The Case for Firearm Regulation in Maryland

Recently the United States Supreme Court “declined to review a Maryland law banning the sale of semiautomatic guns with certain military-style features, similar to weapons used in recent mass shootings.” The district court’s ruling that the Second Amendment does not apply to “weapons of war” was thus permitted to stand in a society besieged by a proliferation of mass shootings. 

It is an indisputable fact that guns fire bullets and that when bullets enter the human body the result is often death. Both gun rights advocates and gun regulation advocates agree that gun violence is detrimental to society and should be reduced. In essence, both groups wish to advance the public interest by protecting the public’s health. The opposing groups only diverge when it comes to their ideas of how society should go about trying to prevent bullets from entering people’s bodies.

Advocates for increased firearm regulation make the case that fewer bullets will enter fewer human bodies and that fewer deaths will result from those bullets if there are fewer bullets, fewer guns, and fewer individuals authorized to have guns in society.

Generally gun rights advocates argue that people kill people, essentially arguing that guns are not lethal unless a person aims the gun and pulls the trigger. Those who interpret the Second Amendment as an individual right (as opposed to a collective right) often believe that society would be made safer if everyone were carrying a gun at all times. Their logic presumes that would-be assassins, villains, and thieves would be deterred from committing acts of violence by the knowledge that their potential victim or passerby might be armed.
Yet even many gun rights advocates will acknowledge that there are reasonable limits to the rights afforded to Americans by virtue of the Second Amendment. Most gun rights advocates will acknowledge that it is unwise for a toddler to have access to a firearm. It would be similarly inappropriate for a violent felon to be permitted access to a firearm or for the average citizen to have the ability to walk into the office with a shoulder-fired missile launcher. It would seem that all parties agree that there are limits to what sort of firearms should be available to whom, where, and when.

It is worth noting that the argument advanced by gun rights advocates fails to address how the current rash of suicides ought to be prevented since having more people own guns will not provide a deterrent to suicide. According to Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, each year there are 11,000 gun homicides in the United States and there are an additional 20,000 gun suicides during those same 12 months. If death by bullets is something to be avoided, then it might be argued that our society would be better off if the number of suicides in this nation were reduced, even if the number of suicide attempts were to remain constant.

It turns out that more women than men attempt suicide each year but more men are successful in committing suicide because men are more likely than women to use a firearm to commit suicide, which is a more fatal method of executing oneself than other methods. Reducing access to guns would not eliminate suicides, but it is possible that it could curb the number of suicides since suicide attempts are sometimes impulsive acts that are instigated by an acute crisis that could be mitigated given time. Firearm regulation advocates argue that their proposed policies would provide that gift of time and, for some, life.

In 2013 the Maryland General Assembly passed the Firearm Safety Act, “just upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond upheld the ban in a 10-to-4 vote.” This law required individuals who wished to purchase a handgun to obtain a license from the state prior to the purchase. Since the overwhelming majority of gun violence is committed with handguns, partially because they are easier to conceal, the law, which is not meant to inconvenience long-gun hunters, specifically makes it more difficult to obtain a handgun. To obtain a license one must first pass a gun safety course, submit one’s fingerprints to law enforcement authorities, pay a $50 fee, wait for the license to arrive in the mail, and upon purchase, one must register the gun in a statewide registry. It is just such a registry that may reduce straw purchasing of weapons that are subsequently used to commit acts of violence. 

Though this process will not prevent someone who already owns a handgun from impulsively committing an act of gun violence, it will prevent someone from quickly acquiring a gun to do the same. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, requiring a license to purchase a handgun will reduce homicides by 40% and suicides by 15%. It would seem logical that if requiring a license to own a handgun reduces violence then perhaps Maryland should also require a license to own any firearm and that there should be a statewide registry for all firearms. Considering that many Marylanders already own rifles similar to those used in recent mass shootings and that these same firearms are no longer able to be legally purchased in Maryland due to the Firearm Safety Act, future lives might be saved if the law that currently applies to handguns were to be extended to apply to all firearms. 

Gun violence is a public health crisis in need of immediate redress and the best way to prevent gun violence is to reduce the number of guns in society, improve tracking of those guns, and to ensure that all gun owners meet legal requirements of gun ownership. After all, if more guns made us more safe then Baltimore City would be one of the safest cities in America but clearly it is not.