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

This is so disappointing. I wish to support the ACLU but can not in clear conscience do so with such weak and unrealistic “support” for the only amendment that actually serves to enforce the People’s ability to maintain the rest. ACLU could have a massive swell of support from people like me if they only maintained consistency of position with the rest of the Bill of Rights and the 2nd Amendment.

Bill Lumberg

If you ALL could give me your guns that would be GREAAAAAAAT.
-ACLU

as long as you don't discriminate while you are doing it the ACLU will back you!

U.S. Veteran

Rights shall not be INFRINGED end of argument, no discussion, no interpretation, set in stone. No 2nd that means no 1st no 3rd no 4th no 5th ect. England banned guns now they ban knives they have bins labled save a life destroy a knife where does it end?
When did we forget that we the people tell the government they dont tell us? Wonder what these politicians would do if you didnt afford them due process? Wanna hear about a right no one has,? The right to tell me how and with what i protect my self and my family with. One last point, to the Aclu if you are going to talk about firearms and high capacity magazines and other buzz words please educate yourself on exactly what it is you are talking about you really discredit yourself when you talk about preserving rights and then use terms like "Assault rifle" and "reasonable"

U.S. Veteran

Anyone else think is odd that our comments have to be reviewed then approved to be posted on a site that advocates free speech? Censorship in any form is the first step toward socialisim.

Anonymous

I thought that was very interesting as well

Anonymous

Indeed

Anonymous

Are there any people working at ACLU who are not morons? This article is full of idiotic statements that are unsubstantiated and obviously false. By the way, the intent of the second amendment is to allow civil revolt against a tyrannous government. By that measure, civilians should be able to have access to the same weapons as the military.

The statement that the answer to violence is less guns is the epitome of idiocy! NRA members are law abiding citizens. When you have a way to ensure criminals have no guns and offer protection in schools and other venues, then we can talk about law abiding citizens not carrying guns in specific places.

Anonymous

I was raised in a family that highly regarded the ACLU for its' staunch stance on defending all rights, without political or social bias, as described on this sites own "about" page as "The ACLU is nonprofit and nonpartisan", going on to explain why the ACLU has defended the rights of admittedly somewhat repugnant (to most) groups such as the KKK. Yet upon accessing the site today, a banner message asking for donations to the ACLU to specifically combat a current politician/group (in blatant contradiction to the above mentioned statement regarding being nonpartisan), pops up. Further, this piece takes a political/partisan stance, rather than simply defending liberties as defined by the current constitution/amendments, by making judgments as to what is right/wrong, but not tied to the current law of the land, or civil liberties. I find all of the above disappointing, and find my earlier high regard significantly disabused, and now see what appears to be the ACLU as simply a PAC with specific goals, hidden under a guise of being solely driven to defend liberties.

Robert M

NO civil liberties concerns.

Obtaining a permit is essentially paying the state to allow me to practice my rights. That isn't a civil liberties concern? If requiring an ID is akin to voter suppression (violating potentially the 14th, 15th, 19th, and 24th amendments) and the ACLU is against it, why do they support gun permits in violation of the 2nd amendment?

Anonymous

This is a shame. You are working from the perspective that as long as everyone's rights are being infringed equally, there is no problem. It is extremely important to ensure that all law abiding US citizens are ensured equal protection under the law, but what the law actually says matters too.

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