Gun Control (In Moderation) Is The Only Sensible Path

If you’ve ever lived in the south or a rural area, you might have seen this phrase on a bumper sticker: “Gun Control Means Hitting Your Target”.

It’s an attempt at humor but is also very telling about two different points of view regarding private ownership of firearms in the United States. The liberal view is that guns are so dangerous that only government employees should be allowed to wield them — like the atomic bomb or money. The conservative view is that “gun control” is a thinly veiled euphemism for gun eradication, something that absolutely cannot be allowed to happen.

My Trichotomy

Wil and AR-15, © 2008 by Marline Fry
Being part idealist, part realist, and part Libertarian is difficult for me — as you might imagine — especially with an issue like this.

The Libertarian part of me chafes at any new government restriction on freedom, whether it restricts speech, guns, or the height of balcony railings. That part of me would like the federal government to “…provide for the common defence [sic] … and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” (from the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution) and otherwise leave me the hell alone.

People ought to be grown up enough and responsible enough — and kind enough — for there to be no need for such restrictions.

The realist part of me, which formed late in life, sees that the population as a whole doesn’t have the necessary common sense for that. Without balcony railing laws, builders would make them too short or too tall or too weak, or would make them from some toxic substance. So the government has to step in like a tired old Dad with a sigh, and show the toddler the right way to do something. “Here’s the only really good way to make a balcony railing”, Daddy Fed has to say.

The idealist part of me thinks it would be great if there were never a need for a firearm. “Why can’t we just all get along?” this part wonders.

(There are other parts of my mind that make even less sense.)

Rights Versus Rights

Fortunately, there’s some semblance of logic in my brain that occasionally tries to tie all these parts together. When it comes to the private ownership of dangerous weapons — including firearms, knives, explosives, etc. — the logical part collects all the available facts and comes up with this:

Guns Galore, Killeen, TX, © 2010 by Wil C. Fry
* The right to individually own and use weapons is guaranteed by the Second Amendment (though I wish its writers had made it more clear, so this wouldn’t be a point of contention), and the Supreme Court has recently confirmed this.

* Guns, other than being expensive, are very easy to acquire.

* Because just enough people with weapons are irresponsible with them, that right does need to be abridged — somehow.

* The preamble to the Constitution lists duties for the federal government other than the two I quoted above. In addition to providing for the common defense and securing the blessings of liberty, the government is charged with forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, and promoting the general welfare. Those last three speak heavily to gun control.

Justice, the general welfare, and domestic tranquility are not being established, promoted or insured when every few months some crazed man with guns blazing walks into a school or movie theater or post office or shopping mall. That same guy deep in the heart of an unpopulated wilderness is just fine. He’s not hurting anything other than dropping a few pounds of lead into the groundwater runoff. But these days, that guy always seems to be in populated areas — and something ought to be done.

Cowboys, Oklahoma City, © 2007 by Wil C. Fry
In other words, Libertarianism was fine in the sparsely populated continent that this country once occupied, and it’s still fine in areas where a stray bullet doesn’t have a chance of hitting anyone. You don’t need as many laws if you don’t have as many people. If you’re the only person, you don’t need laws at all. But most of us live in a crowded world (82% residing in cities and suburbs, as of 2010).

In that crowded world, the government does indeed have responsibility to try to make sure we don’t get shot by a next-door neighbor cleaning his gun, or by someone who sets up their target practice irresponsibly, or — what seems to be happening a lot lately — the young man who just can’t take it anymore and wants to start shredding bodies with his firepower.

My intrinsic right to not get shot isn’t listed in the Bill of Rights, but maybe it should be. Sure, you can give up that right by attacking a police officer, joining the military, making offensive gestures at gang members, or breaking into someone’s home, but you should have the right to not get shot when you’re sitting in your living room, peaceably attending school, or watching the latest Batman movie.

Second Amendment’s Existence

I mentioned in a previous entry (Realism About Gun Restrictions, Dec. 24, 2012) how difficult it would be to simply eradicate the Second Amendment — nearly impossible; and for that matter, I don’t think it would be a good thing. For a huge majority of us, a huge majority of the time, guns aren’t a problem. When was the last time you were shot? Or even shot at? How often do you hear gunfire? How many stray bullets have come through your windows?

Existing Restrictions

Restrictions aren’t the same thing as prohibitions. Restrictions on firepower already exist and have long existed. For example, you can’t own a fully operational military tank, or live grenades. You can’t openly carry loaded rocket launchers or build an atom bomb in your garage. Most people agree these restrictions make sense. A growing number of people think the line should be moved further.

Moving that line makes sense to me now — it didn’t always.

There are some major problems with current gun restrictions, if their intent is to keep the populace safe:

* Too many loopholes

This one is easily solved. Close the loopholes. If background checks and waiting periods are good enough for retailers, then they’re good enough for gun shows and private sales.

* Lack of enforcement

This one isn’t as easily solved, but the solution is obvious. Begin enforcing the current laws.

* Varying laws from one jurisdiction to the next

Again, easily solved. We don’t need 52 different sets of gun laws (50 states, D.C., and federal — doesn’t count city-specific laws). We need one set of gun laws. If it helps, that set of laws could take into account urban/rural settings and population concentration. We don’t need hundreds of agencies trying to enforce dozens or hundreds of sets of gun laws, and a mobile population that can’t begin to know how the laws are different in each locale. (I’ve lived in four states in the past 15 years; each has widely differing gun laws.)

Banning the sale of something in one state just means the next state gets extra business. (Dry counties anyone? How many liquor stores are situated on county lines in because of this silliness?)

So, let’s start there. Close the loopholes. Ramp up enforcement of current laws. Work on consolidating the 52+ different laws into one set. That’s a huge start right there and eliminates half the violence.

New Laws

If we need new gun laws (and I’m saying we do), my advice to law-makers is to not shoot for the Moon. Don’t oversell; you’ll just anger the opposition (and remember, the opposition has guns). Do it one at a time. Do it carefully so you don’t get the Supreme Court following you around and undoing all your work.

* Magazine limits are a good place to start. Nobody needs a 30-round pistol magazine for home defense. Nobody needs a 30-round clip for deer hunting. Ten rounds is enough. The NRA will argue it, of course; that’s what they do. But it’ll blow over.

Then take the next step.

* The existing age limits can be raised. Currently, the limit varies from 18 to 21, depending on your state and the type of gun. Let’s make it 21 everywhere, as a start.

* Nearly everyone seems to agree that the mentally ill shouldn’t own/carry firearms. Yes, there are varying degrees of mental illness. That’s something that would have to be hammered out. But it shouldn’t be as easy as it is for those who are dangerously mentally ill to acquire, keep, and use firearms.

* At some point, introduce required safety courses before a gun purchase is allowed. Then add the requirement of a safety test, much like you’re required to pass a test to get a driver’s license. Further, there could be proficiency tests. Even many “gun nuts” should be taught proper usage and safety.

* Allow armed citizens (those who’ve passed the required courses/tests mentioned above) in workplaces, schools, and in the general public — with certain restrictions of course. How many of the recent mass shootings took place where the shooter knew the victims would be unarmed? All of them.

As mentioned briefly above, any new laws could take into account the population density of the area. Densely populated urban areas can have stricter laws; police presence is more pronounced, response times are faster; innocent bystanders are more likely. Lightly populated rural areas occasionally have police response time measured in hours.

I also think it couldn’t hurt to curb/discourage lawsuits against manufacturers, especially when the only charge is: “You made a product that could be used dangerously”. That could apply to almost any manufacturer of anything. Yes, guns were specifically designed to be dangerous, and yes, they’re pretty much the only products available to the general public with such a specifically dangerous primary usage. But they were meant to be dangerous to the bad guy. These lawsuits serve only to confuse the issue and generally are used out of frustration/revenge on the part of victims and their families to assuage their sense of loss.

Further Reading:

The Short Version of the Above
Some Other Things I Considered When Forming My Opinion on Gun Control

(Note: I wrote most of this before the Dec. 2012 shooting in Connecticut. I’d saved it as a draft, hoping to polish it later. When the shooting occurred, I waited to see what rhetoric would be vomited across the nation. Then I waited to see what proposals Joe Biden’s task force would put forth. So far, nothing I’ve seen or heard recently has changed anything major about my opinions or research.)

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