© Josh Sager – July 2012
The United States constitution guarantees residents of the United States certain rights and restricts the government from infringing upon many of the free choices of individuals. Among these rights, the right to bear arms and the right for women to choose to get an abortion are two which have been subject to extreme controversies.
It is important to note that I by no means want to create a false equivalency between the controversies surrounding abortion rights and gun rights. The concrete equivalency that I am pointing out are the simple facts that they are both constitutionally protected rights and have been controversial/polarizing issues in US politics.
Abortion rights are a matter of a woman’s personal control over her body and are protected under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment (as established by Roe v. Wade). Under current interpretation of the constitution, abortion rights are protected until the fetus is viable and any attempt to limit the right to an abortion before viability is unconstitutional. Unfortunately, many religious individuals—particularly right wing Christians—are extremely active in their fight against abortion rights and have promoted unconstitutional restrictions on abortion rights; these restrictions seek to narrow the scope of abortion rights, make it harder for women to get abortions/shame women, attack abortion providers, and make it more expensive to access abortion services.
Modern gun rights are established by the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment of the constitution and are justified through an argument that people have the right to defend their person; unlike with abortion rights, gun rights are potentially dangerous to others and the current interpretation of the 2nd Amendment allows for regulations which restrict gun ownership (ex. barring convicted felons from owning weapons). In the last decade, gun control regulations have decayed to the point where assault weapons (assault rifles) and expanded magazines are legal in some states, and gun shows can sell virtually any weapon to virtually any individual (without a background check).
While both abortion rights and gun rights are constitutionally protected, gun rights have been expanded and protected beyond their constitutional intent and abortion rights have suffered from innumerable, unconstitutional, restrictions. This disparity is due to several reasons, but the primary reason is that there have been concerted and well-funded campaigns to attack abortion rights and protect gun rights enacted by right wing groups; in the absence of an organized left wing pushback against these right wing campaigns, abortion rights have shrunk and gun rights have expanded during the past decade.
In the face of the dichotomy between the protection of gun rights and restrictions on abortion rights, I propose a campaign where left wing politicians translate a parody of right wing abortion restriction onto gun rights—this campaign consists of getting left wing politicians to transpose the draconian anti-choice regulations and legislations into analogous restrictions upon gun buyers/sellers.
By reversing Republicans’ anti-choice regulations onto guns, left wing politicians would be able to highlight the absurdity of the right wing attacks on abortion and either forcing the right wing to contradict the justifications behind their ant-abortion regulatory regimes or significantly reducing the number of gun sales in their states. If right wing states wish to impose unreasonable and intentionally burdensome rights upon abortion, a constitutionally protected procedure, then they should have no problem with left wing states imposing similar regulations upon gun sales.
Restrictions on Gun Sellers:
Anti-choice activists and politicians have recently begun attempting to restrict the providers of abortion services to the point where they are unable to perform their function. By attacking abortion providers, these activists are able to de-facto ban abortion without overtly banning the procedure (and running up against the wall of Roe v. Wade). Strategically, this indirect method of attacking abortion is far more effective and pervasive than overt attacks on abortion rights.
The justifications that anti-choice activists use to argue for increased regulations on abortions include the protection of the women who seek abortions and the promotion of good medical safety but these justifications don’t hold up to scrutiny. While promoting medical ethics and safety are admirable, the regulations pushed by these individuals are intentionally over-restrictive. If the creators of these regulations truly desired women to have access to safe abortion services, they would not be attempting to ban abortion and bring back the days where back alley abortions and coat-hangers were the only ways by which women could access abortion services.
Two good examples of intentionally draconian restrictions, also referred to as “TRAP” laws, would be those passed in Virginia during the latter half of 2011 and those passed in Mississippi during 2012:
In Virginia, abortion clinics were mandated to follow the architectural codes of normal hospitals, despite the fact that they don’t specialize in surgical services; these regulations demanded that the hallways and waiting rooms of abortion clinics be certain dimensions (necessary in hospitals to allow many wheelchairs and stretchers to pass each-other) and that the electrical wiring/air filtration of clinics be far above what is necessary. Abortion clinics are often small and have a very difficult time complying with such restrictive regulations, thus these regulations are often a death sentence for the clinic.
In Mississippi, the state has passed a set of restrictions on abortion providers and doctors so strict that the only thing preventing MS from being the first state to ban abortion is a judicial order. These restrictions not only put new regulations on the facilities of abortion providers, but forces all doctors who provide abortion services to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The requirements for admitting privileges at local hospitals are fairly detailed and are virtually impossible for abortion doctors to obtain—they simply do not admit enough people, often live in another state (only MS residents can get admitting privileges), and face incredible pushback from local activists.
States with conservative Republican or fundamentalist religious legislatures have been passing dozens of intentionally over-restrictive abortion regulations in service to their anti-choice ideology. Progressives and Democrats need to take the very restrictions which right wing anti-choice activists use and translate versions of them onto gun sellers. Through restricting the location where gun sellers can set up shop and mandating that they have specific/costly building requirements, progressives can parody anti-choice regulations and force right wing activists into a corner. In reacting to such gun regulations, conservatives must either debunk their own tactics against abortion in service to their pro-gun agenda, or abandon their pro-gun agendas in liberal states.
Restrictions on abortion providers are justified through medical safety arguments and restrictions upon gun sellers can be justified through the similar argument of public safety; new regulations on gun sellers should mimic TRAP abortion regulations by forcing gun sellers to comply with extremely stringent and expensive measures to ensure the safety of their establishments. Here are a few examples of such draconian regulations:
- Limit the locations of gun shops to ensure that they are a certain distance away from schools, public parks, and areas where children gather.
- Mandate that all gun shops have bullet resistant walls and windows—just in case there is an accidental discharge of ammunition.
- Mandate that all gun shops have two very high grade safes—one for guns and the other for ammunition.
- Mandate that all gun shops have top of the line security systems and be staffed with a live guard at all times.
These new regulations on gun sellers would be extremely expensive and difficult to comply with—just as TRAP abortion regulations are to abortion clinics—and would be very costly to the states’ gun sellers. The overlap between the anti-choice and pro-gun ideologies (essentially the entire right wing) means that this course of action would give anti-abortion activists a taste of their own medicine—a medicine which they cannot fight without attacking their own attempts to impose restrictions on abortion clinics.
In addition to regulations on facilities, several states have attempted to make abortion doctors legally liable if they unintentionally perform an illegal abortion. An analogous regulation for gun sellers would be to hold gun shop owners partially liable for all harm done by a weapon which they sell to an individual who has a criminal record or who lacks a current gun permit; I do not see this as an unreasonable statute; however, it is modeled upon an anti-abortion law and can be enacted in parallel to the other, more extreme, restrictions.
Restrictions on Gun Buyers
Draconian abortion regulations have not only targeted abortion providers, but the women who are seeking abortions. During the past few years, waiting periods, mandated evaluations, financial penalties, and even invasive procedures have been used by state governments to attack abortion rights. These restrictions attempt to make abortion as painful, embarrassing, expensive and difficult get as possible, in an attempt to shame women from exercising their rights.
While over a dozen states have passed a these legislative shamings of women, the most extreme and egregious example of this type of regulation was seen in Virginia. In the early months of 2012, the Virginia legislature attempted to pass a bill which mandated trans-vaginal ultrasounds for all women who are seeking an abortion—regardless of whether these women were raped, incest victims, or underage. A trans-vaginal ultrasound is an ultrasound delivered via vaginal probe, thus it is extremely invasive and entirely unnecessary. This law is so extreme that many have described it as the legislation which legally mandates the rape of women who are seeking abortions.
Here are a few examples of draconian gun laws based off of existing abortion restrictions:
- Mandate that all individuals attempting to buy a weapon receive a full physical examination, CAT Scan, and colonoscopy before buying their weapon—simply to ensure that they are healthy enough to properly handle a gun. In order to keep governmental costs down, the individual will be forced to pay for the procedures out of pocket.
This mandate is based around the various laws which anti-choice legislators have passed to mandate unnecessary medical procedures on women who are seeking a constitutionally protected service. To add insult to injury, women are often forced to pay for these medical procedures. In recent years, such laws have been passed in numerous states, including Virginia, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Texas. If it is okay to mandate unnecessary and invasive procedures on women who are seeking an abortion, it is okay to mandate such procedures on men who want guns.
- Mandate that all individuals who wish to purchase a weapon have a psychological evaluation before their purchase; this evaluation should occur in a state facility, of which there is only one in the state. These evaluations must happen before each gun sale, regardless of whether the buyer has received previous evaluations.
This mandate is based off of the abortion restrictions which have reduced the numbers of abortion clinics in a state, thus forcing women to travel significant distances to receive their procedure. By making the process of buying a gun inconvenient and mandating that prospective buyers travel to inconveniently located evaluation centers in order to get their evaluation, gun buyers can get a taste of what it feels like to have the practice of their rights obstructed.
- A three day waiting period must be enforced from the time of application for a gun license and a gun purchase; during this waiting period, the gun purchaser must visit a crime victim support center and listen to the stories of several parents who have lost children to gun violence and view graphic photos of gunshot wounds—so as not to be overly cruel, the purchaser may choose to look away from the screen during the viewing of these pictures.
Numerous states have passed mandatory waiting periods for women who are attempting to get abortions, and many have mandated that these women visit “pregnancy help centers” during the wait. The waiting period is intended to draw out the decision (giving the women time to regret her choices and feel guilt) and be as obstructive as possible. Pregnancy help centers are most often run by anti-choice activists and religious groups and are nothing more than places where women are told that they are evil for considering abortion, lied to about the side effects of abortion, and told that they are going to hell; in short, they exist to shame/scare women from away from exercising their constitutional rights.
If anti-choice legislatures are able to pass laws which mandate women to have waiting periods and visits to anti-choice groups, then it is possible for anti-gun legislatures to pass laws which mandate similar things for gun buyers. Instead of going to religious faux-clinics, prospective gun buyers should be forced to go to victim’s advocacy centers and witness the effects of gun violence. As several states have passed legislation forcing women to look at their ultrasounds and have the fetus described to them, it is certainly okay for these centers to force prospective gun buyers to listen to parents who have lost children to gun violence and view graphic photographs of people killed by guns (similar to the old shock videos around car accidents shown in traffic schools).
Ultimately, what we, as a society, need is a balanced system of laws and regulations for both gun rights and abortion rights. Regardless of ones’ personal opinions on these rights, they are part of our constitution (or at least it interpretation), and cannot be abolished without a constitutional amendment.
If the right wing wishes to enact absurd, repressive and ridiculously harsh regulations on abortion providers in order to shut them down, they cannot protest if the left wing does the same to gun sellers. The right to bear arms is far less absolute than the right for a woman to have access to an abortion (gun rights can constitutionally be taken away in some circumstances, yet abortion rights cannot), and there must be a re-balancing of the regulatory scales to reflect this truth.
Most, if not all, of these draconian regulations on guns are far too extreme to be rational gun laws; this is okay, because they were designed as a protest rather than rational policy (similar to how some pro-choice legislators have attempted to attach mandated prostate exams for men who want Viagra to TRAP abortion restrictions). By enforcing extreme gun-control laws which parallel extreme anti-abortion laws, pro-choice activists can create a parody of anti-choice policy and ensure that gun enthusiasts (who are often right wing “pro-life” activists) feel the very pain which they would impose upon women who are seeking abortions.
Rational Gun Laws
After discussing intentionally draconian gun laws, it is important to conclude with a platform of rational gun laws. Unlike anti-abortion activists, who simply live within the binary choice of banning abortion, supporters of gun-control must suggest rational laws to regulate firearms. Here is a short summery of my ideal gun-control regulatory regime:
- Nobody with a felony record, severe mental illness, pending criminal charges, or place on the terrorist watch list is allowed to buy or carry guns within the United States. In addition to these restrictions, nobody under the age of 18 should be allowed to own a gun and nobody under the age of 15 should be allowed to operate a gun (even with parental consent/supervision).
- No guns are to be allowed in the following locations: Religious institutions, schools, government buildings, national parks, places where alcohol is sold/consumed, sports stadiums, large public gatherings, political rallies/voting location, or any areas which have large numbers of children (zoos, amusement parks, playgrounds, etc.).
- Before buying a gun, an individual must pass a psychiatric evaluation (with federal standards), and be certified competent in the safe handling of a firearm (identical to a driving test for the right to drive a car). The results of these tests will be confidential and not used in any capacity other than determining whether an individual has the ability to safely handle a firearm.
- The only guns which are legal for civilians within the United States are bolt-action rifles, scatter-guns (shotguns/bird-rifles), and non-automatic pistols (revolver or semi-automatic). Any individual seeking another type of gun may attempt to buy one, but only after submitting a written statement to the federal government, describing the exact purpose and need for such a firearm (ex. private security personnel may require assault weapons for overseas government contracts).
- All legally sold guns must have their barrel striations and firing pin imprints logged and registered to the government; any intentional alterations to these components should be a felony and result in an immediate loss of the right to carry a firearm.
- Straw-purchasing and the personal sale of firearms without disclosure to the government should be a felony. If a gun is stolen, the legal owner has 72 hours from the discovery of the theft to report it to the police, or they will lose their right to own a firearm for a minimum of a year and be subject to a fine.
- All ammunition sales should require identification and should be immediately reported to the government. In addition to this reporting, there should be caps on ammunition sales, both on the number of bullets which can be bought in a single instance and on the number of bullets which can be bought per year; gun ranges and professional shooters are exempt to these limits, but only after receiving a federal waiver.
- No extended magazines or specialty ammunition are to be allowed for civilian use (tracer, explosive, sabot, etc.); a waiver can be obtained for this restriction, but only after a written application is submitted to the government, and the individual has been certified in the safe handling of the ammunition (ex. if a movie crew wants to use tracer rounds for a scene).
- Without receiving a federal waiver, no individual may own more than three of a single category of firearm (sidearm, rifle, or scatter-gun), putting a cap of nine guns for each individual. If an individual wishes to obtain more than three of a single category of gun (hunters, collectors, etc.), they must be evaluated and approved by the federal government.
- When storing a firearm, it must have a trigger-lock (fingerprint based, if possible) or be stored in a secure location (locking drawer, lockbox, safe, etc.). Any violation of this regulation which is discovered by authorities will result in a fine or loss of the right to own a gun for a period of time.
In order to ensure that there is no race to the bottom for gun control, these regulations should be based in the federal government. Any state which wished to further restrict gun rights should have the right to do so, but the above regulations should create the federal baseline for American gun laws.
I am under no delusion that my suggested gun-laws are politically feasible but would hope that our politicians can disregard the NRA for long enough to get some of them passed.