In a new report, The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research identifies what it sees as weaknesses in current gun laws. It also explains how those weaknesses can be fixed without passing new laws.
Gun sales have soared during the Obama presidency, as a "get-em-while-you can" mentality took hold among Second Amendment supporters. Although President Obama has not addressed gun control during his first term, many gun owners expect him to do so if he gets a second term and is not impeded by re-election worries.
In its "Case for Gun Policy Reforms in America," the Johns Hopkins Center argues that the Second Amendment doesn't prevent politicians from strengthening gun laws that are already on the books -- and it says that's exactly what they should do.
In 12 pages, the report makes the following recommendations:
-- Boost the number of high-risk individuals who are prohibited from possessing guns:
The Center argues that the ban on firearms ownership should be extended to people convicted of misdemeanors involving violence. This includes suspects charged with a felony that is later plea-bargained to a lesser charge. It also says people who committed felonies as juveniles should be added to the high-risk group.
The Center says alcoholics and problem drinkers should join drug addicts on the list of people prohibited from gun possession; and it recommends 21 instead of 18 as the minimum age for buying a gun.
-- Regulate gun sales:
The Brady Law is “necessary but insufficient,” the Center argues, because it requires prospective purchasers to pass a background check only if they are purchasing the gun from a licensed firearms dealer. The Center advocates regulating gun sales between private individuals who are not licensed gun dealers.
-- Boost regulation and oversight of gun-sellers:
The policy paper faults Congress for limiting public access to crime-gun trace data, and for providing firearm manufacturers and retail sellers with “broad protections from lawsuits.”
It also says: "Data from federal gun trafficking investigations indicate that scofflaw gun dealers are the most important channels for diverting guns to traffickers and criminals.” (This is ironic, in light of the Fast and Furious gun-running scandal, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ordered federally licensed firearms dealers to allow straw purchases of guns. The intent was to trace the illegally sold guns to Mexican drug cartels.)
-- Eliminate “right-to-carry” laws
They “do not make us safer and likely increase aggravated assaults,” the Center argues, rejecting research that shows just the opposite.
-- Regulate the design of guns
"Not all firearms are created equal," the paper states. “Aside from ammunition capacity, other characteristics of firearms that are relevant to public safety include how easily the gun can be concealed, and how prone it is to misfire or fire unintentionally.”
The Center advocates reintroducing the now-expired 1994 ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines. (At the Oct. 16 debate, President Obama said he also favors an assault weapons ban.)
-- The public wants stronger gun regulation:
“Contrary to recent media reports, a large majority of the public, including gun owners, favors remedying many current weaknesses in our gun laws,” the paper concludes.
It also mentions the “real political hurdles” to enacting new gun control laws—“the gun lobby” being a “substantial” hurdle.
“But politicians who want to correct flaws in our current laws, which enable dangerous people to get guns, could do so knowing that there is broad support for those policies, the reforms are constitutional, and the policies would enhance public safety.”
Where the candidates stand
Both President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney were asked what they would do to “limit the availability of assault weapons.”
“I believe in the Second Amendment,” President Obama said. “But there have been too many instances during the course of my presidency where I’ve had to comfort families who’ve lost somebody, most recently out in Aurora.”
Obama called for enforcing the laws already on the books – including “keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill. We’ve done a much better job in terms of background checks, but we’ve got more to do when it comes to enforcement,” he added.
“But I also share your belief that weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets. And so what I’m trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally. Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced, but part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence, because frankly, in my hometown of Chicago, there’s an awful lot of violence, and they’re not using AK-47s, they’re using cheap handguns.”
Romney said he does not favor “new pieces of legislation” on guns – “or making certain guns illegal.”
He said he supports efforts “to enforce the gun laws that we have and to change the culture of violence we have.”