Democrats need a better plan for gun control

Michael Stern
Liberal Opinion

Michael J. Stern

Former federal prosecutor
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President Joe Biden recently signed into law a bipartisan gun bill that fortifies background checks on gun buyers under 21, provides billions for mental health services, and closes a loophole to prevent convicted domestic abusers from purchasing a firearm for five years. It is the nation’s first major gun deal in 30 years, and while Republicans will not concede on tougher gun sales limits, Democrats face immense pressure to get something done. It’s personal for Straight Arrow News contributor Michael J. Stern, who argues that an assault weapons and large capacity magazine ban must be passed if we want to reduce mass shootings:

 

When I was a young prosecutor preparing for my first murder trial, a detective handed me a photo of a new father who was shot in the head by a robber who broke into his home. Before that, I’d seen TV coverage of countless shootings. But I will never forget the horror of that close-up view. It sent me running to the bathroom, where I vomited my lunch. That image forever calibrated the strength of my support for laws that restrict easy access to guns.

Victims of gun violence do not silently disappear — they explode. And the sooner Americans are forced to confront the brutal reality of what comes with indiscriminate access to weapons of war, the sooner they will hand their GOP employees in Congress a warning that says, “If you don’t protect me from seeing this again, you’re fired.”

I’m not suggesting flooding news and social media with endless pictures of gun victims. Sadly, exposure to any terror can be tolerated if we see enough of it. I’m suggesting that there will be a brave family who wants to share the story, and video, of their happy child before…and the unsanitized photographs of their child after being obliterated by a weapon Republican members of Congress call their right.

It is true that even if consequential gun limits are made the law of the land, the Supreme Court could find them unconstitutional.  While Democrats hold the presidency and both houses of Congress, they should expand the Court and dilute the 6-3 conservative majority that was secured by the Congressional equivalent of thievery.  But that’s a discussion for another day.

Finally, to the Second Amendment commandos who are sweating at the prospect that the stack of bullet-riddled bodies is at long last tall enough to bring reasonable gun safety laws…you have my thoughts and prayers.

I’m a true-blue Democrat.  I believe in gun control.  But I cringe at the failure of Democrats to focus on a single campaign that maximizes our chances of making it happen.  When I hear members of my own party drone on about how we should have a nationwide gun ban, because the Second Amendment was only intended to provide for a “well-regulated militia,” I end up saying nasty things to my TV and computer.  I agree with that argument, but people more important than me, namely a majority of the Supreme Court, do not.

In 2008, in a case called District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court said that the Second Amendment gives individuals a right to maintain a handgun in their home for self-defense.  In a legal contest between the Supreme Court and anyone else, the Court is going to win.  So, the words “well-regulated militia” should not be uttered from Democrats from here on out, if they want to maintain any credibility in this fight.

That’s not to say that things are hopeless.  While Democrats have lost the larger battle, there are victories that can be won at the edges.  Some of the wins could have a substantial impact on mass shootings like the recent elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas and the grocery store murders in Buffalo, New York.

While several lower courts have considered whether the Second Amendment provides a right to possess assault weapons, like the semi-automatic AR-15 used to murder 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, the Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue.  The Court has also not ruled on the issue of whether high-capacity magazines are protected by the Second Amendment.   Even deceased Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia, who wrote the Heller opinion, acknowledged that the Second Amendment is not without limits.Democrats should celebrate the recently passed federal law that beefs-up expanded background checks, and limits domestic abusers and people under red flag orders from getting a gun.  But it is assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that turn a shooting into a slaughter.  Passing federal legislation banning both is where Democrats should be focusing their resources.  It’s not like a ban on assault weapons is unheard of.  There was a federal ban for a decade – between 1994 and 2004 – before Republicans refused to extend it when it expired.

So, how do we do it?  We stop calling for a full ban on personal possession of firearms and coalesce around a theme like “common sense gun safety laws.”  We continue to point out the evidence that: banning assault weapons reduces gun deaths; a strong majority of Americans support an assault weapon ban; and the Republicans who oppose common sense gun limits are largely funded by the gun lobby.  The problem is that none of that has worked so far.

It’s time we stop coddling American sensibilities about what is acceptable to show on TV and online news after a mass shooting.  It’s one thing to read about the damage done.  It’s quite another to see what happens when a speeding piece of metal rips through a child’s flesh, and blood, and bone.

When I was a young prosecutor preparing for my first murder trial, a detective handed me a photo of a new father who was shot in the head by a robber who broke into his home.  Before that, I’d seen TV coverage of countless shootings.  But I will never forget the horror of that close-up view.  It sent me running to the bathroom, where I vomited my lunch.  That image forever calibrated the strength of my support for laws that restrict easy access to guns.

Victims of gun violence do not silently disappear.  They explode.  And the sooner Americans are forced to confront the brutal reality of what comes with indiscriminate access to weapons of war, the sooner they will hand their GOP employees in Congress a warning that says, “if you don’t protect me from seeing this again, you’re fired.”

I’m not suggesting flooding news and social media with endless pictures of gun victims.  Sadly, exposure to any terror can be tolerated if we see enough of it.  I’m suggesting that there will be a brave family who wants to share the story, and video, of their happy child before…and the unsanitized photographs of their child after being obliterated by a weapon Republican members of Congress call their right.

It is true that even if consequential gun limits are made the law of the land, the Supreme Court could find them unconstitutional.  While Democrats hold the presidency and both houses of Congress, they should expand the Court and dilute the 6-3 conservative majority that was secured by the Congressional equivalent of thievery.  But that’s a discussion for another day.

Finally, to the Second Amendment commandos who are sweating at the prospect that the stack of bullet-riddled bodies is at long last tall enough to bring reasonable gun safety laws…you have my thoughts and prayers.


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