In 1991, Ronald Reagan wrote, “‘Anniversary’ is a word we usually associate with happy events we like to remember… March 30, however, marks an anniversary I would just as soon forget, but cannot.” The iconic American president was writing for the New York Times in support of the Brady Bill, a gun control bill that created mandatory background checks for buying guns. The bill was named after James Brady, Reagan’s former press secretary, who suffered brain damage on March 30, 1981 during an assassination attempt on the president’s life. The debate over gun control continues to rage to this day, but for Reagan it was a clear cut issue: no more anniversaries for deadly shootings.
After the numerous mass shootings that have occurred in the United States, a lot people probably feel the same way regardless of their political affiliations. Those political affiliations, however, usually mean that people strongly disagree about how to prevent such tragedies from happening again. The debate is usually framed as a gun control versus Second Amendment argument, but it simply is not that easy. There are partisans on both sides who represent polar opposites on the issue, but they are not the only people who are deciding a solution. In fact, that are some common sense ideas that might appeal to both sides and could drastically reduce the amount of gun-related deaths in the United States.
One such idea is background checks. American federal law already has the Brady Law in effect, but it has a loophole called the Gun Show Loophole. This exists because the Brady Law only requires registered sellers to do background checks. The name “gun show loophole” is slightly misleading because it does not just apply to sellers at gun shows. Private sellers using sites like Craigslist or other options are also exempt from the law. This has allowed some mass shooters to acquire weapons they would not have been able to get otherwise. An attempt to change the wording of the Brady Bill and close that loophole was made, but was not supported by prominent gun groups and was not passed. Still, this idea remains one of the primary legislative means to enact reasonable gun control and save lives.
Another idea is to regulate sales of ammunition. There are two reasons why this is a good idea. First, if certain types of ammunition were regulated, it could prevent mass shooters from having what they need to kill so many people. Without ammunition, a gun is no better than a baseball bat. Limiting the types and amounts of ammunition available to the public could save lives. Second, limits would not prevent people from using guns in self-defense. Ammunition for responsible gun owners who want to keep themselves and their families safe would still be available, but the paramilitary types that are typically used by mass shooters would not be available or at least not readily available. It might not mean no more anniversaries for tragic murders, but it could mean far fewer.
These are just a couple of the solutions available that do not encroach on Second Amendment rights, but are acceptable to gun control activists as well. Countries that have measures like these enshrined in law have demonstrably less gun violence within their borders. President Obama pointed out that Australia, which has some of the strictest gun control in the world, as an example of good gun control and it has both universal background checks and ammunition restrictions. In fact, looking at the statistics, Australia had only 188 total gun deaths in 2011 while the United States had 32, 163. It would seem that gun control in Australia is working to reduce gun violence and tragic death. It should be noted, however, that Australia does not have a legal right to bear arms like the United States does. For that reason, a complete Australian-style gun control is not possible in the United States, but there are still some good, Second Amendment abiding ideas that America could take from the Land Down Under.
Reagan decided that the best way to create that America was to support a sensible gun control bill, despite decades of pro-gun and NRA support. Today, Reagan would face fierce opposition for such a stance. America is polarized over the issue of gun control. Conservatives worry that their Second Amendment rights will be violated. Liberals tend to want to get rid of all guns in order to prevent mass shootings. Both sides have emotionally charged arguments, as did Reagan back in 1991 and that has some merit. In the wake of horrific shootings like Newtown and Virginia Tech, there have been many such arguments, some of them heart-wrenching to watch. But should we determine the fate of Americans and their guns simply based on emotion?
The Second Amendment is a core principle of America’s foundation and cannot be ignored. Thus, any solution to gun violence and mass shootings should be within “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Solutions like universal background checks and ammunition regulation could easily do that, but have been derailed by partisan bickering. In a situation like this, the example of Ronald Reagan is equally applicable to both sides of the aisle. He put aside political partisanship to do the right thing and support a gun control bill. He did not support violating the Second Amendment, but he saw a common sense solution to a problem and got behind it. America is far from Reagan’s desire for no more shooting anniversaries, but perhaps by following his example America could take a step closer to that worthy goal.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury