Carl Bogus, a research professor at the Roger Williams University School of Law, addressed a group of students, fellows and faculty on the topic of gun control on Monday, Feb. 13. The talk was the fourth part in a speaker series hosted by the Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought department titled “Guns in Law.”
Bogus’ lecture centered around his recently published essay, “The Simple Truth about Gun Control.” In his paper and subsequent talk, Bogus provided a straightforward answer to the question of gun control.
“There is only one kind of gun control that is effective,” Bogus said. “That’s the hard, simple truth. And it is whatever reduces handguns in general circulation.”
Bogus argued that the U.S. subscribes to “model one” of gun control. “Model one,” he said, is a policy in which “everyone can have a gun except those who can’t — convicted felons [and] people who are ‘mentally defective.’” According to Bogus, all other “affluent nations” similar to the U.S. adhere to “model two” of gun control, in which “nobody can have a handgun except those who can — law enforcement people [and] people who have a special need for a handgun.”
“‘Model one’ will never work, because we can’t divide people up into good guys and bad guys,” Bogus said. “The world is too complicated for that, and we can’t tell the difference.”
Bogus walked attendees through his analysis of gun control, tackling the contentious issue from political, historical, constitutional and cultural perspectives. He addressed several factors in the debate over gun control, from the growing political power of the National Rifle Association to the importance of the right to bear arms in the 1788 debates over Constitutional ratification. With guns so ingrained in American culture, Bogus argued that a national campaign to stigmatize gun ownership, similar to campaigns against cigarette consumption and drunk driving, could offer one solution to catalyze gun control reform.
However, Bogus warned the audience not to focus too much on short-term goals, citing his own work in enacting the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which established a waiting period after buying a firearm and bolstered background checks. Bogus later realized the adverse effect its passage had on the gun control movement. By offering a false sense of success to gun control advocates, the bill inadvertently reduced motivation to strive for more comprehensive reform.
“The idea is that we needed a political win,” Bogus said. “The gun control movement has never recovered from that pyrrhic victory. Because when you frame something [like], ‘Should we do nothing or have a seven-day waiting period [before finalizing a gun purchase]?’ you persuade people that we can’t do any better.”
After Bogus’ lecture, the talk turned into a discussion, with students speaking on various aspects and perspectives on gun control.
“I was interested in going to the talk because I just started taking LJST classes and I find the topic very interesting,” Adelaide Shunk ’20 said. “I think gun control is a very prevalent issue, and so I thought it was really cool that we had a scholar who was at the forefront of gun control coming to talk.”
“I think [I chose to attend the talk] primarily because I’m from Chicago, and it’s sort of a very interesting notion, particularly now with the political climate and everyone talking about that sort of thing, and it’s a discussion that I have with my parents a lot,” Will Jackson ’18 said.
Bogus said that his solution to gun violence, while simple in nature, would be far less simple to implement.
“What I’m telling you is, the only form of gun control that is effective is unconstitutional today,” Bogus said. “That’s the hard, simple truth. Does that mean that all of us who want to do something about this throw our hands up and go home? … I say no. But we have to first confront the hard reality and take a long-term view, because what is unconstitutional today is not necessarily unconstitutional tomorrow.”
Despite recognizing that promoting gun control would take extensive effort and work, Shunk said that he left feeling motivated to take measures that could ensure effective gun regulation in the future.
“I felt really empowered to figure out ways to reshape public opinion, because I think one of the big things that we stressed in our discussion after the talk was the whole idea that the statistics and the talk and the article, we all agreed with ... but there’s a disconnect with the general public,” Shunk said. “The general public doesn’t care about statistics. They care about feelings.”