Opinion

Balancing safety and the Second Amendment is a tricky task

The country yet again bore witness to an act of senseless evil this Valentine’s Day when the lives of 17 innocent people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were savagely cut short. I joined millions across the country, and in the South Florida community, expressing shock and despair over yet another mass shooting.

United in our grief though we may be, the same cannot be said of our political reactions.

Predictably, many progressive activists took to Twitter to claim that the blood of innocent people gunned down is quite literally on the hands of gun rights advocates, allied politicians and interest groups (namely the National Rifle Association). These hysterical, virtue-signaling claims are riddled with logical fallacies and gross distortions of the truth.

The reflexive question these acts inspire though – “How can we continue to let this happen?” – is a natural and important one to ask and consider given our contemporary national experience. However, any real answer requires patience and thoughtfulness. Raw emotion might be a good catalyst for conversation and action, but it is seldom a prudent force on which to craft public policy.

As a conservative and firm supporter of the Second Amendment, I am sometimes confounded by this issue. The Second Amendment’s purpose – historically based in the idea of providing a popular check on the power of government – is an important one that needs to be upheld. An individual’s right to bear arms is a crucial tenet of a free society’s social contract. Additionally, properly utilized, a weapon is a useful tool for self-defense in life-threatening situations.

However, one does need to recognize the destructive power weapons possess. As we have unfortunately seen, they can become tools of mass casualty in the wrong hands.

Balancing these two legitimate interests is a complex task, especially for a pluralistic society. Many have agreed that gun ownership comes with certain restrictions and responsibilities – including background checks and compulsory training. But these measures have not prevented tragedies, so the question becomes, “What more, if anything, can we do?”

For a conservative, the goal is to identify solutions that can satisfy both the belief in the inviolability of this constitutional right and the desire to create a safer society. Fortunately, that’s not an impossible task.

First, given the profile of the perpetrators of these attacks, it is time we finally address the role mental illness plays in them. It is bad policy to wholly deny a class of citizens a certain right without due process based on a medical diagnosis, a view that even the notably progressive ACLU has condemned. However, the current restrictions seem insufficient.

One practice that seems to have merit is the use of Extreme Risk Protection Orders. This policy allows for family members and law enforcement to petition a court to suspend a person’s right to possess or purchase a weapon temporarily if that individual poses a threat to himself or others. The law is currently only implemented in four states, and Florida is not one of them, but it might be a sensible and constitutional method of restricting gun access for those more prone to violence.

Bureaucratic inefficiencies exist. In the case of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, for example, the FBI failed to follow up on a tip regarding the shooter’s potentially dangerous behavior. It is incumbent upon all policymakers to ensure that these inefficiencies are fixed to mitigate costly errors going forward.

Other minor revisions include outlawing bump stocks, which allow for semiautomatic weapons to fire similarly to automatic weapons, and increasing armed security for so-called soft targets, places that are at most vulnerable to attacks.

These policies, however, will not end all violence or mass shootings. The rot that allows these violent acts to occur has social, emotional and psychological elements, which no legislation can ever fully resolve. Addressing those factors requires a more nebulous, ad hoc and socially-conscious reform effort that extends well beyond the scope of Congress.

I do not present these ideas as policy prescriptions that conservatives must adopt. They should instead serve as sparks for fruitful discussion – simple ideas that might spur the search for practical solutions. Hopefully, they can help elevate the discourse above its current sordid state and facilitate the national dialogue this serious issue deserves.

Jonathan Godoy is a graduate student in the University of Miami MPA program.

February 20, 2018

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