A Declaration of the Right to Live Free from Gun Violence
Copyright © by Thomas Gabor, Ph.D.
America is facing a gun violence crisis, including 40,000 gun-related deaths per year and more than one mass shooting a day in 2019. Research to date shows that gun ownership, carrying in public, and possession in the home raise the risk to people far more often than they serve to protect them from violence. While the scientific evidence for the tighter regulation of firearms is very compelling, debates often turn to the question of rights. Gun rights advocates often resort to the argument that the Second Amendment offers them virtually an unlimited right to own or carry a firearm.
The Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Long interpreted by the higher courts as the right of citizens to form a militia, the US Supreme Court’s landmark Heller decision in 2008 interpreted the Second Amendment as conferring on Americans the right to possess a gun in the home for self-defense as opposed to militia service. However, writing for the majority, Justice Scalia, a hunter himself, made it clear that the Second Amendment was not without limits and did not afford a right to carry guns, to bring them into “sensitive” settings like schools, or provide for a right to possess “dangerous and unusual” weapons. Those seeking a safer society and a reform in our gun laws at this point have no rights-based argument as a response and tend to get bogged down in a discussion of the meaning of the Second Amendment.
I believe it is time for the majority of Americans who are not gun owners and for the many owners who support reasonable controls on firearms to develop their own Declaration of Rights to live free from violence. Such a Declaration would be consistent with the Declaration of Independence and the many human rights covenants that the US has signed. As pointed out by Amnesty International, personal safety is a human right. Currently, all Americans are vulnerable to gun violence, whether they live in large cities, small towns, or rural areas. Children are terrified to go to school. There are few safe spaces in America, as so many venues have experienced mass shootings, including schools, college campuses, night clubs, theaters, libraries, airports, outdoor concerts, places of worship, shopping malls, baseball diamonds, newsrooms, and military bases.
I propose the following Declaration of Rights and Resolutions in Relation to Gun Violence.
Whereas the United States is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which affirms that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the security of person.”
Whereas Amnesty International has declared that the US government’s refusal to pass gun control laws represents a violation of its citizens’ rights to live free from violence and fear;
Whereas the Declaration of Independence affirms the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness;
Whereas close to 40,000 Americans die and close to 100,000 suffer injuries from gunshot wounds each year;
Whereas many more Americans are traumatized and otherwise burdened by gun violence as witnesses to violence, family members, and caregivers;
Whereas there is an average of about one civilian mass shooting a day in the United States;
Whereas mass shootings have occurred in schools, colleges, at night clubs and concerts, in movie theaters, places of worship, airports, workplaces, shopping malls, and at so many other sites;
Whereas gun violence imposes heavy financial costs on individuals, the justice system, and the medical system;
Whereas high levels of gun violence and mass shootings reduce personal freedoms as they lead to more physical searches, intensified policing and surveillance levels and more records maintained on private citizens;
Whereas most citizens are not gun owners;
Whereas most Americans favor reasonable gun laws, such as universal background checks, bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and keeping guns from the mentally ill; and,
Whereas the US Supreme Court ruled in 2008 (District of Columbia v. Heller) that the Second Amendment right is not unlimited and does not extend to the carrying of concealed weapons, possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, the carrying of firearms in sensitive places (e.g., schools and government buildings), or the carrying of dangerous or unusual weapons.
Therefore, this Declaration affirms that:
The People have the right to feel safe in their homes, at work, and in public spaces;
The People have the right to be in gun-free environments while in school and college;
The People have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on all subjects free of intimidation by citizens with guns, both at public gatherings and in educational environments;
The People have the right to move about, shop, work, and enjoy leisure activities in their communities without a fear of gun violence;
The People have the right to enjoy shows, sporting events, movies, and concerts without the presence of armed citizens (other than police) with guns;
The People have the right to use public transportation and to enter terminals without a fear of gun violence;
The People have the right to attend church, temples, mosques, and other places of worship without the presence of citizens with guns;
The People should be spared the harms, economic costs, and traumas associated with gun violence.
In order to safeguard the rights affirmed in this Declaration, the following policies should be pursued:
1. A national licensing system should be created for all gun owners, including interviews by law enforcement, a review of criminal and mental health records, reference checks, gun safety training, a waiting period, and licensing fees.
2. Semi-automatic rifles and pistols with assault/military features and high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition should be banned or more strictly regulated. Devices that can increase the rate of fire of semi-automatic firearms (e.g., bump stocks) should be banned.
3. Gun carrying by the public in sensitive areas, such as educational, cultural, religious, and sports facilities, public meetings, workplaces, and shopping malls should be prohibited, unless a special exemption is obtained due to an imminent threat to a person’s life.
4. Purchases of by individuals should be limited to one firearm per month.
5. Personalized guns and those with safety features, such as loaded chamber indicators and magazine safeties, should become requirements and phased in.
6. Firearms should no longer be exempt from oversight by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields gun manufacturers from liability for harms associated with their products, should be repealed.
7. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives should have the authority and funding necessary to conduct inspections of gun dealers at its discretion as often as required.
8. Safe storage laws should be enacted to prevent suicides, accidents, and thefts, while respecting the right of home owners to possess a firearm for protection.
9. Laws enabling gun violence, such as Stand Your Ground, should be repealed.
10. Laws creating Extreme Risk Protection Orders should be enacted to enable law enforcement, family members, or professionals to petition a court to seize the firearms of those shown to be a danger to themselves or others.
11. A national research program should be created and funded in order to understand all aspects of gun violence, to prevent future violence, and to examine the impact of policies designed to reduce gun violence.
12. National standards should be developed in the use of force by police officers to prevent the shooting of unarmed civilians by the police. These standards should include cultural sensitivity training to minimize uses of force that are applied disproportionately to members of minority groups.
About the Author
Thomas Gabor (Ph.D., Ohio State University) served for 30 years as a Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, Canada. He is currently an international gun policy consultant and expert witness in cases involving violence. He has published 200 works, including three books and over 60 published works on the topic of gun violence. He has served as an advisor to the United Nations, governmental agencies, and victims of violence. His last two books are: ENOUGH! Solving America’s Gun Violence Crisis (2019) and Confronting Gun Violence in America (2016). More information on his work can be found at: thomasgaborbooks.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.