Getting a grip on gun control - BLSS Academic Blogs

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Gun control debates have raged for decades in the United States of America, and always flare up in the wake of mass shooting incidents. This was the case again following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018.

In our latest Academic Blog, School of Law Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for American Legal Studies, Anne Richardson-Oakes, examines America in the wake of the Parkland Shooting.

The recent school shootings in Parkland, Florida and at the YouTube headquarters in California have brought new energy to calls for gun control in the United States. Recent post-Parkland research has shown that a majority (70%) of American citizens now broadly favour increased gun controls. In Florida itself, the state legislature has responded with a bill barring people under 21 years of age from buying firearms.

The bill also imposes a three-day waiting period for long guns, criminalises the possession of bump stocks and starts a program to arm some teachers. However, it does not ban automatic weapons, which was one of the requests of student survivors and their parents.

Shortly after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, the Orlando Sentinel reported that survivors “boarded buses ... for a seven-hour trip to confront legislators in Tallahassee,” and posed the question: “[s]houldn’t the students have stayed closer to home to try to persuade local government leaders to move on measures to prevent gun violence?” The explanation lies in Florida’s 2016 state pre-emptive legislation which reserves for the state the exclusive right to regulate guns and ammunition and exposes local government officials to penalties, for even attempting to pass regulations contravening state law.

State pre-emptive legislation of this kind is an increasingly used tactic by which conservative state legislators seek to reign in more progressively minded local governments in predominantly urban areas across a spectrum of issues that extend beyond gun control to include preventing local fracking bans, minimum wage ordinances, sanctuary city policies, and protection of LGBT rights. Where states like Florida enact blanket or super-pre-emption laws which, in effect, reserve a field of regulation for the state, the effect is to dis-empower local attempts at further regulation.

Many of these pre-emption laws are based upon model legislation provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC describes itself as “America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.” It claims to represent “nearly one-quarter of the country’s state legislators and stakeholders from across the policy spectrum” but its membership and internal workings are secret and difficult to gauge with accuracy.

Research indicates that the five most common ALEC model bills introduced in the state legislatures include bills prohibiting local jurisdictions from independently enacting restrictions on the possession of firearms (pre-emption bills) and also pre-empting the right of local jurisdictions to bring certain civil actions against firearms or ammunition manufacturers, trade associations, and dealers. Also on the list are “Castle Doctrine Acts” or “Stand Your Ground” bills which declare that a person has a right to stand his or her ground under reasonable fear of great bodily harm, and authorize the deadly use of force against an intruder in a residence or vehicle.

Despite the secrecy referred to above, it is known that ALEC works closely with corporations with an interest in promoting conservative issues. It is known that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a significant contributor to ALEC funds and works closely with it to promote Stand Your Ground legislation and state pre-emption legislation.

The NRA also provides vetting on candidates for state elections and routinely challenges gun control measures in both state and federal courts. Indeed, hours after Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the gun control bill into law, the gun lobby led by the NRA filed a federal law suit claiming the measure violates both the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, which provides the right to bear arms, and the 14th Amendment, which guarantees all citizens equal protection under the law.

We are still a long way from the U.S. Supreme Court and further still from a constitutional amendment to repeal the Second Amendment which former Justice John Paul Stevens has recently called for. This blog will monitor the action but one thing is certain; with over 300 million guns at large in the United States, the problem of gun control will not go away.

The content above is the opinion of the author(s), and does not represent the views or opinions of Birmingham City University.

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