Balancing Two Imperatives

Yellowstone Picture

|| by Will Galloway ||

Columbia – There have been eight mass shootings in American schools so far in 2018, and the response has been largely predictable. Collective outrage, calls for gun control on the left, and outright rejection of those calls on the right. It is abundantly apparent that there is a problem in the United States, and it is incumbent upon us to find ways to fight the mass shooting epidemic while protecting Second Amendment Rights. We must address the moral imperative to make schools safe and the constitutional imperative to protect the right to bear arms.

I am a believer that all policy solutions and proposals must pass a test of morality, a test of constitutionality, and a test of good policy. Here, I will attempt to work through these three tests to find an effective and constitutionally sound solution to this problem.

First, the morality test. There have been eight school shootings in the year 2018. Children across America feel uneasy in schools under the specter of violence. We know that something must be done, but we must not act rashly.

Second, the constitutional test. The language of the Second Amendment reads:

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.

The term “Militia” refers to both the organized, State-regulated Militias (such as State Defense Forces) and to the unorganized militia, responsible armed citizens. The language of the amendment declares that this is necessary (a requirement and inseparable from) the security of a free State. It goes on to say that this right, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The Supreme Court in the 2008 landmark case District of Columbia v. Heller held a few very important things about the Second Amendment. First, it held that citizens have the right to bear arms – unconnected with membership in an organized militia – provided that they use those arms for traditionally lawful purposes, such as hunting or self defense. Second, it held that government has the authority to implement certain regulations on the right to bear arms. It held that “like most rights, the second amendment is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever for whatever purpose whatsoever.” This is the part of the ruling that prevents me from possessing artillery weapons. Third, and perhaps most pertinently, the court held that government cannot ban an entire class of weapons that the overwhelming majority of Americans use for traditionally lawful purposes.

So now that we have established the moral and constitutional imperatives surrounding this issue, it’s time to dive in to crafting good policy. A real, meaningful, and comprehensive solution to this issue will have to address two areas: things that government can do, and things that must be done by the American people.

First, things that Government can do. Government must overhaul the FBI and ensure that all threats against American schools are thoroughly and completely investigated. Congress should vote to pass the bipartisan FixNICS Act to bolster Federal background checks on firearm purchases. Congress should also pass a ban on bump stocks and other modifications that can be used to turn a semi-automatic rifle into a fully automatic rifle. These three actions would result in immediate, meaningful increases to public safety, and would not infringe on the right to keep and bear arms.

We have consistently pushed the policy of “if you see something, say something.” Several brave individuals acted on this, and notified law enforcement about dangerous behavior from Nikolas Cruz, and the FBI failed to act on this, leading to 17 tragic and preventable deaths. This is part of a truly disturbing pattern, and it needs to be changed. After 9/11, the United States oversaw a massive overhaul of its intelligence community, in an effort to prevent comparable attacks in the future. We need a similar overhaul of our reporting and response systems to end the epidemic of gun violence in American schools.

We need to pass the bipartisan bill to ensure that federal background checks are able to prevent firearms from being purchased by those who have proven that they would not handle them responsibly. While this would not prevent all gun violence, it would prevent much of it. This is also consistent with the second amendment. Background checks ensure that the use of a firearm will be consistent with the use that the Supreme Court has deemed lawful, and it cannot be reasonably argued that background checks prevent a lawful, responsible individual from acquiring a firearm.

Congress also needs to act to ban bump stocks and modifiers that would allow for a semi-automatic rifle to become a fully automatic rifle. Fully automatic weapons have been illegal in the United States since 1934, and this has been settled as a constitutional limit on the right to keep and bear arms. Therefore, it would be constitutional to ban instruments, such as the bump stocks used in the Las Vegas massacre, that would convert semi-automatic weapons to fully automatic weapons.

Second, things the American people can do. We must do a better job of teaching our youth exactly how to report suspicious or threatening activity when we see it. Many such things can go unreported because children are either afraid to or unaware of how to report this kind of activity. In conjunction with this, we must do a better job of teaching children what kind of behavior needs reporting. Sometimes, activity goes unreported simply because it is dismissed as “odd” behavior. This isn’t advocating for a McCarthy-esque paranoia state, it’s advocating for a community of individuals who are invested in one another’s safety.

Finally, we must actually pray. It is certainly fine to tweet our thoughts and prayers, but we must accompany this with actual prayer. Those of us in the Christian faith believe that our prayers have the power to move mountains, and thus any solution from us that does not include prayer is trite and incomplete.

All of this is to say that it is imperative that we must take a courageous stand; in the midst of intense and passionate polarizing political rhetoric, we must thoughtfully consider meaningful policy. We cannot rush headlong into a shortsighted solution, or we risk exacerbating the problem or forfeiting our rights. We cannot accept inaction, as inaction makes us complicit in one of the great moral crises of our time. Consider the arguments I have put forth, and come to your own conclusion. But, I implore you, resolve to do something. Resolve to be part of the solution.

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