Fault Lines
17 October 2017

Gun Control After Umpqua, Can We Finally Stop Debating and Start Doing?

Oct. 5, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — The tragic events at a small college in Oregon last week sparked renewed debate about gun control laws. It should. The numbers are telling: the lack of significant gun control sets us apart from countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan, where strict laws have (insert arguably here if you oppose gun control and reject obvious data points) had a dramatic effect on gun crimes, suicides, and massacres like the one in Oregon.

It is disappointing that gun control is a political issue rather than a public safety and human welfare issue. For example, look at the webpage for Congressman Paul Gossar from Arizona. Despite the fact that he took office less than a week before his fellow Arizona representative Gabby Giffords narrowly survived an assassination attempt, he touts himself as a “leader in the House of Representatives on Second Amendment rights” who continuously opposes “efforts to restrict, infringe, or remove this constitutionally-protected right.” My favorite tag line: “For my leadership and action on these issues, I have a career grade of “A” with the National Rifle Association of America (NRA).” A grade of “A” from the NRA should be a problem, not a prize.

Among his accomplishments, Gosar hypes his amendment reversing a ban on armor-piercing ammunition because it “preserves access to affordable ammunition for sporting purposes.” How about making other goods affordable, like life-saving prescription drugs? Gosar is not at all alone, and the N.R.A. is a powerful lobby. Its fancy website gives report cards for both local and national-level offices.

Of course, gun-rights proponents wrap themselves in a perceived cloak of invincibility: the Second Amendment, which states: “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.” Now, I’m no constitutional law scholar nor do I pretend to have parsed the originalist take on the Second Amendment, but in my view, the pivotal phrase there is “well regulated.”

Adam Gopnik summed up that interpretation in the New Yorker a few days ago, and it makes sense. The Second Amendment can function as a gun control law: “if the Founders hadn’t wanted guns to be regulated, and thoroughly, they would not have put the phrase ‘well regulated’ in the amendment.” This does not require a leap of faith—it’s straightforward.

The Supreme Court most recently waded into the larger debate on the scope of the Second Amendment in 2008. In D.C. v. Heller, a 5-4 opinion from my favorite SCOTUS villain, Justice Antonin Scalia, the court concluded that the Second Amendment indeed defends and protects the individual right to own a gun.

A profound and (as the New Yorker article calls it) persuasive dissent from Justice John Paul Stevens would later be followed up with his own post-retirement op-ed where he lamented the Heller decision and explained that he would add five words to change the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.” Probably a politically untenable option, but it’s worth noting that the addition of those words is perhaps what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

Whether Heller went too far in protecting the sanctity of the perceived individuality of the Second Amendment matters not. Since that decision, there have been ten mass shootings that seem to always make us rethink gun control, but never quite get there. Oregon would be 11. It should not be just another notch on a sad history.

Those bloodbaths, however, are only a small fraction of the complete destruction caused by the widespread availability of firearms. As Justice Steven’s noted in his Washington Post piece, more than 30,000 people die in the United States every year in firearm-related incidents.

It would seem that we can no longer ignore the fact that we need to implement laws that will meaningfully impact and decrease those statistics. Yet each tragedy passes with lots of words and little action. It matters that the father of the Umpqua Community College gunman has called on politicians to rewrite our gun laws. It also matters that the sheriff investigating the Oregon shooting, John Hanlin, wrote a letter to Vice President Joe Biden in 2013, opposing any legislative response to the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre: “Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings.”

Because this is a political issue, it would be nice if lawmakers focused on saving lives rather than lining their pockets with NRA-lobby money. But political will focuses on armed aggression that supposedly would prevent these unspeakable heartbreaks. Really? Instead of tackling mental health issues and creating stricter regulations, we prefer to arm teachers, parishioners, college students, and other groups en masse to address the problem? That just lacks common sense.

Bottom line: these aren’t guys who got guns because they purchased them on the black market or slipped through the cracks. They acquired their weapons legally. They passed the background check. There are no good answers for the Umpqua College massacre or any of the others. Lives were lost, and we can’t bring them back. But what we can do is change it going forward and prevent these tragedies rather than respond to them.

15 Comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

*

*

By submitting a comment here you grant this site a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution.

  • Wrongway
    5 October 2015 at 9:35 am - Reply

    I respect your opinion but also respectfully disagree..

    if You wanna change the gun laws, the amend the US Constitution.. Repeal the 2nd Amendment..

    One Cop, or student, or janitor, with a gun, could’ve stopped that bad guy.. but He was the only one armed that day..

    what stops a bad guy with a gun ??
    a good guy with a gun..

  • Levi
    5 October 2015 at 11:01 am - Reply

    It would be interesting to juxtapose the arguments made for repealing the 2nd amendment with those that proposed the 18th amendment. I imagine they sound somewhat similar.

  • Scott Jacobs
    5 October 2015 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    Huh. California has fewer deaths per capita than Texas? Who knew?

    In fact, those cities with the most restrictive gun laws tend to have VASTLY higher murder-rates. LA, Oakland, Stockton, Detroit, Chicago, New York, D.C… All have rates far, far above the national average.

    And, frankly, I don’t terribly much care if you think Guns Are Bad. If you don’t like them, don’t own them. You’re more likely to die in a car accident on the way to a mass shooting than you are in a mass shooting.

  • Chris Broekhof
    5 October 2015 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    How? They passed their background check. In what world do more background checks means they suddenly stop passing them? Limiting gun clip sizes? What “sensible” policy changes would work here? What kind of background check would this particular man have failed? Would that background check fail others? And would those others be predisposed to violence? Or would they just have to take one for the team?

    Seems to me that the debate hasn’t even begun. There is so much that is a part of the world of gun control/regulation that there doesn’t seem to be an end to the policy we can create. So what did the debate decide was the sensible policy that would work? Something in Japan? Who has a wholly different cultural?

    I wish everybody, from gun rights crowds, to gun control crowds would stop using these events as a opportunity to say that the debate is over well before anybody ever learns how to stop this particular incident. Background checks, no matter how effective, are pass or fail. And I get the feeling that a deeper dive wasn’t going to find anything extra that would fail him that didn’t in the preliminary. Such a thing is considered a huge red flag, and as a matter of fact, for this young man in question, the tragedy he committed to was likely the first red flag he may have ever raised.

    I’m not opposed to new policy, so long as it will work. But I want something that will work. And I wasn’t invited to the debate.

  • Greg Prickett
    5 October 2015 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    Police officers, who are actually on the street, instead of chiefs who owe their jobs to politicians, overwhelmingly disagree with this position.

    Over 90% believe that the presence of armed civilians reduce casualties. Over 80% are in favor of training and arming teachers and instructors.

    Besides, the Supreme Court considered, and rejected your position on the militia clause in both Heller and McDonald. Even J. Posner has thrown in the towel on that argument, see his opinion in Moore v. Madigan that tossed the Illinois ban on concealed carry.

    Finally, the NRA is too liberal. If you want to demonize those fighting for Second Amendment rights, you need to look at Gun Owners of America or the Second Amendment Foundation.

  • GregT
    6 October 2015 at 12:01 am - Reply

    In the Federalist Papers, “well regulated” meant that the state would have the power to appoint its own officers to discharge discipline. It had nothing to do with the firearms themselves. A little knowledge goes a long way. If lawyers actually read contexts as well as law, you’d know that.

  • mb
    6 October 2015 at 2:18 am - Reply

    Article 1 Section 8 states, “The Congress shall have the power . . . 11. To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water:
    12. To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years:
    13. To provide and maintain a navy:
    14. To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces:
    15. To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions:
    16. To provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress:

    Either the key words in the Second Amendment are “the people” or the Second is the only Amendment which exists for the sole purpose of granting the Government powers it already had.

    As to the obvious data points, “gun deaths” includes any incident in which someone uses deadly force with a gun in lawful self defense, and fails to include incidents in which those people have no means of self defense and are robbed, assaulted, and raped. You may need to come up with a different metric to demonstrate the obviousness of the situation.

  • Ten Favs From The Bill of Rights | Simple Justice
    6 October 2015 at 8:07 am - Reply

    […] gun control under the mantra, “this must stop.” Jess Gable Cino asked whether we can finally stop the debating, a rhetorical question if ever there was one.  Across the nation, people manned their usual battle […]

  • Ross
    6 October 2015 at 8:11 am - Reply

    I don’t think well regulated means what you think it does. The late 1700’s meaning of the term is more about proper functioning than control.

  • James Gordon
    6 October 2015 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    This article is long on emotion and devoid of logic. I’m somewhat disappointed that Ms. Cino was an adjunct at Hastings since I’m an alum.

    Ms. Cino begins with the observation that: “the lack of significant gun control sets us apart from countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan, where strict laws have (insert arguably here if you oppose gun control and reject obvious data points) had a dramatic effect on gun crimes, suicides, and massacres like the one in Oregon.”

    Preliminarily, Ms. Cino is arguing that correlation is comparable to causation. It isn’t. She knows this, but is trying to convince impressionable readers with the appearance of data. Moreover, even if correlation was indicative of causation, her claim is that gun bans decreased deaths related to guns . . . but she does not claim gun bans decreased violent crime because she cannot. Would you rather be killed by a gun or a hammer? Doesn’t matter much, right? It turns out that the murder rate in Great Britain and Australia remained fairly stable after they enacted their gun bans. On the other hand, the murder rate in the U.S. during the same time period (and with ever increasing number of people legally carrying concealed guns) decreased by almost half. Unlike Great Britain and Australia, the United States is clearly doing something right in light of our dramatic decrease in murder and violent crime. Using Ms. Cino’s reliance on correlation, I could argue the increased number of guns and gun carriers are responsible for the dramatic decrease. But I won’t. Because I respect people’s ability to distinguish between causation and correlation.

    Ms. Cino then admits she’s no expert (or even well-read) on the 2d Amendment: “Now, I’m no constitutional law scholar nor do I pretend to have parsed the originalist take on the Second Amendment, but in my view, the pivotal phrase there is ‘well regulated.'” You don’t need to be an expert. Read the Heller decision. The Court directly addressed the phrase “well regulated.” It does not mean what she thinks it means. Not surprising since she hasn’t even parsed what the Founders were trying to say. Who are you going to trust more about the meaning of the Constitution, the Supreme Court or a columnist for the New Yorker? If you’re Ms. Cino, you trust the columnist and don’t read what the Court actually wrote.

    Next, Ms. Cino indirectly calls the Founders idiots who were unable to say what they meant. Remember the Founders? They’re the guys who wrote the Constitution which has enabled the United States to be one of the most successful, safest, freest countries for the past 230 years. She says they inadvertently forgot to add the words “when serving in the Militia” from the 2d Amendment. The 2d Amendment, like all of the Amendments in the Bill of Rights, was vigorously debated by the Founders. They never intended it to be limited to people serving in the Milita. That’s why those words aren’t there. They didn’t forget them.

    She’s just plain wrong when she says the Supreme Court most recently considered the scope of the 2d Amendment in 2008 in Heller opinion. There’s a more recent case, McDonald v. D.C., in which the Supreme Court considered the scope of the 2d Amendment. If Ms. Cino is interested in offering an informed opinion, she should read that opinion too.

    Ms. Cino again obscures the truth with numbers when she states that there are 30,000 deaths in gun related incidents every year. What she isn’t telling you is that two-thirds of those deaths are suicides. There are plenty of studies that reveal that suicide is relatively resistant (inelastic) to legislative attempts to reduce the rate. Tall buildings and rope are readily available. Just look at Japan. Suicide is a societal problem and is not caused by guns.

    Ms. Cino then replays the emotion card by noting that the father of the _murderer_ wants more laws regulating guns. Fine, I’ll play the emotion card too. One of the victims (who lost a kidney) and the family of one of the students killed in the tragedy both continue to support the 2d Amendment and wish the students could have been armed to protect themselves. The students were, however, defenseless because the college prohibited students from carrying guns into buildings. The victims obeyed the law. The murderer didn’t. http://controversialtimes.com/politics/she-was-shot-by-the-oregon-gunman-her-thoughts-on-gun-control-are-driving-liberals-nuts/

    Ms. Cino is way off base when she states: “It would seem that we can no longer ignore the fact that we need to implement laws that will meaningfully impact and decrease those statistics.” No one is ignoring anything and we _have_ meaningfully decreased the murder rate. Amazingly so. Maybe Ms. Cino isn’t being deceptive. Maybe she’s just uninformed.

    The final paragraph reveals just how nonsensical the entire article is: “Bottom line: these aren’t guys who got guns because they purchased them on the black market or slipped through the cracks. They acquired their weapons legally. They passed the background check. There are no good answers for the Umpqua College massacre or any of the others. Lives were lost, and we can’t bring them back. But what we can do is change it going forward and prevent these tragedies rather than respond to them.” Ms. Cino admits that none of the laws typically advocated by pro-regulators would have made a difference. But she insists we have to do something. What we should do, however, is rather glaringly missing from the article. That’s the point of the whole article, something must be done. Thanks for the useful advise.

    • James Gordon
      6 October 2015 at 5:45 pm - Reply

      My reference to McDonald v. D.C. should be McDonald v. Chicago.

    • Scott Jacobs
      6 October 2015 at 9:20 pm - Reply

      Geeze, Commissioner. That’s gonna leave a mark…

      “What we should do, however, is rather glaringly missing from the article. That’s the point of the whole article, something must be done.”

      That’s because what folks like Ms. Cino really want (as hinted by their references to places like the UK and Australia) is confiscation. And that, my friend, would be… Unpopular.