The student organizers of the March for Our Lives have released a five-point policy agenda that they say will reduce the toll of gun violence in the United States.
While many gun-control opponents have attempted to frame the march as an “attack” on the Second Amendment, the organizers’ policy agenda is striking most of all for the modesty of its scope – just five items, consisting mostly of policies that federal courts have ruled to be wholly compatible with the Second Amendment.
Here’s a brief rundown:
1. Fund gun violence research
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The students call for more federal funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other groups to research gun and intervention programs. This is in line with a recent recommendation from the Rand Corp., which identified the current lack of funding for firearm research as one of the chief barriers to knowing which gun-control policies might save the most lives.
“To improve understanding of the real effects of gun policies, Congress should consider lifting current restrictions in appropriations legislation, and the administration should invest in firearm research portfolios,” the Rand report’s authors recommended.
Because this issue doesn’t bear directly on gun ownership rights, there haven’t been any significant court cases involving the CDC’s purview over gun research.
A late February Economist-YouGov poll found that 50 percent of Americans said they supported having the CDC conduct gun violence research, with 28 percent opposed and another 22 percent unsure.
2. Strengthen the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
The march organizers call for the elimination of restrictions on the ATF, such as statutory requirements that federal gun databases be “non-searchable.” Gun rights groups have opposed the creation of a fully searchable federal gun database out of fear that it could lead to the creation of a national gun registry.
A small number of fully automatic weapons and short-barreled shotguns are in public circulation and registered under the National Firearms Act. In addition, the District of Columbia and Hawaii require the registration of all firearms, and New York requires the registration of handgun purchases, according to the Giffords Law Center.
Earlier this year, a federal court dismissed a challenge to New York’s handgun permitting and registry law.
In the February Economist-YouGov poll, 63 percent of Americans said they supported “requiring gun owners to register their guns with a national gun registry,” with 26 percent opposing such a move.
3. Universal background checks
The Supreme Court upheld the bulk of the federal background check system in 1997, although it did strike a number of limited provisions that would have required state and local officials to perform some background check duties at the behest of federal officials.
The Supreme Court revisited the federal background check system in 2014, when it ruled that it was permissible for the federal government to ban individuals from purchasing guns on behalf of someone else.
Surveys show that a universal background check requirement has near-universal support, ranging from 80 percent in the Economist-YouGov poll to 97 percent in recent Quinnipiac polling.
4. A high-capacity magazine ban
The students call for a ban on gun magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. This was a key provision of the 1994 assault weapons ban that a number of researchers credit with reducing the toll of mass shooting deaths during the 10 years it was in force.
In November, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a high-capacity magazine ban in Maryland, giving state legislatures “wide authority” to pass such laws, according to Supreme Court expert Lyle Denniston.
A March 2018 Quinnipiac poll found that 63 percent of Americans, including 50 percent of gun owners, said they supported such a ban.
5. A ban on assault weapons
The students call for an assault weapons ban, as well as either a national registry or buyback program to deal with the large number of such guns already in circulation.
The Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Maryland’s assault weapons ban last November. In 2015, the high court declined to hear a challenge to a similar law passed in Highland Park, Illinois.
Those decisions can be read as consistent with the court’s ruling in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the Supreme Court established for the first time that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority ruling noted that “like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited.” Among other things, Scalia cited “dangerous and unusual weapons” as a category of firearms open to prohibition.
A March 2018 Quinnipiac poll found 61 percent support for a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, including 49 percent support among gun owners.