The ACLU's Position on Gun Control

This past weekend, hundreds of thousands of protestors from around the country took to the streets to demand action against gun violence. The movement has been energized by young people who turned out en masse in response to the horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people — most of them teenagers — lost their lives. We applaud the many students who have exercised their speech rights to seek change. This moment calls on us to act not only to ensure that massacres like Parkland do not recur but to end the everyday gun violence that takes exponentially more lives from our communities. It also demands that we do so in a manner consistent with our most cherished civil liberties and constitutional rights.

Lawmakers across the country are currently considering a range of gun control measures. The American Civil Liberties Union firmly believes that legislatures can, consistent with the Constitution, impose reasonable limits on firearms sale, ownership, and use, without raising civil liberties concerns. We recognize, as the Supreme Court has stated, that the Constitution does not confer a “right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” But some proposed reforms encroach unnecessarily on civil liberties.

When analyzing gun control measures from a civil liberties perspective, we place them into one of three categories. First are laws that regulate or restrict particular types of guns or ammunition, regardless of the purchaser. These sorts of regulations generally raise few, if any, civil liberties issues. Second are proposals that regulate how people acquire guns, again regardless of the identity of the purchaser. These sorts of regulations may raise due process and privacy concerns, but can, if carefully crafted, respect civil liberties. Third are measures that restrict categories of purchasers — such as immigrants or people with mental disabilities — from owning or buying a gun. These sorts of provisions too often are not evidence-based, reinforce negative stereotypes, and raise significant equal protection, due process, and privacy issues.

Many of the options now being considered raise no civil liberties concerns. That includes bans on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks. Raising the minimum age for all gun ownership to 21, currently the legal age for purchasing a handgun, also raises no civil liberties issues, as research on brain development shows that young people’s impulse control differs from that of adults.

So-called “red flag laws,” which provide for protective orders to remove guns from people who pose a significant risk to themselves or others, can also be a reasonable way to further public safety. To be constitutional, however, they must at a minimum have clear, nondiscriminatory criteria for defining persons as dangerous and a fair process for those affected to object and be heard by a court.

Other gun control measures may also be justified, such as laws that keep guns out of sensitive places like schools and government buildings; requirements that guns include smart technologies (like password protection) that ensure that only the lawful owner of the gun may use it; and requirements that gun owners first obtain a permit, much like a driver’s license, establishing that they know how to use guns safely and responsibly. There would also be no constitutional bar to lifting the existing limits on Center for Disease Control-funded research into guns and gun violence.

Extending background checks, which cover federally licensed gun stores, to gun shows and other unlicensed transactions, is also a reasonable reform. There is no civil liberties justification for the “gun show loophole.” We do not object to universal background checks if the databases on which they rely are accurate, secure, and respect privacy.

But the categories of people that federal law currently prohibits from possessing or purchasing a gun are overbroad, not reasonably related to the state’s interest in public safety, and raise significant equal protection and due process concerns. Any number of the categories, for example, require no proof of dangerousness, and they often serve to further bias. For example, the list of those barred includes: anyone convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than a year, whether or not the crime has any connection to violence; people with mental disabilities and many noncitizens who have not been shown to be dangerous in any way; and those who have used substances on the federal controlled substance list, including marijuana in states in which it is legal.

Other proposed gun regulations also raise civil liberties concerns. The proposal to ban individuals listed on the No-Fly List from purchasing weapons, for example, is constitutionally problematic, because that list lacks basic due process protections and its standards are unconstitutionally vague.

Proposals to arm teachers and install metal detectors in schools also raise significant civil liberties implications. Introducing more guns to schools will not make them safer and may especially endanger children of color, who already bear the brunt of teachers and administrators’ racial biases. The solution to gun violence is not more guns, but less.

The Supreme Court has said that the Constitution permits reasonable regulations of firearms in the interest of public safety. We agree. But those regulations can and should be crafted to respect fundamental rights to equal protection, due process, privacy, and freedom from unlawful searches. Lawmakers should have the moral courage to act and to do so consistent with our most cherished liberties.

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I agree. ACLU sounds Anti gun to me. That's all I needed to see they are not for me.


It’s unfortunate, because I really believe in the ACLU’s mission as I’m a staunch libertarian but I cannot support an organization that is OK with restrictions on Constitutional and civil rights. In fact maybe Gun Owners of America is more in line. The ACLU and NRA are more like partisan hack groups now that I think about it.


I agree with Rod, Gun Owners of America believes in protecting your rights better than the NRA. I am a member of both, and the NRA seams to compromise too much.


I read a different article, apparently. The overall tone of the one I read was that reasonable restrictions on private arms ownership are not in conflict with the second amendment. On a practical level, should any individual be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon? Does the restriction of ICBM ownership weaken our second amendment protections? What about fully automatic firearms? At what point does arms control shift from a reasonable consideration for public safety, to an erosion of second amendment protection? Let's stop talking in terms of ideology, and get practical. And, no, I am not 'anti-gun'. I just like solutions that work in the real world. Should AR-15s be banned because they look like machine guns? Or would these nuts just buy a different type of rifle for their rampages if they had to?

U.S. Veteran

Agreed.. seems even the aclu picks and chooses what co stitutional rights are good for some but not others. Its this simple you allow the u.s. government to take guns say bye to ALL your rights the government deems unnecessary.. they have already started with "red flag" laws that deny every american of their right to due process. It should be called the ex wife revenge law, shes mad she didnt get everything in the divorce shes entitled to, husband has a gun collection or avid hunter i cant have it neither can you, police, yea my husband is mean and threatened me hes dangerous oh and he has guns a court hearing then takes place without you to be there to face your accusers and defend these accusations then your guns are taken you must now spend tens of thousands of dollars to get your rights back with no gurantee of getting antlything back. It more than obvious where this law will lead. When do we start taking away and bending the looney lefties 1st ammendments so we dont have to keep going through this B.S.? Oh thats right this is America rights ARE NOT TO BE INFRINGED it is repeated over and over in the constitution.

Jack Vasko

I think the ACLU needs to take a much clearer and consistent stance on what age American must achieve to be awarded their rights. How about the ACLU puts out a document on which constitutionally protected rights you get at each birthday? What age does the 4th, 5th, and 6th,


So the Second Amendment gets a far different treatment from you than the others.
Got it.
Pick and choose what parts of the Bill of Rights you like and what you don't.
And you wonder why people don;t like you.


It is truly sad to see the ACLU compromising on a Constitutional Right. I would note that MLK was denied his 2A Rights using the same framework as written above. I would also note that there is no such thing as an assault weapon; that is a made up term based on the cosmetic appearance of a firearm and was proven ineffective the last time it was attempted. I highly doubt the ACLU would support similar restrictions on the 1A, 4A, 5A, 6A, etc.

I would suggest the ACLU actually look at the data instead of virtue-signalling using made up data and terms. Seriously, almost all mass shootings and most "gun violence" occurs in cities and areas that have been controlled by Progressive Democrats for over 50 years with high gun control.


If the infringements against the Second Amendment were being perpetrated against the First, the ACLU would be outraged.

Erwin Lincoln

Perhaps, though as they clearly have a different interpretation of the Second than you so why would they put resources towards it? Constitutional rights are tied to civil liberties, but they aren't the liberties themselves. Liberties are tied to values, the second amendment is a means to a value, not the value itself. The right to own an item (firearm) may be tied to self defense, or some other right like to fight tyranny, but by itself it is a means not an end. Other amendments are tied specifically to liberty based values, the limits if government broadly, and equal protection directly. Or weirdly the right not to have trooos quartered, proof that the document was very much tied to the immediate concerns of the time and not just a declaration of liberty or human rights.


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