The recent attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has reignited the incredibly complex (and heated) debate on gun control. President Obama has gotten pushback for responding to the attack by emphasizing our country’s easy access to guns and excessive violence in comparison to other developed countries as opposed to the explicit White supremacy that fueled the attack.
Despite the criticism, the debate on gun control is back and here to stay—and it will probably be a major speaking point for candidates in the upcoming presidential elections. If gun control isn’t something you knew or cared about before the attack, now is a really good time to start paying attention.
You’ve got questions? Great. I’ve got answers.
What does the law actually say when it comes to Americans’ right to guns?
The Second Amendment reads as follows: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Exactly, that’s the problem. The debate ultimately comes down to semantics. Some say the amendment promises individuals the right to buy and use guns while others say the amendment is referring to Congress’s legislative power in regulating the use of weapons by a militia.
To make things more confusing, the Fourteenth Amendment says that the state can’t pass any laws directly inhibiting the rights of individuals as stated in the Bill of Rights. However, this doesn’t apply to the Second Amendment because it refers to the actions of the federal government, not individuals. There’s no protection for people if their use of weaponry is impacted by the state’s actions, hence why gun control laws vary heavily from state to state.
So what are the arguments for more extensive gun control?
Those who want to restrict gun access are preoccupied with keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people with mental illnesses or lack of sufficient training (like Dylann Roof). They don’t see guns as a practical form of protection and research says that increasing presence of guns boosts homicide rates. Plus, from a forensics standpoint, it’s harder to pinpoint which shots were at the hands of the perpetrator than the individual protecting herself.
And those against it?
Supporters of gun rights are weary of big government barring people from protecting themselves. They also accuse politicians who promote gun control of capitalizing on tragedies for their own agenda of banning weapons.
Then what are the weapons and aspects of gun access that are at stake here?
The US News & World Report has a really nice breakdown for you of every single type of gun that’s involved in the debate but the conversation is centered on military assault weapons, universal background checks, waiting periods, magazine capacities/quantities as well as other miscellaneous restrictions on selling or using guns.
And who’s behind keeping access to these precious assault weapons?
The usual suspects: Jeb Bush (Stand Your Ground, anyone?), Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee. I’d include Donald Trump but his views seem to flip flop as much as his crappy comb-over when no one’s looking.
What about Hillary? Where does she stand in all of this?
She’s an ally to gun control supporters of course and has spoken about her support for stricter background checks. Surprisingly, Republican George Pataki agrees with her, despite their opposing party lines. Pataki has been highly supportive of gun control and passed one of the toughest gun control legislations in the country during his two terms as governor of New York.
How much headway did Obama make in all of this while he had the chance?
Not much, but he did try.
Back in 2013, Obama created a legislation that included various, comprehensive gun reforms in response to the Newtown massacre including: background checks on all sales, banning assault-type weapons, striking down on national importation of weapons, providing millions of dollars in grants for schools to boost emergency response protocols, expanding mental health programs for youths, reforming safety standards for gun parts and providing training for law enforcement, first responders and school officials to respond to armed attacks. In the end, the National Rifle Association got in his way and Obama couldn’t get any footing in Congress. However, Obama did ban military-style assault weapons and gear for local police in the wake of the 2014 Ferguson protests and the 2015 Baltimore protests. Obama has said time and time again that America’s lack of progress towards greater, nationwide gun control is his biggest frustration as president.
The painful irony of the Charleston massacre is that Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Mother Emanuel, championed stronger gun control before his death. On June 10, a bill he co-sponsored for police to wear body cameras was passed after Walter Scott’s death. In 2013, he introduced another a bill in South Carolina for greater gun control including background checks at sales and medical/psychological evaluations. It never passed the committee. Rivaling bills that allowed greater freedoms in bringing guns to certain areas like cars with children, private homes and businesses as well as State House grounds flew by with flying colors, though.
Tragic. What else has South Carolina done to crack down on gun access?
Plenty, in comparison to other southern states. Concealed carry is legal there but they can’t bring guns into medical facilities, childcare facilities, preschools, churches, courts, sporting events, law enforcement or corrections facilities, without permission. They also created harsher penalties and a partial ban on gun access for domestic violence offenders. Unfortunately, however, South Carolina is still the seventh-deadliest state in the country when it comes to gun violence. Its rate of gun deaths is 39 percent higher than the national average and it has taken heat for its weak enforcement of gun safety and illegal firearm trafficking.
And what’s going on in other states?
Meh. There are rarely any significant changes in gun control legislation—even after massive shootings.
One exception is Connecticut. After Newtown, the state enforced a ban on large capacity magazines over 10 rounds, as well as approximately a hundred assault-type weapons. They also expanded background checks on gun and ammunition purposes. New York and Colorado became more restrictive as well. However, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and Kentucky have allowed concealed carry in places like bars, restaurants, churches and schools.
But what does the public want?
That’s fluctuated slightly in recent years, yet for the most part, more and more people want looser gun legislation (even after the Newtown shooting). The Pew Research Center says that for the first time there are significantly more in favor of gun rights at 53 percent than those supporting gun control at 45 percent. National crime hasn’t been this low for 20 years, but more people are concerned with crime rates than ever and simultaneously, they now believe that increased access to guns will make them safer. The shift in support of gun rights may be an effect of trends in news coverage, reality TV and political rhetoric. It’s also worth noting that Republicans became more supportive of increased gun access once Obama got into office.
However, 85 percent of Americans still agree on including background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows across party lines. Furthermore, 80 percent agree that those with mental illnesses shouldn’t be allowed to purchase guns.
And what do Black people want?
You should ask them. But I can tell you that today, 60 percent of Blacks prioritize gun control over gun rights (a rate that’s in decline) versus 37 percent of Whites. I can also tell you that 54 percent of women prioritize gun control over gun rights versus 37 percent of men (also in decline). Keep in mind that Blacks are more likely than Whites to be victims of gun violence, but are only half as likely to have guns in their homes.
It’s a lot of information, I know. And believe me, there’ll be even more coming. Stay tuned at Hellobeautiful.com and we’ll keep you updated on what happens next in the nationwide gun control debate.