What Are Congress’ Options on Gun Control?

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Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, said last year that Barack Obama’s apparent indifference to gun control was just a ruse:

Obama himself is no fool. So when he got elected, they concocted a scheme to stay away from the gun issue, lull gun owners to sleep, and play us for fools in 2012. Well, gun owners are not fools and we are not fooled.

Sotomayor, Kagan, Fast & Furious, the United Nations, executive orders. Those are the facts we face today…President Obama and his cohorts, yeah, they’re going to deny their conspiracy to fool gun owners. Some in the liberal media, they are already probably blogging about it. But we don’t care because the lying, conniving Obama crowd can kiss our Constitution!

I guess LaPierre was right. Obama has apparently been waiting his entire term for a series of horrific massacres that would give him an excuse to make a speech suggesting vaguely that he might be willing to do something. Maybe.

But what? Quite aside from the political resistance of the NRA, the Supreme Court’s Heller decision in 2008 ruled that the Second Amendment did indeed protect a personal right to bear arms. This puts a significant limit on what Congress could do even if it wanted to. So here’s roughly where we stand:

  • Automatic weapons, the kind you see on TV spraying a hail of bullets as the bad guy sweeps a crowd, have been tightly regulated since the ’30s.
  • Semi-automatic weapons, which require you to squeeze the trigger for each shot, can’t be banned. Virtually every handgun on the market is semi-automatic, and the Supreme Court wouldn’t allow a broad class of guns like this to be banned or even strongly regulated.
  • “Assault weapons” are a tricky category to define, but they’ve been banned in the past and could probably be banned again. (Though a new ban would almost certainly be litigated in light of Heller.)

So what’s left? Possibly a limit on magazine size, which could probably pass constitutional muster. What else? I’m curious to know what my readers think of this. Given the political and constitutional limitations, as well as considerations of what kinds of policies might actually be effective, what would you like to see Congress do?

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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