Open for Discussion: Guns and mass shooting

Published: Nov. 20, 2019 at 11:04 PM CST
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When a mass shooting takes place, there are often calls for new federal regulations. And some states have enacted rules surrounding firearms, sometimes in response to those tragedies.

There are few things that can divide opinions as quickly as the sound of a gunshot, especially when it comes to mass shootings.

"We believe in the Second Amendment but we believe the Second Amendment can sit comfortably alongside common sense gun laws," said Cheryl Biller, Moms Demand Action.

Those who identify themselves as advocates for the Second Amendment have a different view.

"It turns due process on its head, it removes constitutional protections that every U.S. citizen is afforded under the Constitution," said Jeremiah Glosenger, Second Amendment advocate.

What the Second Amendment means is a constant debate. After dozens of Supreme Court rulings, many still have differing views on what the Constitution provides U.S. citizens, and how much guns can or can't be regulated.

There are dozens of laws about who can own a gun, how many rounds, and how quickly the ammunition can be discharged and where you can carry them.

Gun rallies are working against more regulation, like Red Flag laws. Those would allow law enforcement or family members to petition courts to have guns temporarily taken away from someone who could be a danger to themselves or someone else.

"These red flag laws, while they're well intentioned in the concept, are a very bad idea from a constitutional perspective and a practical perspective," said Glosenger.

While groups like Moms Demand Action hold their own events fighting for that type of law.

"We think that it's reasonable that families and law enforcement should, through a rigorous due process, be able to temporarily take away someone's guns or take away their access to guns until they are deemed to be safe again," said Cheryl.

The Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Agency is responsible for enforcing both state and federal gun laws. ATF agents in North Dakota say they've seen every type of firearm you can think of, but handguns are the most common. And when it comes to shootings, they say handguns are used the most. That lines up with national data as well. 2018 statistics from the FBI show of the 14,000 plus homicides, more than 10,000 involved firearms, with 6,600 being handgun related.

The ATF says they also see gun modifications, which can make a firearm shorter, and easier to conceal.

"They're modifying these guns without the proper permits, they're not licensing them properly, they're not paying their tax stamps, and they're cutting the barrels off, and they become very short, and then with that it makes it able to better conceal them and then use them in commission of crimes such as shooting at law enforcement or robbing each other," said an ATF agent.

After shootings, people also say background checks need to be strengthened. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 mandates background checks on firearm purchasers. Between November 1998 and December 2018, more than 304 million transactions have been processed by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to the FBI. For unlicensed sellers, the checks aren't required.

"Some thieves target firearms because they know it's an easy, quick sale. A lot of times they can sell them or trade them for drugs or they can just sell them to other people very quickly," said an ATF agent.

There's one thing most do agree on. A May Quinnipiac poll showed 94 percent of those surveyed in support of stricter background checks. A July poll from NPR-PBS NewsHour and Marist showed 89 percent support. But there's no answer that satisfies everyone.

State legislators here introduced a Red Flag bill this year, but the House resoundingly voted it down.

But 17 states and the District of Columbia have enacted some form of a Red Flag law.

As for stricter background checks, a bill passed in the U.S. House in February, but has not yet been introduced in the Senate.

A half-hour special on violence, including interviews with local leaders working to find answers, will be available on our website, on Friday at 6:30 p.m. and air on West Dakota Fox at 10:30 Friday night.