If all you know about the responses to gun violence in America is what you see in the media, you'd likely come to the conclusion that there are two sides locked in opposition, unable to agree on almost anything.
But Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler said at a forum Feb. 4 at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law that a middle ground is possible. Despite what may appear to be an unwillingness to consider alternate viewpoints, he said the public has "a real appetite for people to discuss this issue."
Speakers at the forum, organized by Gansler's office following the mass shooting of students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., included the state's attorneys of Prince George's County and Baltimore City and County, who all said new strategies, policies and laws are needed to deal more effectively with criminals. Others included state and local law enforcement officials and legal scholars.
Professor Richard Boldt, JD, pictured above, a forum panelist, said it is permissible under the Constitution to implement gun policies while respecting the Second Amendment right to bear arms. In 2008, said Boldt, the Supreme Court reinforced, in the Heller case, the rights of private citizens to own and keep guns, but did so in a way that preserves the "American way" of working through difficult issues with lawmakers and regulators. Boldt wrote about the decision in the 2012 Maryland Law Review.
Adjunct Professor Thiruvendran Vignarajah, JD, MA, chief of the Major Investigations Unit of the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office, added that the drafters of the Constitution wanted debates about laws and regulations. He agreed with Boldt that the Heller decision does in fact leave gun policy options on the table, especially with regard to gun ownership by felons, the mentally ill, and what types of weapons may be owned.
Boldt and Vignarajah also took on the notion that simply keeping guns out of the hands of mentally ill people will promote public safety. Boldt said there is no correlation between mental illness and violent behavior, though there is a strong correlation between anti-social personality disorder and violence. New laws that seek to require reporting of people with mental illness, he added, do not promote safety.
Vignarajah said everyday gun violence is a different, but more pervasive, problem than the mass shootings that catch national attention. He suggested a solution in convincing judges of the need for longer prison sentences for people who use guns to commit crimes.