Reviews | If the new Supreme Court defeats gun safety laws, what happens next?


The gun safety movement is on the brink.

With new grassroots and advocacy organizations, better funding and stronger support from the Democratic Party, it has arguably never been stronger. But on Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear a case that is likely to call into question many of the reforms at the top of the movement’s agenda.

Judges are reviewing the constitutionality of a New York law that makes it difficult for residents to obtain permits to carry concealed firearms in public. The court, with three pro-gun Tory judges appointed by former President Donald Trump, will almost certainly say New York’s law is too restrictive under the Second Amendment – which will, as one might expect , more guns in the city streets and more violent crime.

The New York case could also mark the start of a new era of judicial hostility to gun laws, particularly bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that the movement reinvigorated for safety. gun fought so hard to get it enacted. With just one ruling, the Supreme Court majority could transform lives in many American cities – and thwart the growing political movement for gun reform.

Lawyers and activists need an agenda that can survive the Supreme Court’s new interpretation of the Second Amendment. Fighting to restrict the amount and types of weaponry possessed by citizens will be a losing battle. Instead, it’s time to focus on policies that will reduce the violence all of these guns cause in America.

A good place to start would be community response programs like Operation Ceasefire, an initiative started in Boston in 1996. Studies show that a small percentage of the population, like gang members and hardened criminals, commit a disproportionate amount. violent crime. By bringing together community leaders, former gang members and the police to educate those most at risk of using guns, gun violence response programs have a proven track record in reducing crime army.

Such programs, however, require resources and personnel at a time when social services and law enforcement are already exhausted, and the political will to fund them adequately has never really materialized. This is where the new strength of the gun safety movement can be a boon. Instead of spending political capital on a nationwide assault rifle ban that judges are likely to overturn, the movement could use its muscles to push for federal and state legislation to fund government programs. dynamic and effective intervention against armed violence in all large and medium-sized American cities. .

The gun safety reform movement should also prioritize strengthening federal efforts to crack down on gun trafficking. While the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, has the federal power to enforce gun law, the National Rifle Association and its allies have shackled it with outdated technology, insufficient funds and absurd restrictions. With an ever-increasing number of firearms in the United States, ATF’s intentional impotence comes at a deadly cost.

By law, the ATF is prohibited from using electronic databases to trace weapons found at crime scenes and from electronically searching for records in its possession. So when a gun is found at a crime scene, officers have to go to every gun store and sort through the boxes of documents to find out who bought it. ATF is also prohibited by law from performing more than one unannounced, warrantless inspection per year of any arms dealer. And ATF still operates with roughly the same number of employees as in 2001, and about 20% fewer inspectors, even though the number of firearms in the United States has skyrocketed and we are selling. on average at least 30 million guns per year. In a country where there are now more licensees gun dealers as Starbucks and McDonald’s branches combined, these artificial restrictions on ATF should be lifted.

The gun safety movement is also expected to launch a new push for universal – and better – background checks to make it harder for criminals and assailants to obtain guns. There is broad public support for universal background checks, even among gun owners, and the court is unlikely to rule them unconstitutional.

Background checks, however, are only as good as the underlying databases. In 2015, a background check error allowed Dylann Roof to purchase a handgun, weeks before he shot and killed 9 people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. In 2017, more than two dozen worshipers were killed by another gunman whose domestic violence conviction was’ not reported to the FBI The current system has significant flaws, especially when it comes to disqualifying them. mental health records. The federal database is missing hundreds of thousands of mental health records, and state reports are shockingly spotty.

Gun safety advocates have long recognized these problems – and have been among the only voices pushing for exactly these reforms. Yet proposals with more obvious popular appeal, such as a ban on assault rifles, have taken center stage over the past decade. A new expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment by the Supreme Court justifies a reorganization of priorities.

A program focused on intervention, strengthening gun law enforcement and better background checks would not only have a better chance of surviving in court, but could also do more to reduce gun violence. . While assault rifles seem threatening, they are only responsible for a fraction of gun deaths in America each year. Although these weapons have been used in some of the more notorious massacres, most mass shootings are in fact carried out with handguns.

The same principle applies to bans of large capacity magazines. Although they are good in theory, they are systematically ignored in practice. Lawyers convinced New Jersey lawmakers to ban them in 2018, but there appears to be no evidence that gun owners made or dumped their now illegal magazines.

For decades now, the NRA has said we don’t need more gun laws, just better enforcement of existing gun laws. It’s time for the gun safety movement to rise to the challenge of the NRA. By moving away from the excessive focus on banning certain types of weapons and instead focusing on reforms that do more to crack down on gun violence, gun safety advocates may be able to avoid gun violence. rigorous review of the new Supreme Court – and, ultimately, save more lives.

Adam Winkler (@adamwinkler), professor of law at UCLA, is the author of “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America” ​​and, more recently, of “We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights” .

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