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Reflection: "Gunning" for Safety

Aston Davies

During a time when the right to bear arms has been surrounded by scrutiny on one side and idealism on another, the question of how to regulate deadly weapons has become increasingly difficult to answer. However, the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen is doing just that. This case, which has risen to the Supreme Court, will answer the question of whether New York’s “proper cause” requirement is constitutional. Reaching as far back as 1911, New York’s Sullivan Law requires that anyone who wants to carry a concealed weapon in public must first apply and have a licensing officer determine the applicant has a special, individualized need for self-defense, which is what qualifies as “proper cause.” Petitioners in the case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc., argue that a general need for self-defense is sufficient to be granted a license to carry a concealed weapon in public. Their position directly allows for there to be destruction and casualties on a larger scale.

While the Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010) that the Second Amendment, as incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment, is a fundamental right that applies to the people, it must never impede the primary concern of the government: the safety and livelihood of its citizens. As Justice Alito put it, “Your interest in keeping and bearing a certain firearm may diminish my interest in being and feeling safe from armed violence.”

While states become more lenient with their gun laws, there has never been more of a need to regulate firearms in the interest of public autonomy. People such as Frank James, who is a convicted felon and mentally ill, are able to bear a legal arm, cross state lines, and open fire in public. Teens can legally purchase assault rifles and kill 22 students and teachers in a school. There is a point where it’s not only insanity but barbarity, and it’s inhumane for government officials to witness innocent people die repeatedly at the hands of a firearm, yet not enact legislation or uphold laws that guarantee safety and most significantly, life. The Second Amendment clashes with the right to live, another right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and the only way to reinstate safety and tranquility in the public environment is through the regulation of firearms.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, New York University, and Boston University analyzed the statistics of mass shootings and concluded that in areas with weaker gun laws, there is a higher risk of mass shootings. They report that a ten percent increase in gun ownership corresponds to a thirty-five percent increase in the possibilities of a mass shooting. With the influx of guns imposing harm and threats in public environments, and as seen causing elevated amounts of casualties in mass shootings, they further report that seventy-seven percent of mass shooters own their weapons legally. While the legality of a firearm doesn’t alter the amount of damage it inflicts, stripping away the limited screening that prevents arms in public must result in increased shooting incidents.

Matt Milter
"Gunning" for Safety

In addition to the dilemma of substantially limited regulations on deadly weapons in public, the availability of firearms in homes raises more concerns. In McDonald and the 2008 case, District of Columbia et al. v. Heller, the Supreme Court focused primarily on the right of a law-abiding citizen to bear a loaded gun at home. In doing so, the Court disregards the fatal consequences of the owner bringing it into the public atmosphere, or another person living in the home using the gun. Yet, there is no cause to imagine such consequences. As a minor ineligible to bear the arms he bore, Kyle Rittenhouse illegally carried his parents' assault rifle across state lines, where he shot three people, killing two. Never mind the law: gun owners or anyone with access illegally carry a gun into the public environment, creating a new and tragically familiar level of danger and risk the Court has never addressed.

Although there may be legal precedent for what the Second Amendment means today, it fails to address the scenarios of a dangerous, violent, or mentally ill person bearing a deadly weapon, whether it is licensed or not. The Second Amendment question is not only what happens when a law-abiding citizen gets a hold of a gun, but more significantly, what happens when someone who is dangerous has ready access to a firearm. While the “proper cause” requirement New York has enacted prevents anyone with a history of crime or mental illness from carrying a concealed gun, a finding for petitioners will make it effortless for them to do so, and therefore invalidating New York’s approach means an inevitable heightened risk for gun violence.

Because firearms are deadly, their regulation is required to provide safe environments in the public sphere. A finding for Petitioners will violate the well-established right to live by providing deadly weapons to anyone who applies for a license to carry guns in public, including those who are dangerous. The Court must rule in favor of New York’s power to regulate guns in public, as the alternative will be deadly.


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