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On the same day that five people were injured and one killed in a shooting at a cabinet factory in Texas, President Joe Biden announced executive orders that take small steps to minimally restrict access to guns.
Biden’s actions direct the Department of Justice to craft rules to stop the proliferation of so-called “ghost guns,” which can be built from kits in less than an hour and carry no serial number, and to develop model “red flag” legislation for states. Maine enacted a limited red flag-type of law in 2019, which allows police and prosecutors, with a medical professional’s assessment in hand, to seek a judge’s permission to confiscate guns and other weapons from people who pose a danger to themselves and others in hopes of preventing mass shootings and suicides. The law had been used more than a dozen times by January.
The Biden administration is also compiling additional data on firearms tracking and will direct funds to community-based violence intervention.
More important, less than a month after shootings in Colorado and Georgia left 18 people dead, the president called on Congress to step up and to fully consider gun control legislation, including background check legislation that has already been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
“They’ve offered plenty of thoughts and prayers, members of Congress, but they’ve passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence,” Biden said Thursday at the White House. “Enough prayers. Time for some action.”
Predictably, critics, including the Maine Republican Party, decried the orders as “an assault” on gun rights and “attacking” gun owners.
Such rhetoric — and misunderstandings from gun control and gun rights advocates — are among the many reasons that it is so difficult to take steps that may reduce the deadly toll of gun violence, including both homicides and suicides, that is unique to America.
Most American gun owners are law-abiding and follow state and federal laws. However, the prevalence of mass shootings in the U.S., which have ended the lives of thousands of Americans, including far too many school children, shows that more needs to be done to tighten gun access for those intent on doing harm.
There are no simplistic solutions. For example, a failed referendum in 2016 to tighten background check rules showed the importance of understanding how guns are used, sold and shared by Maine hunters.
These complexities, however, are no reason for silencing or stalling the necessary debate about how to improve gun safety in America.
In response to Biden’s announcement, the Maine GOP went so far as to threaten Maine elected officials who don’t adhere to their extreme line of thinking.
“We are putting our elected officials in Augusta on notice – any attempt to undermine these rights will cost you in political capital now, and in the election in 2022.
We will make sure every law-abiding gun owner in your district makes you pay a heavy price at the polls.
This is a promise. Choose wisely.”
Such threatening language has no place in this debate.
Nor does the mistaken notion that the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is absolute. The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made that clear in the opinion he wrote for the majority of the court in the 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller.
“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited,” Scalia wrote. “It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
This opinion gives Congress a solid framework on which to build new laws that preserve 2nd Amendment rights and improve the safety of Americans.