Per usual in the hyper-polarized world of politics, the gun control debate in the wake of the tragic 17-person Florida massacre is woefully devoid of bipartisan structure.
The problem is simple: Gun control proponents will never get gun owners to the table without committing to a concurrent discussion about abortion.
The right to bear arms and the right to privacy are two sides of the same “sanctity of life” coin. Gun proponents believe the Second Amendment protects an inherent right to bear arms, and is willing to tolerate the unfortunate side effect of 12,000+ gun-related deaths a year. Abortion proponents believe Roe v. Wade protects an inherent right to privacy that underpins a woman’s right to choose the direction of her pregnancy, and is willing to tolerate the unfortunate side effect of 650,000+ abortions a year.
I suggest a straightforward, bipartisan compromise: a ban and buyback program of all outstanding military-grade assault rifles (1 percent of gun-related deaths), in exchange for a ban of abortions after 21 weeks (1 percent of abortions), unless the mother’s health is at risk.
Before delving into the legality and the specifics of the proposal, let’s first look at the political backdrop.
America is split down the middle on guns and abortion, but each side treats their side as the unassailable truth of the matter. Setting legality aside, there is a common sense case to be made for (and against certain elements of) private sector gun ownership and abortion.
The case for private sector gun ownership is self-defense. Where gun owners take it too far is by making “dangerous and unusual” military-grade assault rifles the representative weapon of choice.
The case for abortion is that until standalone viability the unborn child is wholly dependent upon and thus part of the mother. Where abortion advocates likewise take it too far is in their defense of aborting unborn children with standalone viability (at an LMP-measured 21 weeks old).
For both sides it is an all-or-nothing ideological stakeout, driven by the belief that the other side will take a mile if given an inch. Gun owners believe that even something as small as banning “bump stocks” is the first step toward Second Amendment repeal; while abortion advocates believe that any abortion restriction is an affront to a woman’s right to choose. I believe that the growing intensity of media coverage of mass shootings and ever-expanding ultrasound technology could work to stigmatize gun ownership and abortion over time, making this all-or-nothing stance a long-term political loser. Compromise is needed, from both sides.
The legality of the proposed compromise – banning assault rifles and late-term abortions – is supported by landmark case law. Roe v. Wade protects the right to an abortion until standalone viability; while District of Columbia v. Heller supports the prohibition of “dangerous and unusual weapons.” (It is worth emphasizing that the late Justice Scalia, in writing for the majority in Heller, specifically dismissed technological advances in military weaponry as justification for private sector ownership of “dangerous and unusual weapons.”)
In January the Senate failed to obtain the necessary 60 votes (51 to 46) to pass a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks (along the lines of the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” passed by the House in 2015). Re-introducing this bill with an assault rifle ban and buyback program attached could serve as a platform vehicle for the proposed compromise.
With upwards of 15 million military-grade assault rifles in circulation, the buyback program is necessary to take the vast majority of assault rifles off the market. The going rate for an AR-15 is $1,500 to $3,000. To make the decision palatable for gun owners, I propose $10,000 per gun, for a total one-time buyback program of $150 billion.
If necessary, this bipartisan structure can be expanded along its natural fault lines: in exchange for a national gun registry, abortion advocates could agree to mandatory counseling for anyone considering an abortion; in exchange for further firearm bans, a ban of abortions after 13 weeks (both of which would require legal action); and in exchange for repealing the Second Amendment, overturning Roe v. Wade.
For now, exchanging assault rifles for late-term abortions should serve to bring both sides to the table for a serious discussion about the intersection of constitutional rights and the sanctity of life.