After the tragic killing of more than 20 people at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, by a lone gunman on May 24, and the killing of 10 black Buffalo residents by a white supremacist 10 days earlier in a grocery store, the nation has been collectively grieving and gripped by righteous anger. Much of this fury is being directed to gun-rights proponents and Republicans, and, unlike a lot of attacks from the constant progressive outrage machine, these blows seem to be landing.
Republicans, who in the era of Trump have not been shy about fighting fire with fire, now seem unsure of how to respond. With even their statements of sympathy backfiring, many are now laying low. Other Republicans, though, are reportedly working with a bipartisan group in the U.S. Senate to find a compromise on gun policy. It’s now becoming clear the momentum is fully on the side of those pushing for reforms. A Morning Consult/Politico poll taken in the aftermath of the shootings shows 80-90% support among voters for a number of gun control measures.
Conservatives should not shy away from potential reforms as long as they don’t impinge on the basic right for law-abiding citizens to bear arms. The Second Amendment is there to ensure that people are able to defend themselves from deadly threats — whether from criminals, foreign invasion, or a rogue government. Those who scoff at these concerns haven’t been paying attention to the rise in homicide after “defund the police” efforts or the citizen militias rising up successfully in Ukraine against the invasion of a much larger Russian force. Crime and war are permanent elements of the human condition, and giving government a monopoly on violence hasn’t historically blunted their sting.
But as a father of one, soon to be two, young children, I want to defend these principles while also preventing as many incidents like the one in Uvalde as possible. Banning “assault rifles,” which are not easily defined and not much different functionally from most rifles, isn’t the answer. Increasing the age of gun sales to 21 across the board, which would prevent many in the military and those who hunt with their families from purchasing guns, should be opposed as well. But, in my view, the following two reforms on current gun laws, when passed at the state rather than federal level, do not violate the principles of the Second Amendment.
Expand NICS background checks to private transfers: Good data is hard to find on what percentage of gun sales go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), administered by the FBI through all licensed gun dealers, and what percentage do not. But one study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2017, polled 1,613 people who had recently acquired a gun. Of them, 78% had gone through a NICS background check and 22% did not. Of the 22%, 13% purchased the gun online, from family or friends, or from another un-licensed source that didn’t require a NICS check. The remaining 9% acquired the gun without a purchase, like in an inheritance or as a gift.
With eight out of 10 gun transfers already going through background checks, the question has to be asked: why not all of them? Is there something about buying a gun online that makes someone less likely to be a violent criminal than through a licensed gun dealer? Haven’t we seen too in some of these recent shootings that a parent or grandparent “gifted” the shooter the gun? And if someone inherits a gun, what’s wrong with requiring a NICS check before the weapon is handed over? To complete a private transfer, some states now require the two parties to go to a licensed dealer so that a NICS check can be run. Other than an inconvenience, I can’t think of a major reason that North Carolina couldn’t join these states requiring all firearms. (North Carolina already requires a permit and background check for private pistol sales.)
I’ve heard theories that universal background checks could lead to a federal database that would be used later to confiscate weapons. But if the exact same checks are already used in the vast majority of cases, it seems like the ship has already sailed on this possibility.
And in terms of public support, the Morning Consult/Politico poll done in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting showed that a full 88% of respondents want to require background checks on all gun sales, with 73% strongly supporting. Only 4% were strongly opposed and another 4% somewhat opposed. North Carolina Republicans can expand NICS requirements to all gun transfers, keeping weapons out of criminals’ hands and taking this away from Democrats as a winning election-year issue.
Pass a “red-flag” law: Many states already have these, and many Republicans already support the idea, like the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro and (at times) Donald Trump. These laws allow concerned citizens, usually family members, to petition to have someone’s right to own a firearm temporarily halted. If it can be proven to a court that someone has significant tendencies to violence or mental instability, they will not be allowed to purchase or possess a gun. The sheriff permits that N.C. counties issue now ostensibly have a similar purpose, but they are antiquated and frequently abused. A red-flag law, with due process for those whose right to own a gun is being restricted, could be a reasonable replacement for the pistol permits.
There is already a similar petitioning process where someone who is a danger to themselves and others can be involuntarily committed to an institution, depriving them of liberty. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to consider doing the same with regard to another constitutional right, gun ownership, as long as there is due process. Of course, any law of this kind will have to be carefully crafted to reduce the probability of people unnecessarily getting caught up in the process.
North Carolina does not have red-flag laws at the moment, but 19 states, including red states like Indiana and Florida, already have them in place. In past sessions, there have been bills filed, but they did not advance.
The same Morning Consult/Politico poll showed that 84% of registered voters support red-flag laws. Republicans would be wise not to ignore these overwhelming majorities, including among the Republicans polled.
Gun policy only has to be a loser issue for Republicans if they continue to be seen as obstructing or avoiding reforms that are widely supported. When mass shootings were far down on the list of issues Americans were concerned about, opposing these measures likely didn’t matter politically. But as voters’ focus shifts to guns, it could take momentum from what was set to be a red-wave year focused on economic issues.
Political considerations aside, if there are actions we can take that don’t infringe on law-abiding citizens’ rights to have a firearm and can prevent even a few of these horrific events, we should take them. Expanded background checks would not have had an impact on the Texas case, although it’s possible a red-flag law would have since the perpetrator had a history of alarming behavior. But in many other incidents where a criminal fails a background check or a violent and unstable person has their guns taken from them, these measures could prevent future Uvaldes or Buffaloes. N.C. Republicans should feel no shame in supporting them.