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Norbert Bufka

Author  ·  Historian

It is time to reframe the gun debate

The meaning of the Second Amendment has been interpreted to mean that the private ownership of guns “shall not be infringed.” The right to life is also guaranteed in  the Constitution.  Clearly the right to life is a superior right to that of owning a gun.

After the massacre in Orlando, the Democrats tried to introduce legislation which would prevent people on the no-fly list from purchasing a gun. They also wanted a universal background check before any purchase. Opinion polls show most American support these measures but they were not brought to a vote. Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, said, “We do NOT take away a citizen’s rights without due process!”

It seems to me there is a higher constitutional right here. The victims have lost their constitutional right to life without due process. This reality is ignored.

It is time to frame the gun debate along the lines of the victims of gun violence, not the second amendment. It seems to me that any other threat to so many American lives would be addressed immediately with congressional hearings and other appropriate agencies doing studies.

A plan to study gun violence by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) was proposed in 1997.but it was defeated by those who thought this was just a step to introduce more gun control laws. According to NPR, “the CDC studies all kinds of violence…. But there are some glaring research gaps. The CDC doesn't systematically collect data on deaths at the hands of law enforcement, and there's actually a law that effectively stops it from doing research on gun violence” because the authorization “says that no funds may be used ‘to advocate or promote gun control.’” In some states, counselors may not collect data on gun ownership.

Rep. Jay Dickey, the chief opponent of this study, has now changed his mind and along with Mark Rosenberg, the chief proponent of this study, are working together to make it happen. Their focus is not on second amendment rights but on the lives lost by gun violence and are asking the question, “What can be done?”

Years ago when car accidents resulted in 50,000 deaths a year, the CDC engaged in a study that resulted in seat belts and other safety measures on cars. Since the introduction of these safety measures, car fatalities have decreased substantially.

In 2013 there were 33,169 deaths from guns. About 1/3 were homicides and a little less than 2/3 were suicides. The remaining few were accidental or for unknown reasons.  In addition to these, police killed 1,000 in 2015 and the rate for 2016 is exceeding that rate in 2015.

“The number of Americans killed in gun homicides on Christmas Day [2015 was] comparable to the number of people killed in gun homicides in an entire year in places like Australia or Britain. The 27 people killed by guns in America” that day “was equal to the total number of people killed in gun homicides in an entire year in Austria, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Estonia, Bermuda, Hong Kong and Iceland, combined.”


Nancy Kafer, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, pointed out that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which “is the federal agency charged with ensuring that the American gun trade complies with federal and state laws, and with tracking down illegal gun activity,” is woefully underfunded and understaffed, primarily due to some members of congress who keep it that way.

There are 139,000 gun shops in the United States. The ATF has so few inspectors that these vendors do not have a visit from the ATF for as long as eight years.   Increasing funding and staffing would allow the ATF to monitor the sale of firearms more effectively. This could be done without changing any law or violating the Second Amendment.

Coupled with a study about gun violence, we would be making great strides toward a solution.

So I beg Congress to authorize the CDC to conduct studies about gun violence and let them take the study where it will. The study I am sure will reveal information that we are totally unaware of today and would direct us in a way that will reduce gun violence. Please feel free to send this article to friends and our Representatives and Senators.



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