Typography

The mass murder of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., has reignited the debate on guns in the United States.

Gun violence in mass shootings is rare. The Pulse massacre, the 14 dead in the December San Bernadino attacks, and the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 are heart-wrenching tragedies, but just a sliver of gun deaths nationwide. In 2015, 12,942 people were victims of gun homicide, unintentional shooting, domestic violence shootings and murder-suicides.


The Second Amendment is almost always the focus of the debate. It reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The Supreme Court has traditionally held that the amendment specifically referred to state militias, not to individual rights. A prime example is U.S. v. Miller, which outlawed sawed-off shotguns in 1939. The high court said that such a weapon had no place in a militia, thus could not be protected under the Second Amendment.

Likewise, the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban outlawed certain semi-automatic firearms and “large capacity” magazines, but the ban expired in 2004.

The District of Columbia v. Heller case in 2003 focused on the amendment’s second comma, after the word “State.” D.C. Court of Appeals Circuit Judge Laurence H. Silberman interpreted the second comma to mean the Second Amendment endows citizens an “individual” right to carry a gun, not just a collective right for a state’s militia, which the Supreme Court upheld 5-4 in 2007.

In the wake of the Pulse massacre, author and an AR-15 owner Daniel Hayes has argued for a reinstatement of the “large capacity” magazine ban. Hunters like him, he writes, have no need for magazines holding more than 10 rounds. A standard 30-round or large capacity 100-round magazine is only designed to kill human beings in large numbers and has no other real purpose, he writes. Limiting shooters to small magazines increases the delay in reloading and increases gun jamming, giving targets in a mass shooting time to flee or attack a shooter.

Of course, such a proposal doesn’t prevent a mass shooter from starting a massacre, nor would it prevent one-gunman, one-victim shootings that are vast majority of violent gun deaths.

An outright ban on all guns by all private citizens seems logical on the surface, but there are more guns in the United States than citizens, seizing private property without due process violates the Fourth Amendment and a blanket nationwide seizure of weapons is the exact type of federal intervention that the Second Amendment was established by the states to prevent.

Most gun owners, gun dealers and indeed even most National Rifle Association members support background checks and waiting periods because law-abiding gun owners don’t want firearms in the hands of criminals, terrorists and the mentally ill any more than anti-gun advocates do. Yet most guns in fatal incidents and mass shootings have been legally purchased.

There is no simple way to prevent gun violence, however we must continue the debate and find common ground, workable solutions and legislation.

BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS