Yale Law and public health professors speak out on new gun control measures

Tim Tai, staff photographer

With a series of recent mass shootings reigniting pressure for gun control legislation, experts at Yale Law School and the School of Public Health remain divided on the best ways effective in combating armed violence.

Following mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo that killed a total of 31 people and injured 20, President Joe Biden has called for an assault weapons ban and restrictions on the sale of high-capacity magazines , while Congress on Thursday passed a bipartisan gun control bill that improves background checks on gun buyers under 21 and provides federal funding for whistleblowing programs run by state as well as mental health and school safety programs.

The bill, brokered by Senators Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) is the first major federal piece of legislation in 30 years to address gun violence and was signed into law by President Biden early Saturday morning. The United States is on course to meet or surpass last year’s record for the most mass shootings on record.

“Maybe things are changing, but there’s been a real deadlock in Congress since the early 90s when we got a ban on large magazine weapons that was then allowed to expire,” the professor said. of Yale law, Phillip Bobbit, to the News. “A lot of our paralysis is due to a kind of weaponized rhetoric where I describe what happened one way, you describe what is happening another way and different legislative or regulatory consequences flow from that.”

While most Americans agree that gun violence is a problem, there is partisan division over the extent and causes of the problem. More Democrats consider gun violence a “really big problem” than Republicans, and only 39% of Republicans believe the ease with which people can legally obtain guns contributes to gun violence, compared to 76% of Democrats.

Bobbit attributes the breakup to political messages after the mass shootings. Both sides of the political spectrum are prone to speaking “half-truths” in the wake of shootings, Bobbit said, blaming the shooting solely on guns or solely on sanity.

“When either side thinks a very simple answer is the key to a complex problem, it’s usually because they’re trying to weaponize [it]“, Bobbit told the news.

There are approximately 390 million guns in the United States, or 1.2 for every American, and as of June 25, there have been 283 mass shootings so far in 2022.

Guns remain the leading cause of death for Americans under 18, beating car accidents and cancer, leaving many, including YSPH’s Professor Howard Forman, to believe that gun violence is a ” public health problem”.

Forman likened the spread of gun violence to the spread of an infectious disease, in that “my personal decision impacts others”.

“The harms of guns and gun violence extend far beyond those who choose to own or use guns,” Professor Forman wrote in an email to the News. “My freedom to enjoy life, health and well-being is directly affected by someone else’s unfettered access to various firearms and weapons of war.”

On May 26, following the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings, YSPH released a statement decrying the “senseless loss of life” caused by gun violence.

The school also called for policies to combat the spread of violence.

“There is a ripple effect that gun violence has on our communities and our minds,” reads the YSPH statement. “A set of military style assault weapons and equipment, individuals with extreme hatred, feelings of alienation and/or mental disorders are murdering our children and targeting people based on their race, origin ethnicity, sexual orientation and religious affiliation. Assault weapons designed for military use are a frequent tool for mass murder.

Yale Law School professor Robert Post told the News he agreed with the School of Public Health’s statement. Post traced America’s relationship with guns back to the national history of the frontier, which was the context in which gun rights were enshrined in the founding documents of the United States.

But a lot has changed in the gun industry since the US constitution was written, he said, pointing specifically to the rise of pressure groups like the National Rifle Association, which are pushing for the availability of guns. assault rifles as well as standard hunting equipment. Post explained that the polarization of gun culture driven by the NRA, coupled with the country’s growing diversity over the past 30 years, has led the gun debate to become an indicator of racial issues.

“With the rise of the NRA and the accompanying polarization with its association with issues of race, the ‘right to own guns’ is the right to actually repress inner city black people,” Post told the News. . “It became associated with the right of individual self-defense, and it was a new development in the ideology of gun ownership that occurred in the Reagan era and became mainstream on the right in the 1980s. 1990.”

Post believes that the national gun market requires federal gun control legislation, rather than leaving gun control decisions to the states.

“If a state tries to regulate [guns], they can do something, but if they’re imported from a neighboring state, that doesn’t help much, does it? Post told the News. “So whenever you have a market where the externalities are such that it’s really a national market, the state can’t control it.”

But where Post sees the need for federal action, law and economics professor Ian Ayres believes gun violence can be reduced with a “decentralized and liberal approach.” He told Yale Law School Today that instead of imposing “one-size-fits-all rules” that emanate from the federal government, there should instead be state-level policies that prioritize the liberty of individuals and promote “a kind of self-control”. such as Donna’s Law, which allows individuals to suspend their ability to purchase and possess firearms.

As the debate over how best to reduce gun violence rages on, the Supreme Court is becoming increasingly important. While constitutional law professor Samuel Moyn and Post both believe the Second Amendment has recently been misinterpreted by court conservatives, others, such as constitutional law professor Akhil Amar and Bobbit, believe the argument constitutional in favor of personal protection is legitimate.

“There is a perfectly reasonable argument that families and individuals have a right to self-protection by using firearms,” Bobbit told The News. “I don’t know how far that takes you, because we don’t think a family can start laying landmines in their yard or using bazzookas to keep kids out of the lawn. There are certain types of ammunition that are quite clearly outside the realm of personal protection.

Although gun control case law generally focuses on the Second Amendment, Amar told the News that even without the Second Amendment, gun rights are protected by unenumerated rights “rooted in morals, US customs, practices and laws”, including the right to privacy. .

“Almost every state constitution, for better or for worse, affirms the right to firearms,” Amar told The News.

Still, Moyn speculates that the Supreme Court, which now has a 6-3 conservative majority, could take steps to expand the Second Amendment.

The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a more than century-old New York state law requiring residents to obtain a license to carry concealed handguns in public.

The Court found in its 6-3 decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas LAW ’74, that the state’s “just cause requirement,” which allows residents to carry concealed handguns in public only s ‘they need it, was an unconstitutional restriction on the right of citizens to the Second Amendment. While the ruling leaves licensing laws in place for most of the country, it repeals New York’s law and the laws of six other states and the District of Columbia with similar restrictions.

The Supreme Court’s decision came the same day the Senate passed its bipartisan gun bill. The next day, the Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“The conservative majority on the Supreme Court is likely to push the new individual right to bear arms even further than before. The coincidence between its simultaneous decisions to offer protection for gun rights while removing the right to bodily autonomy is striking. Moyn told the News. “It reminds us why we really shouldn’t want a council of elders to announce and define what our rights are – or what they’re willing to invent and keep.”

Moyn suggested looking to Congress rather than the Supreme Court or constitutional amendments for action on gun violence prevention.

“Our best hope is to get Congress to overrule the Court’s rulings in this and other areas,” Moyn told The News.

Yale Law School was established in 1824.


Carter Dewees is one of the main producers of “The Yalie”. He is a freshman in American Studies and a Fellow of Saybrook College.

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