The elementary school massacre in Newton, Conn. Friday is apparently going to prompt actual Congressional debate over potential new gun control measures. Here’s a look at some of the options you might hear about in the coming weeks, with some pros and cons of each:
- Firearm registration: Would require users to register all of their guns with the state. Would facilitate tracking of guns used in crime, as well as discourage ownership of prohibited weaponry. Would be relatively easy to avoid, however, and viewed as a serious abridgment of Second Amendment rights.
- Owner licensing and training: Would require gun owners and purchasers to be licensed by the state. Most proposals tie such licensing to requirements for successful completion of a gun safety course including passing a proficiency exam. Process would likely create additional expense for prospective gun owners.
- Liability insurance: Would require gun owners to purchase liability insurance that would cover any damages resulting from illegal usage of the weapon. Presumably, this would discourage the ownership of semi-automatic weapons because insurance rates would be higher. Would make it much harder for lower-income folks to own firearms.
- Additional screening: Would subject current or prospective gun owners to more intensive screening of their criminal and mental health background. Would likely prevent more people with mental health problems from obtaining weapons, but will never be 100% successful. Also, could be considered a significant invasion of privacy depending on what steps are involved.
- Limits on magazine size: The Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle used by the Connecticut shooter had a detachable magazine that carried 30 rounds. Some have called for the limit to be as low as six rounds, but most proposals place the number at 10 or 12 rounds as the maximum. Significant numbers of these large magazines still exist today (and would continue to after a ban), and one could expect a robust black market to develop.
- Ban on detachable magazines: Some have called for a ban on detachable magazines altogether, which would require rounds to be loaded by hand instead of the quick change process facilitated by the detachable magazine. Similar black market issues would exist with this option.
- Other limits on ammunition sales: Various options could be in play here, such as limits on the amount or type of ammunition that could be purchased.
- Bans on certain types of weapons: Congressional Democrats have already indicated that they will be looking to reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban which expired in 2004 — this legislation primarily impacted semi-automatic rifles with certain military features. Could be somewhat effective — for instance, the AR-15 used by the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooter would have been banned by the law had it still been in place. However, there were legal weapons available that provided essentially the same function. As with some of the other options, a robust black market would likely exist, unless the U.S. were to undertake an effort like Australia did in the mid-1990s, spending millions to buyback banned weapons.
The key thing to note about all of these options is that there’s no provision here that’s going to be a magic wand. Guns are and always will be a part of American culture. Mainstream debate (on both sides of the political aisle) reflect the fact that no one wants to take away the rights of law-abiding Americans to have a firearm for self-defense and hunting. To reduce the number of tragedies like Newtown or Aurora or Columbine or Virginia Tech is going to require changes across a number of areas of American life — not just or not even primarily changes in gun laws. It has to reflect that our system for treating folks with mental illness isn’t working. It has to reflect that there are some things very wrong with our culture. Bob Costas may have used the wrong platform to talk about it, but we need to rethink our love affair with firearms and begin to treat them with the respect that they deserve. Ads like this don’t help the process along:
Featured image courtesy of the Newtown Bee.