By Jack Brownfield
After every horrific mass shooting, Americans of all political backgrounds propose policies that they believe could address this serious issue. While everyone wants to reduce gun violence in the United States, liberals and conservatives typically have radically different ideas about possible solutions. The former focus on gun control measures ranging from universal background checks to bans on specific types of weapons, such as semi-automatic guns. Conservatives, on the other hand, often advocate improving mental health care and increasing gun ownership. This follows the theory that, as the National Rifle Association’s vice president Wayne LaPierre put it, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Obviously, many of these policies are mutually exclusive; we cannot both expand and restrict concealed carry laws, for example. But some proposals from both liberals and conservatives can be implemented together, potentially creating a compromise that addresses multiple aspects of the gun violence problem.
In National Review, conservative commentator Robert VerBruggen recently suggested several policies that do not involve stricter gun control. First, he notes that a disproportionate amount of America’s violence occurs in a relatively small number of “hot spots.” Focusing police energy and resources on these neighborhoods could stop many of the violent crimes that make up the majority of U.S. gun deaths but rarely receive national news coverage. Similarly, a relatively small number of people are involved in most shootings, whether as victims, perpetrators, or bystanders, and VerBruggen argues that these individuals should be the focus of prevention efforts. He gives a number of suggestions of what these preventative measure might be, including more outreach to their communities and therapy to deter repeated youth violence. VerBruggen also acknowledges that his proposals could go along with gun control efforts, writing that “it would be entirely possible to take these measures and work harder to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.” He suggests universal background checks and a prohibition on those with misdemeanor stalking convictions from owning guns, but the list of potential policies is much longer.
Joshua Holland, writing for the progressive website The Nation, has several more suggestions for these kind of gun control policies. Since people with anger-control issues are far more likely to commit violent crimes, Holland argues that we can take a number of steps to prevent these people from purchasing guns. Perpetrators of domestic abuse are one such group. Although most abusers are already not allowed to buy guns, there are a number of loopholes that we can close to prevent violence. Like VerBruggen, he mentions those with stalking convictions, but Holland also includes those with temporary restraining orders and those who abuse people outside their immediate family. More significantly, he advocates confiscating guns that abusers may already own, not just preventing them from buying weapons in the future. It is ineffective, Holland’s reasoning goes, to stop a violent individual from buying another gun if he already has three stashed in his house. A similar loophole exists for the mentally ill. While those who are involuntarily committed are prohibited from buying guns, people who are only hospitalized briefly are often overlooked, even though they have a high risk for suicide and violence. Closing these gaps in the law could keep weapons out of the hands of those who are disproportionately likely to harm themselves and others while leaving the general right to bear arms intact.
Neither commentator’s solutions are mutually exclusive, and there is at least some evidence behind all the proposals. We could easily adopt all of them, focusing our enforcement efforts on “hot spots,” while we tailor our deterrence programs to those disproportionately likely to be involved in violent crime and stop dangerous individuals from buying or owning firearms. A compromise like this would address many of the facets behind gun violence instead of just focusing on one or the other. It would also contain elements palatable to people of both parties, making it more likely to gain widespread support.
Dogmatism, however, on both liberal and conservative sides stands as a roadblock to this kind of plan. Conservatives may be unwilling to allow any restrictions on gun ownership, even for those people who are far more likely to commit violent crimes. Talk of gun confiscation in particular, even if it is just for those convicted of domestic abuse, may be a step too far for some. For their part, staunch liberals may be dissatisfied with this kind of piecemeal approach that does not try to reduce gun ownership or target any specific kind of weapon. They might wonder why we should limit our restrictions to just a few particularly violent individuals when many would-be shooters would still be able to purchase guns? To respond to critics on both sides of the aisle, bipartisan solutions must focus on pragmatism above ideology. Some conservatives may be reluctant to admit that any kind of gun control could be effective at reducing violence, and some liberals that any measures other than gun control could help. But the evidence suggests that both approaches have merit, and we should work to craft bipartisan solutions that incorporate as many useful proposals as possible.
Jack is a sophomore in the College studying English and Government and writes about domestic social and cultural issues.