Solomon Center Hosts Book Talk with Professor Ian Ayres ’86


On April 7, 2021, the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy at Yale Law School hosted Ian Ayres ’86, Deputy Dean and the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Professor at Yale Law School and a Professor at Yale’s School of Management, for a talk on their recent book, Weapon of Choice: Fighting Gun Violence While Respecting Gun Rights. The book is co-authored with Professor Fredrick E. Vars, the Ira Drayton Pruitt, Sr. Professor of Law at the University of Alabama. In Weapon of Choice, Ayres and Vars ask how ordinary Americans, frustrated by the legal and political wrangling over the Second Amendment, can fight for reforms that will both respect gun owners’ rights and reduce gun violence. They discuss the legal and political challenges to reducing gun violence in the United States and suggest a new way forward: empowering individual citizens to choose commonsense gun reforms for themselves. 

Ayres began their presentation by identifying the wide coverage of homicide gun deaths, which account for only about one-third of gun deaths overall, as compared to the limited coverage of suicide gun deaths, which make up about two-thirds of gun deaths. While gun suicides receive less media attention than gun homicides, they account for an average of 63 deaths per day. The proposals outlined in their book seek primarily to reduce gun suicides by empowering individual’s freedoms.

“Freedom enhancing gun control is not an oxymoron,” said Ayres. They went on to discuss some of the book’s 10 freedom-enhancing proposals to reduce gun violence in the United States.

One major proposal was empowering self-restriction. These laws allow individuals to temporarily suspend their Second Amendment rights to either purchase or possess firearms. The proposals vary widely in terms of implementation and reasons for suspending rights, often focusing on mental health concerns, but may be successful and politically feasible. The authors surveys found that more than 30 percent of respondents would be willing to sign up for such a program. Further, similar proposals have already been introduced in 11 states and passed in three states (Washington, Utah, and Virginia).

Another major proposal addressed enhancing people’s freedom by giving them the ability to make more informed associational choices. State and federal laws already impose locational restrictions on gun rights (such as restricting guns in school zones and courthouses), and these proposals would further restrict where arms can be borne. One example looked at Westport, Missouri, where downtown businesses bought the streets to create Gun-Free Zones in the city. Another example looked at the current default rules in most states which permit individuals to carry guns into homes and stores unless the owner explicitly objects. The authors’ surveys have shown that large majorities of Americans do not support these current default rules. These proposals would harness property rights to promote individuals’ freedom of association and reduce gun violence.

Other proposals looked to harness information and the knowledge of citizens to promote gun safety. One example is Private Red Flag Laws, which permit individuals in a time of mental health difficulty to entrust their guns to another individual, and also allow others to seek to limit individual’s gun rights when they are concerned about another’s safety.

Ayres concluded by arguing that the government is not always best placed to decide whose gun rights should be limited. They explained that sometimes the best person is the individual themselves, a friend or loved one, or a concerned third party. Ultimately, Ayres said, the book finds that “the law could do better to harness the private choices [of individuals], the private preferences of others, and the information of others” to prevent and reduce gun violence.

The event was co-sponsored by the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School.