The Word in the House 3/25/2018 - Pursuing Common Sense Gun Regulations

Very few issues have generated as much emotion on both sides as the issue of gun regulation. After 10 hours of debate last Friday, the House amended Senate bill S.55 dealing with firearms regulations. S.55 passed the Senate with
  • a provision related to the disposition of firearms that have been seized by law enforcement, and
  • an expanded background check requirement for unlicensed (private) firearm sales, with exceptions for law enforcement, military and immediate family members.

The House Judiciary Committee after weeks of testimony voted 6 to 5 to include
  • a 21-year old age requirement for purchase of long guns (the purchase of handguns to those under 21 is already barred by federal law), with an exception for law enforcement, military and 18 to 20 yearolds who have taken a hunter safety course,
  • a ban on bump stocks, and
  • a ban on high-capacity magazines (more than 10 shot capacity).

The provisions of S.55 help protect the safety of the general public. Expanding background checks makes sense because it is too easy for criminals to get their hands on guns if they can bypass the background check system in place for federally licensed firearms dealers. Responsible gun owners who want to sell one of their guns now have the backup to ask the purchaser to go through a background check. Transfers of firearms between immediate family members are not affected.

The rationale for prohibiting sales to under-21-year-olds is based on data showing that almost all completed teen suicides involve the use of guns. Teens are more likely to be impulsive when dealing with adversity. There have been many instances of Vermont teens taking their own lives that way including a Charlotte teen, a classmate of one of my daughters, who committed suicide by handgun. If we at least require the consent of a parent or the taking of a safety course, we can reduce the impulsivity factor in cases like these.

The bill does not ban any types of firearms, but does address accessories that can make semi-automatic firearms, like the AR-15 used so notoriously in the mass shootings we have become too familiar with since the Columbine High School massacre, more lethal. One of the most notorious was the Las Vegas massacre where a bump stock device was used to effectively turn a semi-automatic rifle into a virtual automatic rifle. In combination with high capacity magazines, hundreds of rounds were able to be fired into the crowd of concert-goers, killing 52 and wounding hundreds of others. If such weapons are to be available, then we have to move the odds of survival in favor of potential victims. The ban of bump stocks and limiting magazines to 10 shots does this. The bill prohibits the sale, purchase, import and transfer of these items going forward. The primary goal of this bill is to save lives. Will it prevent all future shootings? No, but it will put a few more barriers in place and provide a few more opportunities to short-circuit attempts.

None of these provisions violate the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. These provisions have been in place in other states for years and have withstood challenges all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. I recognize the right of citizens to own firearms for legitimate purposes like hunting, sport shooting, and self-defense. However, some opponents of S.55 that I spoke to feel they need the ability to resist a future dictatorship by our national government. When the Second Amendment was passed, our country did not have a standing army and the defense of our country relied on every able-bodied man being “all-in”, ready to be called up to form “well regulated” citizen militias. Today we have our armed forces and a national guard of citizen soldiers, all sworn to uphold the Constitution. We have the ballot box which is and has been the most effective bulwark of our democracy. I am much more inclined to put my trust in our democratic institutions than in the idea that we need to rely on guns to protect ourselves from a rogue government. While some may differ with this philosophy, it is the one that I choose to embrace.