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U.S. Gun Control: A Policy Primer

By: Justin Teoh

A protestor in Washington Square Park protesting for more stringent gun laws

The United States has the most firearms in civilian hands in the world, and consequently the highest rate of violent gun deaths, which includes both community violence and mass shootings. In this scenario, other countries would update and enforce tightened gun control policies, but it is hard for the United States to do so due to the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which protects “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms.”

Republican proponents of civilian gun access would view this Amendment as a privilege and argue that the Constitution supports U.S. citizens in using them as weapons for hunting and self-defense. However, it is hard to dispute how deregulated firearms access has led to gun-related homicides and suicides, which leaves families and communities in turmoil.

So while the former libertarian argument makes sense in rural areas, where recreational hunting is more likely to occur than in suburban and urban areas, motivated individuals who are or wish to be gun owners can still take advantage of loopholes to bypass gun purchasing restrictions they face in their home counties or states. Moreover, political and ideological divides are increasingly disparate despite a globally conscious public, meaning that the lives of innocent, young, and historically marginalized individuals are at risk of becoming lost to hate crimes and other gun-related criminal offenses.

Therefore, despite developments such as the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban and–almost thirty years later–the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, we need to press policymakers across partisanships and states to build upon these gun control laws at a faster rate and prevent further fatalities. This includes implementing the following policy solutions:

First, violence intervention programs. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, this can range from conflict de-escalation via street outreach workers to hospital programs providing support and services to gunshot survivors. Underpinning this proposal is the pressing need to reach out to relevant individuals and empower them to identify and seek non-violent methods of resolving conflicts, such as mediation via dispute settlement centers or consultation with organizations surrounding gun violence victims. Whichever the program, this solution would make gun owners and the people around them feel safer.

Second, pass the Disarm Hate Act that was introduced in 2021. This Senate bill calls for the prohibition of gun ownership among individuals who received a misdemeanor hate crime conviction or sentence. In summarizing data of thirteen identified mass shooters, Everytown identifies that nine were white males, with two expressing white supremacist beliefs. This would suggest that the mass shootings were motivated by misogyny and extremism, which disproportionately target the socially vulnerable. As such, Congress should pass this gun control act to close this dangerous loophole.

Third, enforce Extreme Risk Laws on a national level. At the time of writing, nineteen states and Washington, DC allow relatives and law enforcement to take safety into their own hands and temporarily restrict firearm access for risky individuals via a civil court petition. While the scale of this act varies across states, the recent enactment of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act would suggest that expanding on this is politically feasible. Indeed, Congress should use its position to empower civilians before they become victims.

While it is straightforward to say that gun control saves lives, the complicated reality is Republican candidates would lose significant votes if they support it. Regardless, as gun control remains a national issue in the United States, perhaps it is time for the country as a whole to consider that of others, such as Australia’s National Agreement on Firearms or Japan’s extensive gun-buying procedures, to save itself from tears and shame.

Written by intern Justin Teoh

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