Sparking a Necessary Debate
The elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn. is among the most horrific tragedies in American history. The current media attention surrounding it keeps it ingrained in the heads of every American, eliciting a wide range of emotions. In the heat of this moment, the discussion has turned towards gun control, and rightly so. The political left has begun a push for a ban on guns in the United States, while interest groups on the right, like the National Rifle Association (NRA), advocate more guns — in the form of armed guards in every school. Somewhere in the middle, Vice President Joe Biden has met with interest groups on both sides, as well as a series of researchers. On Tuesday, his recommendation led President Barrack Obama to call for a new ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, along with more stringent gun ownership requirements, in the form of a universal background check system.
The problem is, none of these solutions are effective. The leftist push for a ban on all guns violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms. It overlooks the basic fact that lawbreakers will always find a way to obtain guns. As long as a person is mentally stable and has no criminal record, he/she should be allowed to own a gun to defend him/herself. Just because I personally would never feel the need to own a gun (or get anywhere near a gun for that matter), does not mean I should take that right away from respectable, law-abiding citizens who would feel much safer with a gun in their possession.
This does not mean that the NRA’s advocacy for armed guards at schools automatically makes sense. Putting guns in every school would help to further perpetuate a U.S. gun culture that is already out of control. In addition, consistent exposure to guns and armed figures is frightening to most children. There is little evidence to suggest that the presence of an armed guard at Sandy Hook Elementary School would have done anything to stop the Newton massacre.
Obama’s more centrist idea, which advocates the ban of assault weapons and the enforcement of more stringent gun ownership requirements, is a good first step, but it falls short in certain areas. The ban of assault weapons makes complete sense. Recently, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) held a gun buyback event where Los Angeles residents could turn in their guns in exchange for money. The range of guns that were returned to the LAPD featured a long list of assault weapons. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to need an AK-47 or machine gun for simple self-defense. A handgun is completely adequate for self-defense, whereas assault weapons are only necessary for: a) a civilian massacre or b) a military attack. Considering that the goal of new gun regulations is to prevent civilian massacres, and that the U.S. has the strength of the most powerful military in the world to prevent foreign military attacks on civilians, it is completely logical to ban assault weapons. They are completely unnecessary for civilian ownership.
The next part of new gun regulation aims to tighten background checks and gun ownership requirements. The problem with this? Gun ownership requirements are already supposedly stringent, yet many times background checking takes merely a couple minutes. Recent civilian massacres further demonstrate that it is still too easy to obtain guns.
This issue of gun ownership does not need to be controlled by the government. Like most things, the market can handle gun control in a simpler fashion. A new idea, being advocated by economists, such as Nouriel Roubini, suggests the implementation of a mandatory liability insurance requirement for guns. In effect, the gun market would function like the car market. When a person wants to purchase a gun, he/she would be required to purchase gun insurance. The insurance company would assume liability for any instance resulting in bodily harm or violating the law (the gun owner would still face the same criminal penalties, but the insurance company would have to pay the families of victims, health bills of survivors and property damage to property owners in any suit related to the accident). As a result of this liability, insurance companies would work to protect their assets. They would be completely incentivized to conduct extensive background checks and mental health checks on potential gun owners. The company would then charge premiums accordingly.
The result of this set-up would be as follows: the demographic that should be allowed to own guns (law-abiding citizens with no family/personal mental health history) would be able to purchase guns at a relatively low rate. Meanwhile, other demographics will struggle. People with crime histories and people with personal/family mental health problems will be unable to afford the outrageous premiums charged by insurance companies. This privatized approach to gun control will incentivize stringent gun ownership restrictions. Whereas currently, out-of-touch restrictions are mandated by a Congress that a recent Public Policy Polling survey shows 95 percent of Americans resent.
On top of all this, a mandatory liability insurance system would be much easier to pass constitutionally. The system still gives every American the right to bear, it just makes it more difficult to do so.
The Newtown massacre has brought up a necessary debate on gun control. Knee-jerk reactions such as a ban on all guns or the presence of armed guards in every school are either unconstitutional, illogical, fear-mongering or all of the above. The most effective way to handle gun control would be a government ban on assault weapons coupled with privately-incentivized gun ownership restrictions — in the form of a mandatory liability insurance system.
Sports Editor Nathaniel Ludewig is a Goizueta Business School junior from Los Angeles, Calif.