearm, baseball bat or kitchen knife and uses it to commit a crime, should you be responsible?
    This article is extremely flawed.

  4. I second the comments above, I didn’t understand why the NRA was against the no fly no buy gun law, until they explained it.

    If they pass that law, most gun owners (republicans) will be on that list, if u don’t believe it, I have one word for u IRSgate!!!!

    The law itself makes sense, it’s the people/animals in the government that can’t be trusted.

    Unless u get back all this emails from The IRS crooks and prosecute every last animal there, we won’t trust them with a No fly, No buy law!!!

  5. There seems to be some legitimate questions about my article, so I’d like to clarify some points:
    1) There is nothing unconstitutional about banning suspected terrorists from buying weapons. Even the NRA has given up on that deeply flawed argument, this week endorsing a bill that would do just that. If you read the 2nd Amendment that narrowly, you would also be legally obligated to allow guns into prisons (where you could argue that people need them even more for self-defense). Just be intellectually honest. It’s not a constitutional issue.
    2) Nowhere in my article did I say anything about suspending due process. Frankly, not even liberals support suspending due process. Currently, conservatives and liberals have two different ideas of how people can appeal a ban from purchasing guns. Democrats want such appeals to go through the Department of Justice, and Republicans (including Ted Cruz) want a judge to decide these cases. I wasn’t interested in getting into the nuances of the two plans. But everyone agrees on the general idea of banning people on the terror watchlist, and nobody wants to take away due process. You would know this if you had done your research.
    3) Basic Sense wrote that “the entire basis of this article is mistaken” because tightening security around gun buyership won’t stop terrorists. I don’t know which article you read whose basis was that gun control will stop terrorism, but it wasn’t this one. This is a broader article about how we can reduce gun violence of any sort, not an article about terrorism per se.
    4) I obviously have no need to defend my position on background checks in the absence of any argument that my understanding of background checks is “not very well researched.” If you are referring to the myth that there is no gun show loophole, that position has been roundly debunked and disproven.
    5) Basic Sense, your fourth point actually confuses me as to your true position. If you really believe that not doing anything to curb mass shootings is wrong and blind, you have undermined at least half the problems you had with my article. I proposed ideas intended to curb gun violence, and you’re the one who shot them down. I’m calling for universal background checks, which you do not support. If you ask me, you’re the one who is advocating “closing our eyes and jumping off a cliff.”
    6) To your next point, I’m not talking about minors in particular, as evidenced by my mention of Adam Lanza. As of now, there are no laws making the mother potentially liable. She knew he was mentally unstable, and yet she allowed him access to a gun. That’s gross negligence that resulted in the deaths of 26 innocent people. Of course she should be held liable.
    7) I am aware of the competing statistics regarding gun-free zones. But as a conservative, I support the right to carry and believe that people should be able to defend themselves wherever they are.
    8) Constitutional Conservative, your straw man argument about Adam Lanza is cute, but slightly ridiculous. His mother could be responsible because there’s something called a gun safe, and as such it’s fairly easy to keep a gun out of dangerous hands if you want to.
    I hope that I’ve offered clarity into my positions. I neither want nor expect every reader to agree with everything I say- the back-and-forth is always part of the fun. However, misrepresentation of my positions is neither helpful nor appreciated.

  6. You missed the boat on background checks.”universal background check” maybe we should have a free speech check before people exercise their first amendment rights.
    1. background checks don’t work unless the person already has a criminal record. It doesn’t prevent future criminal intentions. Remember innocent until proven guilty and due process.
    2. If you have a criminal record, you are not buying guns legally, that is why NYC, camden, Chicago have a lot of gun violence; although, they have strict gun laws and background check, because they are criminals who purchase firearms illegally.
    3. Why should there be a poll tax for people to exercise their second amendment right?
    4. The Red-Herring and the “gun show loophole.”The real reason they are pushing for background checks is to prevent law abiding citizens from selling their fire to other law abiding citizens, now they can and its called “the gunshow loophole.”
    4. It is already a crime to knowingly sell a firearm to a criminal. But criminals are what they are… Criminals, they dont follow laws.
    5. This is a terrorism/ criminal issue not a gun issue.

  7. I must admit that I don’t have a strong background in this subject, but I must add in that Yosef Stein’s suggestions sound like worthy ones to me.

  8. The writer doesn’t even understand the arguments mad against him. By banning people on the no fly list, you are subverting due process. Anyone can be placed on the no fly list for no specific reason and without due process. The list is also secret.

    Aside for that other arguments are false. Most mass shootings have been with handguns, a handgun can shoot rounds just as quickly as an AR-15

    Regarding background checks, the latest terrorists passed backround checks. there is no known recetn mass shooting where any of the proposed limitations oon gun purchases would have made any difference.

  9. Mr. Stein, I am surprised you missed train, as your response suggests. The problem is You are Not coming from the stand point that the 2nd amendment is a constitutional right that shall not be infringed. Rather, you are trying to be a “conservative” an empty label.
    1.The straw argument is to associate violence with the weapon used, rather then the perpetrator who committed the crime.
    2.I hope you put your keys, baseball bats, and kitchen knives in a safe too.

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