The recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, have reignited the gun debate.
I am deeply disturbed by these tragic events, but I’ll try to look at the issue from a pragmatic viewpoint. From this perspective, I offer the following observations.
- Today, there are more than 300 million rifles and pistols in homes across America. Perhaps 15 to 30 million of these weapons are what are loosely defined as assault weapons. It is estimated that three-in-ten American adults personally own a gun, and many of these gun owners say the right to own firearms is essential to their own personal sense of safety and freedom.
- There are Americans, though a small minority, who interpret the 2nd Amendment in absolutist terms. These people believe it unlawful to place any restriction on gun ownership. The Supreme Court does not agree with this absolutist position. They have upheld some restrictions, but the court has not yet defined what it considers permissible limits on private ownership of weapons.
- The National Rifle Association tends to always take an extreme position on gun ownership. It subscribes to the slippery-roof theory, meaning that any restriction on gun ownership, even an apparently sensible regulation, is only the first step toward more rigorous restrictions. The NRA has had powerful influence, especially within the Republican Party, but its influence is diminishing because of the rigidity of its approach on this issue.
- There are other Americans, again a minority, who wish to drastically reduce gun ownership, especially of assault rifles, by confiscation or any other means necessary. Some would advocate repeal of the 2nd Amendment. Repeal is extremely unlikely to happen. The process is too difficult, and too many citizens would oppose such drastic action.
- There is a middle ground. I hope we can find it.
There are a relatively small number of gun-carrying enthusiasts on the far right who are convinced that the government itself is a threat to their life and liberty. They wish to arm themselves with all the weaponry needed to prevent a totalitarian dictatorship from imposing its will on a hapless citizenry. These extremists are often anger-filled racial or religious supremacists of one stripe or another, and they pose a much greater threat to their fellow citizens than does a duly constituted government. These people need to be watched carefully, and they must be denied access to heavy weaponry of all types.
On the opposite side, extremists on the left wish to remove all guns from the hands of private citizens. Since they realize that is an unattainable goal at this time, they try to put as many restrictions on gun ownership as possible
Most gun owners are not extremists. Many of them are hunters, and even more of them have guns in their homes for self-protection. Perhaps the majority are opposed to any restrictions on guns as to type, magazine capacity, etc., but this opposition tends to be emotional and philosophical rather than rational. If reasoned with, most would probably agree that fast-firing automatic and semi-automatic weapons are not necessary for home protection. These types of weapons are also not suitable for hunting.
The NRA argues that restrictions on certain types of guns would not have prevented mass shootings such as those in Orlando, Las Vegas, El Paso and Dayton. This is a specious argument. The availability of fast-firing, semi-automatic weapons with high magazine capacities certainly contributed to the heavy death toll in each of these instances.
A reasonable compromise would be an agreement to outlaw certain types of weaponry other than those in the hands of the military (including the militia – our National Guard) or the police. This would include:
Automatic or semi-automatic rifles and sub-machine guns.
High capacity magazines.
Armor piercing ammunition.
There should be no attempt at search and seizure. Instead, citizens would be informed that these weapons and accessories were no longer legal, and persons appearing in public with such items could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony. Over time, these weapons would slowly disappear.
The other side of the compromise would be an agreement by gun-haters to cease making life difficult for those wishing to have a gun for personal protection. This would mean eliminating requirements for things like trigger-locks or special storage cabinets for rifles and pistols. After all, if a weapon is difficult to access or to use, it is not of much value for protection.
Some argue that the elimination of assault weapons will have little or no effect on the murder rate in America. Perhaps they are correct. With hundreds of millions of guns in this country, someone desiring to kill someone or themselves with a pistol or rifle should have little difficulty obtaining a gun, even in jurisdictions with extremely strict gun laws, and the ubiquitous handgun is usually the weapon of choice for murder or suicide. Nevertheless, a ban on automatic and semi-automatic guns should help prevent the sort of horrific events in which scores of people are killed or wounded by a madman with a rapid firing rifle or sub-machine gun. We do not know how effective a ban might be until we try it, and I believe that the action itself, no matter the result, would provide a true catharsis for the people of our land.
There is also much discussion about legislating more extensive background checks for weapons purchasers. I favor this. Certainly, we should do all we can to prevent convicted felons and the criminally insane from acquiring guns, but the general availability of firearms to these people, either by illicit purchase or by theft, makes me doubt that such measures, though prudent, would have much effect.
As for my proposal that we ban assault weapons, I know the NRA will hate me for it, but I believe it makes sense. Think about it, and then let’s do it!