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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Anonymous

Many 2nd Amendment supporters were totally SILENT after 9/11 when the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 14th Amendments were "traded" for the perception of better security.

The case of "trading liberty for perceived security" is even stronger for the 2nd Amendment - based on hard statidtics, a single year of gun violence is a greater threat than over 15 years of terror threats combined - but these guys have been totally silent for over 15 years when we traded every other right.

We should uphold the 2nd Amendment - which allows some regulation - but gun supporters should be supporting the constitutional rights of women, Muslim-Americans, LGBT Americans, immigrants and everyone else. Why were you guys silent for more than 15 years?

Evin Hendry

Many of us were not silent. In fact, when I was in high school, I was one of the few people who would actually stand up for the LGBT kids. Where were all of the screeching social justice warriors then? It seems that they only pop out their heads when there are sensational issues and they're protected by a computer screen. I fully support the US constitution in its entirety, and to attribute selective defense of it to all gun owners is both narrow-minded and a sweeping generalization.

Free Thought

I agree with Evin. No constitutionalist has been silent. Now a days we hear about militias standing up for the far-right, but we have forgotten how many time militias protect Occupy Protesters and other movements. True constitutionalist stand for the rights of all citizens. Maybe if the far-left didn’t make these groups out to be extremist, racist, paranoid conspiracy theorist, and attack the right to form militias. Maybe then are militias could start doing what they are meant to do. Maybe if we started viewing the 2nd as the right of the people to have the tools to form militias, instead of personal protection right, the militias would not see the left as an opposition.

Anonymous

The second amended does not allow regulation on the right to keep and bear arms. Its says SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED - the most forceful language in the Bill of Rights. The first sentence prescribes a "well regulated militia" which enumerates the right of american citizens to form militia's but states they should be well trained as many of the militia organizations as the time were loosely organized.

Anonymous

We have not been silent. We are in favor of LEGAL immigration. We want everyone who comes to the US do so LEGALLY with proper medical and criminal background checks. But the left panders to the illegals by saying anyone for law and order with the border is somehow racists. MS-13 gang members have killed more people in the past 6-7 years then ALL of the students killed in school shootings in US history. But wanting the border enforced is somehow racist. As for LGBT rights, Not all us NRA members are bible thumpers and have no problem with those rights, but since the D party has a hard on for gun control we sure as hell are not going to vote D and have our gun rights stomped on. its about numbers. LGBT rights apply to their group. Abortion rights apply to women who are only pregnant and desire an abortion. Gun rights go ALL law abiding Americans: gay straight, Bi male female transgender. All minorities, no matter how you pray. So When I fight for gun rights I am fighting for the right to ANY law abiding citizen to keep and bear arms. And NO we complained about the overreach of TSA after 9/11. We are against gun registration because its a violation of the 4A because its not the government businesses what gun a law abiding citizen has. You complain that we gun owners dont fight for other rights. You are wrong. But you keep forgetting something. Other groups have their groups that fight for their rights. Minorities have the NAACP, Women have NOW. plus planned Parenthood has a PAC for abortion rights. So Women have Two groups fighting for their rights. LGBT rights are tied to NOW. the ACLU fights gun owners by being pro gun control. they admit they see gun rights as a "collective" right but not an "individual right." So unless there was an outright ban of all guns for all people then they wont lift a finger to fight for gun rights. But by that time its too late. You cant wait until a right is gone and all abilities to express it are gone before you fight for it. If we gun owners waited until all of our guns were banned and confiscated and destroyed. Plus gun manufacturers were closed and bankrupt and the stores closed to start fighting for our gun rights it would be too late. Even If we won our rights back no company would risk the start up cost to open a gun factory. Gun stores the same, fearing the next election would reveres the legal gains. No the time to fight for gun rights is now while we have our rights.

Ward H

"Raising the minimum age for all gun ownership to 21, currently the legal age for purchasing a handgun, also raises no civil liberties issues"

I would disagree. In my opinion this unfairly impacts college age women seeking to defend themselves

GMR

It seems that most concerning to the ACLU is that convicted felons, those with mental problems and drug addicts might be kept from possessing firearms. Seems these guardians of the Bill of Rights can wrap their minds around any other infringement of our 2nd amendment rights. These guys are waaaay out there on the fringe.

Tueffelhinter

Being a convicted non-violent felon who quit smoking marijuana 15 years ago and has been treated successfully for mental health issues I can say that there is no legitimate reason for me to be prohibited from possessing a firearm. The United States Marine Corps saw fit to allow me to carry an actual Automatic Weapon for five years before my conviction. In fact, my squad leader wanted to recommend me as a shooting coach.

The problem with sweeping generalizations is when you paint with broad strokes you are going to cover things that don't fall into your description. Not all felons are "criminals" I work full-time, earned a skilled-trade degree with honors, was on the Dean's List multiple times. I've also been married for over 10 years and have 2 wonderful kids. I'm a life member of the NRA, a 3rd degree blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do, I've trained in MMA and fought in a cage. If I was truly dangerous, I'd have been all over the news.

Thanks to my conviction, I can't afford the aggressive legal counsel that it would require to have equal rights again. The legal system is an uphill battle once you are on the "wrong" side of it.

The NRA and the ACLU fundamentally are a match made in Heaven. Realistically, they are both too entrenched in their own respective political rhetoric to see past their differences and understand that one is useless without the other.

Dr. Timothy Leary

I, as a transgendered male, find it hard to believe that gun ownership for gay Americans will get any better. Gay and Trans Americans like myself need protection from homophobic people. So please continue to fight for minority peoples who need protection.

Hope Anderson

The real Dr. Timothy Leary was a drugged addled nincompoop who was arrested for putting marijuana in his teenage daughter's underwear. Now this person claims to be a "transgendered male" W.T.F. ? It takes all kinds to make a world doesn't it?

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