Guns Down Guns Down

Firing Back At The Gun Lobby

March 14, 2017

This op-ed first appeared in U.S. News and World Report on March 14, 2017.

When Maryland lawmakers banned assault weapons after the Sandy Hook tragedy, they had to know it would come under a fierce legal challenge from the gun lobby. They made a bet that the country was ready to accept bolder solutions to our gun violence epidemic. And this month they prevailed, winning an important victory in court. That victory has important lessons for a nation beset by catastrophic rates of gun violence.

Importantly, this was the second major legal defeat for the National Rifle Association this year. Earlier this month, an appeals court struck down Florida’s so-called “docs vs. glocks” law, which barred physicians from asking patients about gun ownership.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit concluded – in a 10-1 decision – that the Second Amendment does not bar physicians from talking to patients about the fact that unsecured guns kill kids. Five days later, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld Maryland’s ban on military-style assault weapons and ruled that such firearms are “beyond the Second Amendment’s reach.”

In a country with more guns than people, legally purchased firearms are rarely used in self defense and are instead deployed to kill people.

In a remarkable slap at the gun lobby, Reagan-appointed Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III offered this: “While courts exist to protect individual rights, we are not the instruments of anyone’s political agenda, we are not empowered to court mass consequences we cannot predict, and we are not impaneled to add indefinitely to the growing list of subjects on which the states of our Union and the citizens of our country no longer have any meaningful say.”

Together, these rulings underscore the dawning acceptance that the American gun problem goes far beyond bad guys with guns. The twin decisions are major setbacks for the gun lobby, and not only because it has spent 40 years paying “scholars” and lawmakers to support its “guns everywhere, for everyone” agenda and sell more firearms. Six of the judges who rejected the NRA’s arguments were appointed by presidents named Reagan or Bush. Even for conservative jurists, the NRA’s push to monetize the Second Amendment has gone too far.

They’re not the only ones. The gun lobby has lost 94 percent of its Second Amendment legal battles, and has had dozens of priority bills defeated in state legislatures across the country. And 2016 saw key gun safety ballot initiatives pass in Nevada, California and Washington.

Poll after poll has found that Americans and even gun owners support common-sense reforms, like expanding background checks to all gun purchases, that are necessary – and far from sufficient. More importantly – and this is why real change will eventually come – they also understand that in a country with more guns than people, legally purchased firearms are rarely used in self defense and are instead deployed to kill people at wildly higher rates than in any other high-income country in the world.

Meanwhile, most of the gun violence prevention groups are intent on building near-universal support for modest reforms. That’s led them to publicly ignore what is obvious to most Americans: There are simply too many guns in America, in the hands of both legal and illegal owners. A Quinnipiac poll conducted last summer showed a majority believe we should ban assault weapons, that it is too easy to buy a gun and that more people carrying guns makes us less safe.

There’s a reason the gun lobby has worked so hard to block scientific studies on gun violence. Even so, it’s useful to think of the growing disgust with gun culture as the result of a long national pilot project. The gun lobby had a theory that more guns would make us safer. America has rigorously tested that theory by allowing almost unlimited gun ownership. And the results of that study are in.

As the 4th Circuit decision pointed out, “military-style rifles and detachable magazines have been used to perpetrate mass shootings in places whose names have become synonymous with the slaughters that occurred there,” including Aurora, Colorado, San Bernardino, California and Orlando, Florida, just to name a few. America has experienced at least 85 mass shootings in the last three decades and the daily toll of gun violence is no less horrific, taking the lives of approximately 92 people every single day, most of them slain with handguns.

After the Newtown tragedy, the duly elected members of the General Assembly of Maryland decided that the solution cannot be limited to just barring dangerous people from buying firearms. It passed a law outlawing the guns themselves, banning the AR-15, other military-style rifles and shotguns, and detachable large-capacity magazines.

That’s the kind of bold solution the gun safety movement must start advancing nationwide. Neither the people, nor the courts, would stand in the way.

– Igor Volsky and Mark Glaze, Guns Down