A bipartisan group of senators has reached an agreement on a gun-control package they intend to pass that looks like it could ultimately become law. It doesn’t go as far as some would like and goes further than others would prefer. Normally, that’s the mark of a good compromise.
However, Second Amendment rights are just that: rights. They’re really not something we should be winnowing away in the name of compromise.
But what about the measures themselves? If they ultimately save lives, isn’t that a big enough win? Well, I’m not a big fan of that reasoning, in general, but especially with what we’re looking at here.
Now, the deal doesn’t look like it’s as bad as it could be. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s still not a good deal. Let’s take a look at the proposals and see where the problems are.
First, a caveat: This is based on a proposal. There is, as of this writing, no bill we can read to see exactly how things are addressed. That may or may not change some of my analysis.
For reference, let’s use this CNN explainer as a point of reference.
1. Encouraging States to Pass ‘Red Flag’ Laws
CNN: “One of the most significant pieces of the framework is helping states create and implement so-called red flag laws, which are aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves or others. This legislation would provide significant funding to help states create new red flag laws, but the 19 states—and Washington, DC—that already have these laws on the books would also be eligible for funding to improve the effectiveness of their established programs.”
Democrats have wanted a national “red flag” law for a while. However, they’re not exactly getting it with this deal. Instead, what we’re set to see is a law that “encourages” states to pass red flag laws for themselves.
What’s the problem with that?
Red flag laws are incredibly problematic because they deprive people of their Second Amendment rights while also depriving them of due process. Folks affected do eventually get their day in court, of course, but only after they’ve had their guns taken by police.
Additionally, red flag laws don’t do anything about the supposedly dangerous person themselves. Guns get taken, but as we’ve seen elsewhere, there are many ways to hurt innocent people. Driving a car through a crowd, for example, can be even more devastating than a mass shooting.
As such, red flag laws should be a non-starter, but it looks like various states will be “encouraged” to embrace them nonetheless.
2. Enhanced Background Checks for Those Under 21
CNN: “The other major change in the legislation is issuing a more thorough review process for people between ages 18 and 21 who go to buy a gun like an AR-15. Under a background check review, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System [NICS] would have to also contact state and local law enforcement to search for any disqualifying mental health or juvenile records, according to the Democratic aide.”
When you become an adult, you supposedly have all your constitutional rights, but you really don’t. For one thing, you can’t buy a handgun until you turn 21.
However, if that second-class status wasn’t enough, now those between the ages of 18 and 21 will also have to undergo additional scrutiny during their NICS background check while purchasing other types of guns. (This is a compromise measure meant to satisfy those who wanted to blanketly raise the age to buy any gun to 21 across the board).
The deal calls for the NICS to include youth mental health and juvenile criminal records as part of the process. In other words, if you screw up when you’re 12 and do something very stupid, your records wouldn’t really get sealed when you reach the age of majority anymore.
This is especially problematic because there’s little evidence that mass shooters tend to have juvenile records. Additionally, the deal calls for allowing NICS to extend the waiting period on a background check.
Currently, if you haven’t received a “yes” or “no” from NICS within three days, you and the gun dealer are able to consider that a passed background check. It’s a little something that helped alleviate fears that the background check system could be used to stall out checks indefinitely, thus keeping people from buying a gun.
The Senate’s deal doesn’t allow that extreme amount of abuse, but it does tack on another 10 days if there’s something suspicious about what NICS does uncover.
In other words, those under 21 will be treated even more like second-class citizens when it comes to their constitutional rights.
But is that everything? Hardly. Those are just a few of the more obvious issues. It’s entirely likely that the less controversial parts of the measure—increased mental health efforts, heightened school security, etc.—could cause significant issues as well. We won’t know, however, until there’s an actual bill.
So, while this package certainly isn’t as bad as it could have been, it’s also far from a good thing.