Perhaps no other amendment to the Constitution elicits such a visceral, emotional response on both sides of the topic, as the Second.
The result seems to a bright line in the sand, with little gray area in between deeply entrenched sides. But, after a year that’s seen two of the United States’ 10 deadliest mass shootings, this political third rail must be addressed in a way that preserves the right to bear arms legally while improving public safety.
Guns are dangerous and can be – and are – used to kill people. Hunters, recreational target-shooters and those who keep firearms locked up at home for personal defense also have a constitutionally protected right to own and lawfully use their weapons that can’t be disrespected.
Eight United States senators – four Republicans, four Democrats – have teamed up to craft legislation that highlights gun laws can, in fact, be both common-sense and bipartisan in nature.
Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., last week introduced a bill that aims to fix glaring problems in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used to determine the eligibility of prospective gun buyers. It incentivizes states and other agencies to provide more reporting – and adds a measure of accountability for them to supply what’s already mandated under state guidelines.
While federal crimes are automatically entered into the database, the existing patchwork of state laws has left millions of disqualifying offenses unreported. One of those unknown convictions had tragic consequences this month.
The man who shot and killed 26 people in a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church on Nov. 5 should have been barred from buying the murder weapon because of a conviction on domestic violence charges while he served in the U.S. Air Force. But some error within the Air Force meant the verdict reached by a military court never made it to the national database.
Cornyn is a well-regarded conservative; Murphy is a vocal liberal. Yet both are bound together by serving states ravaged by among the most horrific mass shootings in recent years.
As detractors will no doubt note, this measure won’t prevent criminals from obtaining firearms illegally. Those individuals are, by definition, intent on breaking the law. By strengthening existing protections, however, Cornyn and his seven cosponsors are attempting to reduce gun violence without reducing law-abiding citizens’ access to firearms.
No country has as many privately owned guns – or fatal shootings – as the United States, where firearms are both part of the culture and explicitly permitted under the Constitution. Accordingly, striking a legislative balance on gun measures that pleases both sides requires walking a very thin, politicized tightrope. The bipartisan group behind this Senate bill, however, shows that it can be done.