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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Dan L

No they are not, and everything you said above is false. You were making shit up. The second amendment was clear and written to me exactly what it means. The comma mean "and" (like making a list) in old English.

Our founding fathers meant for individuals to hold weapons of war so that we could fight wars as a militia. They intended zero restrictions on individual weapons ownership. That is clear as day, and anyone who tries to say otherwise is just twisting the obvious truth and making shit up.

Anonymous

poorly written? by who? I guess you have read the articles of confederation and documents leading up to the Bill of Rights. Those guys. Still you may be right.

Dan L

Clearly, based on theier own written statements, the ACLU is not for civil liberties or they would be protecting the second amendment with the same fervor that they protect the first. The ACLU is a left wing, highly-biased organization and they lie through their teeth constantly..

I'll continue to give my money to the NRA, the GOA and my local gun stores. The ACLU can kiss-off, along with those groups of doctors that think they have any business in my gun rights. You are all a bunch of scum.

Anonymous

So, the ACLU is acting as if the 2nd Amendment does not exist. The ACLU is claiming that a gun-control law only infringes on civil liberties if the law violates the 1st Amendment or the 3rd through 27th Amendments -- totally ignoring the 2nd Amendment. Hey, ACLU, what part of "SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED" do you not understand? I have been an ACLU member for decades, but I'm cancelling my ACLU membership because they refused to stand up for the most important civil liberty of all, the right to self defense. There are between one million and 2.5 million defensive gun uses (DGUs) per year -- even the anti-gun CDC said that during the Obama Administration (but the report was quickly hush-hushed because it didn't support the CDC goal of disarming Americans). And contrary to popular belief, the CDC was never legally barred from studying "gun violence", only from advocating for gun control, so they continued to study it, and came out with a CDC study showing over 1 million defensive gun uses per year (in other words, guns save lives, particularly the lives of women, the elderly, the handicapped, and the weak).

Anonymous

For what its worth, I support most of what the ACLU does, except a few things: the lack of effectual support of privacy and voting rights (political gerrymandering is legal but racial not?) and the soggy position on the 2nd amendment. Could it be you're muddling criminal activity with the rights of citizens and giving up part of the Bill of Rights? Consider this: Should we support criminals who pretend to be immigrants? No. Should we support legal immigrants? Yes. Should we support criminal who use guns? No. Should we support legal gun ownership? Yes. (I'm thinking you should say yes, ACLU, but you are weak ) Why do you not defend that right the same as 1st amendment rights? I am also against school terrorists. Innocent people die in crimes and we need to address that., its terrible. Many more die in wars ,in cars, in drug abuse. I understand that there is an argument for some regulation, but why do you not argue for rights of gun ownership? I guess it depends on where you live. Some don't care if you are stopped in a religious practice, some don't care if you cant use a cell phone or internet that is not filtered. Some don't care if a normal person needs a gun.

Natty C

Background checks violate the First Amendment because they compel the electorate to speak and to provide information about themselves in order to require a gun.

Background checks violate the Fifth Amendment because they compel the electorate to provide evidence against themselves in order to require a gun.

Background checks also violate the Tenth Amendment because the requirement to provide this information is not somthing that is specifically stated as a power of the federal government in the constitution.

One might that the States would have this power under the 10th but even they have their own Second Amendments.

The rest of the author's thoughts reflect the idea that the Individual should be compelled at the barrel of a government gun to relinquish his or her Constitution in order to placate the personal fears and feelings of other Individuals and groups of Individuals, and this is human nature. Man is a mixture of good and evil.

Society has a moral problem. Laws can't resolve an anti-moral society. Society has to resolve its own moral problem and this will in turn reflect on the laws.

Education is paramount in times such as these. Carpe diem!

Olddude

"If...if...We didn't love freedom enough. Nad even more-we had no awareness of the situation....We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward." Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

Stay informed. Watch for the subtle concessions. Protect your rights. All of them Stay armed.

Anonymous

Constitution- "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances"
ACLU- "these rights are clear cut and undeniable. We shall defend them to the very end!"

Constitution- "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."
ACLU- "Well, we're okay with the government infringing on what arms you're allowed to bear, infringing on where you can bear them, infringing on how you bear them and infringing on why you would want to bear arms, we just take issue with the government infringing on who can bear arms, cuz that's, like, you know, uhh, like discrimination.. and stuff"
Well played ACLU. Well played.

Anonymous

I didn't know the ACLU supported gun control, i guess they ignore shall not be infringed.

M. Tabor

I am terminating my support. A right is not a right if you can lay down so many legal pre-requisites and fee's it becomes impossible to practice without breaking the law or going bankrupt. the UBC law as written is a civil liberties nightmare that turns firearm ownership into a cash cow for the state.

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