On Trump’s gun control proposals: The devil is in the details

Tyler Sabloff | Staff Writer

In the wake of the Parkland, Fla. shooting, President Donald Trump, across multiple press conferences and tweets, presented his views on potential reforms to prevent future shootings. Specifically, he has expressed four main points: Raising the age of purchase from 18 to 21, banning “bump stocks,” arming teachers with guns and improving the federal background check system. While his suggestions are a step in the right direction, his lack of specificity of the details of his ideas prevents them from either being legally applicable or practical.

Increasing purchase age from 18 to 21

This one is pretty straightforward: no one under 21 years of age could purchase a gun. While the argument could be made that an underage person could still buy an illegal firearm from an unlicensed dealer, these end up costing hundreds—if not thousands—more than legal weapons, often preventing younger individuals from being able to reasonably afford them. The only real issue here is just how effective this would be considering many recent shootings, such as those in Las

Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, were caused by people over 21. However, the age increase would still be preferable to the status quo.

Banning bump stocks

In a press conference on Feb. 20, Trump announced that he had signed a memo directing Att orney General Jeff Sessions to propose regulations that would “ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns,” especially citing bump fire stocks, used by the Las Vegas shooter. Bump stocks replace a semi-automatic weapon’s shoulder rest, “bumping” the barrel back and forth after the trigger is pulled, allowing the gun to fire multiple times off one single trigger pull. These modifications avoid federal regulations on automatic weapons because with each “bump” the trigger technically comes into contact with the finger, making it semi-automatic.

While the banning of bump stocks does seem like a decent starting point towards effective gun control, the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives already suggested these regulations late last year after the Las Vegas shooting. They concluded, however, that federal law does not allow for the banning of bump stocks, requiring new legislation from Congress for any action to be made. Without a new law, Trump’s memo is effectively meaningless.

The bigger problem come with Trump’s lack of precision when it come to the word “ban.” Does he mean ban ownership of bump stocks or just the sale of them? If he means ownership, would individuals who already own them be grandfathered in and allowed to keep them or would they be required to turn them over? If they are required to turn their bump stocks over, how does he intend to incentivize or track individuals who own them? On Oct. 10, 2017, gun rights advocate The Jack News published an article titled “Here’s How to 3D Print Your Own Bump Stock Before Congress Bans Them.” Currently, there exist no federal restrictions on ownership of the type of code used in 3-D printing. So, under a restricted sale guideline, anyone with a 3-D printer could theoretically avoid these restrictions and make their own bump stock.

Arming teachers

Simply put, being trained in armed combat isn’t a teacher’s job. The argument this is that having armed individuals in schools would deter shooters from attempting to enter. However, in the case of the Parkland shooting, an armed guard at the school did not deter the shooter from entering. And how exactly does Trump expect to justify paying to arm every teacher in the U.S. in a country where they are forced to pay out of pocket for their own school supplies for “budgetary reasons?” Last time I checked, a handgun is significantly more expensive than a box of chalk or a roll of paper towels. Separate from weapons costs, each teacher would require training sessions as well as equipping the schools with protective measures to make sure the guns are inaccessible to students. Given the current situation of finances in the public school system, the expenses for arming teachers is too great to justify.

In the event of a school shooting, how would a responding police officer be able to distinguish an armed teacher from an active shooter? An armed teacher can easily be misinterpreted as a threat, putting a good-willed teacher trying to protect their students in danger of losing their life at the hands of an on-the-spot reaction by a responding officer. Schools would also have to go to great lengths to keep the weapons under lock and key to prevent students from accessing them, which would require very strict oversight and meticulous planning. Even in the case of a sufficiently safe and well-regulated weapons arsenal in a school, the danger to the teacher in the event of a shooting places an unnecessarily dangerous burden on them.

Strengthening background checks

The current U.S. background check system is notoriously underfunded and under resourced, allowing many red flags to slip by. The Fix NICS Act of 2017 was proposed to Congress to penalize government agencies for not reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in response to the failure of the Air Force to report criminal records of the Sutherland Springs shooter that could have prevented him from legally purchasing firearms. While the bill is still under consideration by Congress, any sort of reform to NICS’ capabilities would have to come simultaneously with an increase in the budgetary allocation for the federal database. Unfortunate, Trump’s 2019 budget would cut federal grants “that help states improve the completeness of the records they report to the federal database” from $73 million to $61 million. Before he can even pursue this recommendation, Trump is essentially—for lack of a better term—shooting himself in the foot.

Beyond just reforming the federal database, the federal government should expand the necessity of background checks beyond just for in-store purchases. Weapons sales at gun shows and over the internet do not require background checks, giving those who normally wouldn’t pass an outlet to purchase legal guns. Enforcing background checks for all types of sales would eliminate loop holes and restrict gun sales to the people who are actually allowed to purchase them under the Gun Control Act of 1968.

The U.S. is in desperate need of gun reform, but for it to be effective it must be done with meticulous care, with all factors considered. While some of Trump’s recommendations are a step in the right direction, they need to be well thought through and properly implemented. Thus far, his haphazard and unclear proposals lead me to give little hope for impactful success. If we as a society want to implement any sort of real change, it has to come in the form of well-articulated reform with every nuance considered.