On Feb. 14, 2018, a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and committed the deadliest high school shooting in the history of the United States.
Survivors of the massacre led a new surge of activism for gun control. This culminated with the March for Our Lives, one of the largest political demonstrations in the history of the United States, which itself spawned two tangential rallies for gun control here at Stony Brook University last year.
Many gun control supporters have blamed the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the GOP politicians that support them for preventing the passing of gun control legislation. Republicans are facing a tough challenge from the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, and undue resistance to new gun regulation proposals would further harm their position. Instead of losing ground on the issue, they could propose their own gun reform bills that respect their voters’ concerns while meaningfully promoting public safety.
While gun control typically aims to restrict the legality of certain firearms and firearm accessories such as AR-15s and high-capacity magazines, conservative gun reform would instead aim to restrict certain people — namely criminals and people otherwise ruled dangerous to themselves or others — from purchasing firearms. This would allow Republicans to gain public support for enacting meaningful measures against gun crime, especially through the reinforcement of existing gun policies, while upholding their long-held promises to support the gun rights of law-abiding and mentally healthy citizens. One such measure could be the nationwide introduction of gun-violence restraining orders, which would allow the immediate family members and cohabitants of mentally ill persons to petition a court — through due process — to temporarily revoke said persons’ gun rights if they are proven dangerous to themselves or others. This is especially relevant in the wake of the Parkland massacre as one of the perpetrator’s adoptive families was aware of him attempting to bring guns onto their property without their consent and committing domestic violence.
Other measures should focus specifically on improving the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Last year, President Trump signed the Fix NICS Act, which will assist and increase the accountability of states and federal agencies in submitting criminal and mental health information to the NICS database. As the federal government cannot technically mandate state and local authorities to submit that information, it uses grant-based incentives to sway them into doing so voluntarily. Arguably, Congress should pressure (rather than coerce) states into legally mandating that and furthermore prohibiting firearm sales to persons convicted of stalking or any other violent crimes (as some states do not), just as it did historically to pressure all states into raising their drinking ages to 21. Congress could also close the so-called gun show loophole by either requiring background checks for all private firearm transfers or strictly re-defining the criteria for a private sale.
New law enforcement initiatives rather than new laws per se, meanwhile, could make a tremendous difference in reducing gun violence. Boston, Salinas, California and Jacksonville, Florida reduced their violent crime rates significantly by dedicating more resources to combating gang violence and community youth interventions. Richmond, Virginia saw sharp annual declines in gun homicide by enforcing harsher penalties against felons who commit firearm offenses. Kansas City, Missouri reduced its gun crime and criminal homicide rates by 49 and 67 percent respectively after reforming its tactics for seizing illegal guns. Congress can bolster initiatives like this by increasing funding for local law enforcement.
While gun control proponents may criticize these policies as insufficient, stricter ones are unlikely to become law as long as Republicans control the Senate and the White House. Furthermore, the rights and concerns of both gun owners and their allies must be respected in order to muster sufficient political support for effective gun policy changes. Approximately 40 percent of U.S. adults live in a household with a gun. While public support for measures like an assault weapons ban peaked as high as 67 percent in the wake of the Parkland shooting, it has fluctuated frequently over the past decade.
Neglecting conservative views in the gun debate would foster voter alienation and resentment, which were crucial in Donald Trump’s electoral victory. More importantly, the right to self-defense is fundamental to protecting one’s right to live when law enforcement may not do so. While we can disagree over the propriety of certain weapons for that purpose and of restricting them in order to protect the general public, firearms are necessary in order to defend your life in certain situations where you cannot feasibly escape or fight by any other means.
Republicans need to seize this opportunity for the sake of both their party and their country. The United States has disproportionately higher gun crime rates than virtually any other developed country. Legislative action is a crucial step in lowering those rates.
While the Democrats could take credit for passing increased gun safety measures, Republicans can take the credit for making them while keeping their long-held promises to gun owners and gun rights supporters. Most importantly, bipartisan support for these proposals could calm political tensions while saving American lives.