Hofeld on International Responses to Mass Shootings

  • Date:
  • July 26, 2019

The Minnesota Journal of International Law recently published a comparative paper from Zachary Hofeld, Studying Abroad: Foreign Legislative Responses to Mass Shootings and Their Viability in the United States.

From the Introduction (footnotes omitted):

As difficult as they are to relive, the horrors of Newtown, Orlando, Las Vegas, and Parkland conceal a horrifying truth: mass shootings--incidents in which four or more individuals are shot and killed (not including the shooter)--are on the rise in the United States. They are occurring more frequentl and have become more deadly. Yet following each unspeakable tragedy, as cries for reform grow increasingly shrill, gun sales rise and legislatures stonewall. Meanwhile, in other developed countries, news-grabbing public mass shootings have powered reform-- and with positive results. . . . .

America’s struggle with gun violence is no secret. Some scholars argue that Congress should adopt laws and policies that have successfully limited mass shootings elsewhere. Regrettably missing from this line of research, however, is rigorous evaluation of these measures’ viability--both empirically and legally--in the United States.

This Note seeks to fill that gap by examining developed countries’ legal response to widely-publicized mass shootings and evaluating the viability of those responses, practically and legally, in the United States. Part I supplies the background for this analysis, accomplishing three tasks. First, it provides a general overview of civilian gun laws globally, categorizing different approaches to gun regulation. Second, it tells the story of Australia’s, Germany’s, and Great Britain's response to gun massacres, highlighting the impetus for reform, the legal response, and, to the extent possible, the effectiveness of the response. Third, returning home, the section provides an overview of U.S. gun law, including both Second Amendment jurisprudence and the federal-state, two-tiered gun regulation system. Part II considers whether the legislative solutions adopted in Australia, Great Britain, and Germany could work in the United States, analyzing, first, whether they address actual shortcomings in U.S. gun law and, second, whether they would comport with the Second Amendment. The Note concludes that despite calls to adopted legal approaches successful abroad, most of these solutions likely are nonviable in the United States because they either do not meaningfully address shortcomings in U.S. gun law or are unlikely to pass constitutional muster. Often, measures that would likely be effective are the ones that would likely fail Second Amendment scrutiny, while measures that would likely pass constitutional muster are the ones that likely would not effectively address the issue, thereby putting the drive to solve this problem on a collision course with the Second Amendment.