Time for another long, meandering post from me, this time on gun control. I don’t pretend here to answer all of the issues, but to define them better, and may even fail at that. This is a topic that generates a lot of extreme statements from both sides, and from my point of view the issues are really fewer and clearer than many people claim.
Firstly, I don’t see how car crashes or smoking deaths have anything to do with what we might do to make shootings less frequent or less deadly. There’s no either/or situation here. And besides, those other causes of death, while lamentable, are totally different animals.
I don’t know what the best approach to this problem is. One thing I do know is that the two extremes don’t qualify as “best”. Banning guns, while it may be used as a scare tactic, is not only clearly contrary to the Constitution but also is only being talked about by fringe players who really have no impact on what we might do (just like the people – and I know one of them – who think the best way to reduce pollution is to ban cars). Despite the talk I keep hearing about “they’re coming for my guns”, nobody is coming for your guns, and sensible regulation does not start us down any inevitable slippery slope. Your definition of “sensible” may vary, and the political process can (when working well) arrive at a consensus definition. But cars and many other things have related safety regulations and registration requirements, and nobody’s coming for your car, or your chain saw, or your pesticides, etc.
The other extreme is to let everyone have whatever weaponry they want and can acquire. Maybe we should have some limits – nuclear weapons and attack helicopters shouldn’t be available on Amazon – but it sometimes seems that the NRA’s approach to gun violence is always “we need more guns!” I’m sure the gun manufacturers would love that, but it wouldn’t really make me feel safer to know that every 18-year-old on the street could well be carrying multiple military-style weapons.
So, what are the purposes for citizens (excluding the military and law enforcement personnel) having guns? I can think of several. Hunting – I have no problem whatsoever with guns used for hunting. Target shooting, whether for fun or in competition? The same. Self-protection? Some degree of self-protection is unfortunately required, but there is a matter of degree here, otherwise we get into someone saying he needs an arsenal of sidewinder missiles to protect his house from predators in society. Collecting? No problem. If gun control talk were centered on these purposes, the discussion would be very one-sided in favor of gun ownership.
But then we get into the other uses. Criminals, of course, are fond of guns. If you’re going to threaten someone, a gun can certainly help make that threat immediate. And as we have seen in Mexico, gangs of criminals use them to defend their piece of the criminal pie. I guess we should include suicide in this group. And, though I wish it weren’t so, deranged people use them (not frequently, but too frequently) to commit senseless, random killings. I hope that we can all agree that, if there was a way to limit these uses without imposing undue limits on the uses mentioned up above, such limits would be a boon to society.
Then there comes the issue of guns being a protection against tyranny. Back when the Second Amendment was written, the list of democracies in the world was rather short, and we didn’t have a standing army (read Jefferson about the dangers of having one). I’m no expert on this subject, but I would think that that fact has something to do with why a “well regulated militia” was considered to be “necessary to the security of a free State” – that’s where a fighting force would come from if, as happened a mere 23 years after the Bill of Rights was ratified, a foreign power should invade the United States. But I would posit that conditions have changed. Foreign invasion is not much of a threat (but see below), and if things got bad enough we could always reverse course. The lack of a foreign invasion leaves open the fear of, essentially, a domestic invasion – the systematic abridgement of civil liberties by our government. Are we truly so afraid of our government that we turn our homes into armories? Maybe I’m blithely ignoring ominous portents, but I don’t see it.
The last use of guns that comes to mind has recently been proposed by Wayne LaPierre of the NRA. This is the guy who previously called FBI agents “jack booted thugs” who go around “wearing N.azi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens”, so he is known for hyperbole. He wrote about guns as protection against anarchy, pointing specifically to crime in Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy (crime was actually quite low in that circumstance), terrorist invasions, Mexican drug cartels, and the disappearance of police protection due to the imminent financial collapse of America, as threats that make any form of new regulation tantamount to a death wish. He was heavily criticized for this, with complaints about how he saw the world as a Mad Max movie. I must say that he did sound rather paranoid, with little faith in America’s ability to deal with threats of any kind. Registration of guns sold at gun shows won’t make societal disintegration a foregone conclusion.
So, in the end, I think it comes down to what was mentioned up there somewhere – actions that curtail the ability of people to use guns for bad purposes, while not imposing undue hardships on the often-mentioned “law abiding citizens” and not violating the Constitution. The Second Amendment is famously vague and open to interpretation, and while I absolutely agree that it confers upon Americans the right to own arms, I am not so sure that it allows no regulation of what types of arms can be privately owned or of what requirements there might be regarding registration and use. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, hardly a gun-control-crazed liberal, wrote in his opinion in the Heller case that there are many limits on Second Amendment rights that pass judicial muster, specifically mentioning prohibitions of concealed carry, carrying into sensitive places, possession by felons and the mentally ill, and the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons”. And he mentioned the regulation of ammunition types in oral arguments (I haven’t read his entire opinion in the case, so maybe he brought it up there as well).
What would impose an undue burden? I’m sure there are some who think that any burden is an undue burden, but I strongly disagree. We already have background checks for some sales, so why would extending them to all sales and making them more efficient be an undue burden? It seems obvious that such a move would help in the effort of keeping guns away from undesirables, as would restrictions on “straw sales” where one person buys guns for someone else (whose background is not checked due to not being a principal in the transaction). Research into gun violence by the CDC has been effectively banned, but I don’t see why its reinstitution would be a bad thing. These, to me, are the easy ones.
The more contentious ones seem to be bans on high-capacity ammunition magazines, armor-piercing bullets, and so-called assault weapons. Personally, I don’t see why armor-piercing bullets are needed for hunting or target shooting. What would be their lawful purpose? I guess they would just be useful to fight Mexican drug gangs and the U.S. government, should they threaten to overthrow civil society. Not a compelling argument to me. So, the big three becomes the big two.
High-capacity magazines first. The problem with them is clear – nut cases who decide to shoot people can do so more quickly if they can fire a lot of bullets in a short time. At least one (probably more) shooter has been stopped not while shooting, but while re-loading; if they would have to do that more often, that would give the rest of us more opportunity to stop them. Changing magazines, though, is a fairly simple and quick thing to do – the real argument for restricting them is that a 10-round magazine is not one-third the size of a 30-round magazine, much less one-tenth the size of a 100-round magazine. Shooters would be able to carry fewer bullets if magazine capacity was restricted. It seems to me that there are really two issues here instead of one – whether to restrict them at all, and how to define “high-capacity”. Those who argue against any restrictions at all generally (as far as I can tell) do so on a self-defense basis. The notion that their availability is better for crime victims than crime perpetrators is tenuous though, but worthy of reasoned debate, and it leads into the second issue as well. What qualifies as high-capacity? Well, the AR-15 rifle has come with 30-round magazines for 50 years now, the popular Glock-17 handgun has (you guessed it) a 17-round magazine, and 100-round magazines, previously notorious for jamming, are getting better and more common. President Obama has recommended a 10-round limit.
Now on to assault weapons. I recognize that there are varying definitions here as well, but I’m sure any bill stipulating a ban would have specific language that could be debated and, in the cases of previously proposed legislation, have already been debated. Under a sufficiently rigorous definition, we are talking about weapons that have been designed for a single purpose – to allow people to more quickly and efficiently kill other people (these weapons originated for military usage, and have been modified for non-military sale). I also recognize that assault weapons are not used in a majority of crimes – we are talking about single-digit percentages here, but still numbers that we would like to see go down. This is a concept that acts as a definition of whose side you’re on – one side says no to it, one side says yes, and both sides give knee-jerk reactions to any mention of it. As chemvictim said, this might be an issue that politically isn’t worth getting into right now.
So – what’s the net result? Nobody’s coming for your guns, the issues are smaller than they look if you can get past the unthinking reactions that people lock themselves into, and we’ll need all the guns we can get when the zombie apocalypse comes.
I started out on Burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff. Bob Dylan, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
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