By Bill Albee and Van Newstrom
A very vocal minority of gun owners and the National Rifle Association (NRA) immediately revert to their “slippery slope” argument every time there is a mass shooting tragedy that attracts national media attention. They claim that accepting any restriction or limitation on gun ownership is the first step down the slippery slope to confiscation of guns owned by private citizens. Does this argument have any credibility, or is it a fraud perpetrated by the NRA on the American people? By my logic, this ridiculous argument is nothing but a fraudulent scare tactic.
“District of Columbia v. Heller, 554U.S.C. 570 (2008) is a landmark case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held, in a 5–4 decision, that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home…”
In that decision, The Supreme Court struck down provisions of the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 as unconstitutional, determined that handguns are “arms” for the purposes of the Second Amendment, found that the Regulations Act was an unconstitutional ban, and struck down the portion of the Regulations Act that requires all firearms (in the District of Columbia) including rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.” Prior to this decision the Firearms Control Regulation Act of 1975 also restricted residents from owning handguns except for those registered prior to 1975.”
There has never been any substantive political will to amend or rescind the Second Amendment, and there is no evidence that members of Congress are interested in initiating such action. Even if a grass roots effort were to be initiated, it would take many years and require approval of three-fourths of the states. Clearly, this is not going to happen. Just as the Supreme Court has struck down past attempts to heavily restrict guns in the District of Columbia the Court would surely preclude any jurisdiction’s attempts to “confiscate our guns.” My conclusion is that the slippery slope argument against any and all limitations on gun safety and ownership is pure bunk.
The fact that we have a laws precluding sale of fully automatic firearms is evidence that some limitations on gun ownership will be tolerated by the public and upheld by the courts. Other constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech, have limitations that also have been upheld by the courts. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Berger, a conservative voice, stated that in his opinion additional restrictions and limitations on gun ownership under the Second Amendment are constitutional.
In the near term, bump stocks will likely be deemed illegal using the argument that they move semi-automatic guns into the prohibited automatic gun category.
In my opinion, the best way forward is for Congress to first drop their opposition to studies that will identify the most effective ways to reduce gun deaths and gun violence. The gun lobby also argues that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and they like the term “bad guy with a gun.” A primary goal of future studies needs to be how best to limit access to guns by those people who pose a danger themselves or others. This would include people who are suicidal, have criminal histories, are afflicted with certain mental illness issues, are on the no fly list, are domestic abusers, etc. Once studies identify high risk categories of persons that logically should be restricted from gun ownership, only a 100% background check on all gun sales will prevent easy access to guns by those persons who pose a high risk to the safety of others if they are legally permitted to own guns.
No doubt that with 300+ million guns in America, the “bad guys” will continue to illegally obtain guns. How do we address that in ways that reduce gun crime? Perhaps much longer, mandatory prison sentences for crimes involving guns will reduce gun crimes by deterring at least some of the “bad guys” from getting and using guns. Stiffer penalties for the illegal sale of guns for both seller and buyer would likely reduce those transactions.
Studies would also identify ways to reduce suicide by guns and accidental gun deaths and injuries. Studies showed that by training and licensing drivers, licensing vehicles, requiring manufacture and use of safety devices (e.g., seat belts and air bags), and designing safer roads, we have limited traffic deaths to about 30,000 per year. We continue to study the dangers associated with our transportation systems to identify effective measures that will further reduce injuries and deaths. We have successfully regulated air travel to the point of zero deaths from scheduled airliners for several years.
Most people would agree that handing a gun to a teenager with no training on how to safely use it is as dangerous as handing the keys to the car over to that same teenager without any training and no drivers license. I believe that in the long run we need to apply an approach to gun ownership similar to how we control vehicle ownership and operation. Because we recognized the dangers associated with turning drivers loose with cars without licenses and training, we continue to improve the controlling laws and regulations. Why do we not recognize the equal if not greater level of danger associated with guns in the hands of people untrained in safe storage and use. We would reduce (but never eliminate) gun injuries and deaths if we licensed gun owners only after they completed appropriate gun safety training and if we licensed their guns as we do vehicles. By implementing the limitations outlined above to preclude gun ownership by high risk individuals, and by imposing stiffer penalties for crimes involving guns we could also reduce gun injuries and deaths
Gun ownership is and will always be a right guaranteed by the Constitution. Hopefully in the near future we will impose some common sense restrictions and limitations so that unrestricted gun ownership does not infringe the constitutional rights of all citizens to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Let’s work together to find the appropriate balance envisioned by Chief Justice Burger and the majority of Americans between the basic right to own a gun and reasonable restrictions and limitations on gun ownership that optimize the safety of gun owners, their families and friends, and the general public.
– William W. Albee and Van Newstrom are a husband and wife team of writers based in Albuquerque. William has spent much of his career in federal service (including stints with the Defense Logistics Agency, the GSA, and the FAA) and then with Wyle Laboratories. Van has had a similarly varied history, working at one time or another as a teacher, a curriculum writer, and a technology consultant to the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Navy and U.S. Agency for International Development. Both have been active in environmental and developmental causes, and until recently they owned and operated the Alaska Heritage House Bed and Breakfast in Fairbanks, Alaska.