In November, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wanted to make his victory celebration at the Tampa Convention Center safer by banning firearms. Since DeSantis is an advocate for the right to bear arms in almost any venue, he asked the city of Tampa to take responsibility for the ban, which convention center staff declined to do.
Much like Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) cheering on the Jan. 6, 2021, rioters, and later running from them like a scared rabbit, DeSantis was concerned about the “political optics” of ensuring his own safety.
It is hard to have a rational discussion about firearms in America. Our Second Amendment, right behind freedom of speech, religion and the press, states that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Clearly, we tolerate some restraints on free speech: the First Amendment does not protect someone who plots the assassination of the president or someone who screams “fire” in a crowded theater. But the National Rifle Association and other gun advocates, including Supreme Court justices, tend to interpret the Second Amendment as a bar to any effective regulation of firearms.
Here in South Dakota, where the vast majority of gun deaths are suicides, there is no appetite for reasonable regulation of firearms. Rep. Linda Duba (D-Sioux Falls) just sponsored a bill in our Legislature which would have allowed law enforcement, family members or friends to seek the temporary removal of guns from someone who is deemed a threat to self or others, after a hearing before a circuit judge. While Duba’s bill, along with a second gun-related bill she authored, clearly provided a measure of due process to the gun owner, both died a predictable death in committee.
Last month, Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the “Protect Illinois Communities Act” into law. This is a comprehensive piece of legislation which prohibits assault weapons, prohibits rapid-fire devices that increase the rate of fire for semi-automatic firearms and strengthens Illinois’ firearm restraining order law. Perhaps that simply illustrates the difference between a blue state and a red state, and determined Illinoians may simply cross state lines in search of assault weapons.
Last year, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) intercepted 6,542 guns at airport checkpoints, which is a record. Predictably, many passengers whose firearms were apprehended offered the excuse that they “forgot” that they were packing heat; some faced criminal charges while others were allowed to move their guns to their checked luggage.
Organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety, which has financial backing from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Moms Demand Action, have active members in South Dakota. Predictably, they feel out-gunned. They (like those above in an image posted by the American Psychological Association) would like to see mandatory background checks for all gun sales, not just sales by licensed gun dealers.
Many firearms are purchased on the Internet, making it easier for convicted felons and people who are subject to domestic protection orders to obtain them. Another priority is simply public education, persuading gun owners to store and secure their firearms, locked and unloaded. In communities and families where guns are part of the culture, there needs to be a greater awareness of teenage suicide, which is often accomplished with a gun.
Mass shootings, at elementary schools, shopping malls and country music concerts, have become alarmingly commonplace in America. DeSantis is not the only politician to be concerned about his own safety, or the safety of people close to him. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has two children who are students at Michigan State University, where a deranged mass shooter with no apparent motive placed them in harm’s way.
Before we can enact laws that reduce the epidemic of gun violence, we need to have an honest and realistic conversation on the subject.
Jay Davis is a retired Rapid City Attorney