The Platform


The United States needs to balance constitutional gun rights with effective, evidence-based policies to mitigate firearm violence.

The United States stands apart globally in terms of per capita gun ownership, accounting for approximately 30% of all privately owned firearms worldwide. The repercussions of this high ownership rate are stark, with firearms involved in 81% of murders and 55% of suicides in 2021. This data underscores a troubling reality: the prevalence of guns in America is directly linked to an exceptional level of gun-related deaths.

The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This provision places the United States among only three countries with a constitutionally protected right to firearms.

A key debate centers on whether the Second Amendment secures an individual’s right to own firearms or if it pertains solely to militia-related activities. In the landmark case of District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right to bear arms is an individual right, protected against undue federal and state restrictions. This decision was reinforced by the McDonald v. City of Chicago ruling in 2010, which extended the same protection.

These rulings are pivotal because they affirm that individuals have a right to own firearms, particularly for self-defense. However, they also acknowledge the necessity for certain restrictions, such as barring firearm access to felons and the mentally ill. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, left the specifics of these restrictions, particularly concerning the mentally ill, somewhat ambiguous.

Effective gun violence policies must strike a balance between safeguarding public safety and respecting constitutional rights. First, it is crucial to enhance funding for comprehensive research on firearm violence and prevention. With the current dearth of data, crafting informed policies remains a challenge.

Comparative studies across different regions could shed light on how various factors contribute to gun violence and help identify high-risk groups among gun owners. Secondly, there is a need for evidence-based education on firearm safety, particularly for gun owners and families of individuals with mental health issues. This should include statutory protections for healthcare professionals who provide critical, evidence-based information to patients and their families.

National best practice guidelines are also essential for the evaluation of firearm rights restoration. Many states offer legal avenues for individuals previously prohibited from owning firearms to regain their rights, and these processes must include thorough mental health assessments.

Moreover, the connection between alcohol use, violence, and gun-related incidents cannot be ignored. It is crucial to enforce strict regulations that prevent firearms from being present in establishments where alcohol is consumed, an effort that should involve agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, commonly referred to as the ATF.

Legislation allowing law enforcement to search for and confiscate firearms following certain disqualifying events, like arrests for domestic violence or terrorist threats, is also necessary. Such laws should ensure that any involuntary surrender of firearms is conducted within a framework of civil forfeiture principles.

Finally, just as there are media guidelines for reporting suicides, there should be similar standards for covering mass shootings. The focus should be on the victims, the actions of law enforcement, and the prosecution of offenders, rather than on the perpetrators.

By institutionalizing these measures, we can create a framework that ensures appropriate gun access, provides effective education, and establishes conditions for continued ownership based on health and safety concerns. Exploring the social and legal contexts of gun ownership in the U.S. and implementing practical, evidence-based policies are crucial steps toward mitigating firearm violence.

Akbar Sapie is a freelance journalist who writes about human rights and crimes. He received training in journalism from the Chevening Alumni Mentorship Program.