‘Common Sense Gun Control’ Lacks Common Sense

I survived a mass shooting in an American public school. Like many of my classmates, I was thrust into the debate about guns and the Second Amendment. Prior to that horrific day on February 14th, 2018, I was a firm supporter of the Second Amendment. Following that day, I have watched as many have sought to misinform the public about guns through faulty arguments, misleading statistics, and shameless emotional appeals. Being uniquely situated as a survivor, I felt it was my duty to sort out the good from the bad while I had the public’s ear and to disseminate what I believe are the strongest arguments regarding gun control.

Last week the New York Times published a piece by opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof titled “10 Modest Steps to Cut Gun Violence.” The article has been shared and viewed by hundreds of thousands of people and lauded by my Parkland peers as “common sense gun control.” As someone who has spent nearly every moment since the shooting reading gun control materials and engaging in the debate with other students, members of Congress, and even the President, I realized that this article was not only lacking in common sense, but would be entirely unproductive. Here is my rebuttal to Mr. Kristof:

1) Kristof: “Require universal background checks to see if a purchaser is a felon or a threat to others.”

My response: The real problem with universal background checks (UBCs) is that they won’t make any difference in firearm crimes because most guns used in crimes are not obtained legally. In other words, UBCs don’t impact straw purchasers, people who traffic firearms and ignore the law generally, and kids who take them from parents. And its main value is not preventive, but punitive — punishing people after the crime has been committed. On top of this, UBCs place a tremendous burden on private transfers/purchases because only Federal Firearms Licensees have access to the background check system. In states with these laws, you have/ to effectively use the FFL as a middle man and it can cost an extra hundred or more dollars, thereby disproportionately impacting the poor.

The studies that Kristof cites are uncompelling. Polling about universal background check support is suspect because most people don’t understand what the law already does or the impact those laws have on the ability to gift/bequest guns, and popularity doesn’t equal effectiveness. As for the study on the percentage of people who got guns without background checks, it doesn’t say how many received them as gifts or bequests. Mr. Kristof also doesn’t mention that about only 1/5 of the invited set of respondents completed both surveys, meaning that at some point along the way, 4/5 dropped out. There is a good chance self-selection played a part as well.

Also, Mr. Kristof likes to point out that surveys show 90% of people support these checks, but he ignores that when these laws were put on the ballots in Nevada and Maine in 2016, they had a hard time breaking 50%, despite Michael Bloomberg massively outspending his opponents by at least 3-to-1.

(Dr. John Lott, JR has a great article on UBCs as well.)

2) Kristof: “Improve background checks by allowing the federal government adequate time to perform them.”

My response: Everyone wants the system we have in place to work better, this is why I lobbied congress to pass “Fix NICS.” “Allowing the federal government adequate time to perform them” is just a seemingly innocuous way of saying that they want longer waiting periods to deter people from making legal purchases.

Frankly, the biggest problems with the NICS is missing records. The Feds don’t need more time — they need more of the records. States also need to do a better job to ensure timely reporting of all relevant records. The absence of records then is really the problem, not the waiting period because if the Feds don’t have the resources to adequately process the number of requests within three days, the answer is to reallocate resources, not make law-abiding citizens wait longer to exercise their constitutional right.

3) Kristof: “Pass ‘red flag laws’ that allow a judge to order the temporary removal of a gun from people who are a threat to themselves or others.”

My response: Red Flag Laws are implemented poorly. In theory, they can be very effective in removing firearms from people who are perhaps dangerous but who aren’t necessarily mentally ill or meet the high standards for mental health adjudication. Unfortunately, most mass shooters fall into this “mentally ill” gray area. Further, in many states, mental health adjudication results in permanent Second Amendment restrictions making the legal analysis for this type of bar higher than if it were a temporary order. (You can see more info on Red Flag Laws here.)

If you want to get serious, those that are truly a danger to themselves or others need to be confined to a mental health facility. Simply saying that someone can’t legally buy a gun isn’t a serious response. People can get guns in other ways just about as easily as they can buy illegal drugs. If you really believe someone is a danger, why only take away their guns?

4) Kristof: “Get guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.”

My response: Under the Lautenberg Amendment (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) and 18 USC § 92), it is illegal for a domestic abuser to possess a firearm. While illegal, there are numerous problems with our enforcement of that law: lack of adequate and timely reporting of convictions and restraining orders, a lack of resources or will power to confiscate weapons from those who have been convicted, and the ability of red flag laws to disarm individuals more effectively when they’re showing signs of danger that aren’t necessarily going to get a restraining order.

Simply put, this is an issue, but it is a law enforcement issue as opposed to an Executive or Legislative issue.

5) Kristof: “Require safe storage of guns, preferably in a safe or at least with a trigger lock.”

My response: Mandatory safe gun storage laws would make sense if your friendly neighborhood home invader was patient enough to wait for you to unlock your gun safe first before they did harm to you and your family. Mandating people to lock up their guns has been implemented in states and it didn’t work. There were 300 more total murders and 4,000 more rapes each year in the states where “safe storage laws” were implemented.

Dr. John Lott, JR has a great article on this in The Hill.

6) Kristof: “Make serial numbers harder to file off, and require microstamping, so that cartridges can be traced back to the gun that fired the bullets.”

My response: You can easily recover the serial numbers off of guns after they have been filed off. The original stamping of the serial number alters the metal under the serial numbers and can be read.

7) Krtistof: “Invest in ‘smart guns’ that require a PIN, fingerprint or nearby bracelet to fire.”

My response: The biggest problem arises from the Supreme Court decision in Heller — you have a right to an operable firearm. If it malfunctions or the battery dies, and it’s forced to a set lock out, it’s disabled. If the default for malfunction is everyone can use it, it’s pointless. Besides, you couldn’t mandate use because you have a right to all firearms commonly possessed for lawful purposes. Those 350 million “dumb guns” are not going away.

8) Kristof: “Support community anti-violence programs, like Cure Violence and Becoming a Man, that work with at-risk young people and show excellent success in reducing shootings.”

My response: This experiment was tried in Boston and month by month data suggests the drop in crime occurred months before the program started. Only by looking at longer periods of time do they obscure that fact. In other places, there have been other changes in law enforcement occurring at the same time (e.g., such as more police).

9) Kristof: “Limit buyers in most cases to one or two gun purchases a month, to reduce gun trafficking.”

My response: There is no evidence that limiting gun purchases reduces crime in either the state that the law is passed or in neighboring states.

10) Kristof: “Invest in gun buybacks.”

My response: Australia is an excellent case study of this idea’s ineffectiveness. Homicide rates were already falling when the buyback went into effect and after the buyback the decline in homicides stalled. Furthermore, crimes such as armed robbery were reported at much higher rates than before the buyback, predictable when the bad guys know that law-abiding citizens are likely unarmed.

Americans have a fundamental right to defend their liberty. Gun violence is far too common in America, though. I thank Mr. Kristof for coming to the table offering solutions, but the ones he proffers don’t define themselves as “common sense” as he believes they do. We can do better without sacrificing our freedom to bear arms.