Just over a year ago, in the wake of the second Virginia Tech shooting, I wrote a column about gun control. In the 12 months that followed, America was struck by tragedies of gun violence in Aurora, Colorado; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon; and Newtown, Connecticut. These are just the four most publicized shootings that occurred in 2012. There were hundreds more cases of gun violence that didn’t make national headlines. Every day innocent Americans lose their lives to guns. Now is the time for a substantive discussion on gun control. Now is the time for a change to be made.
I am not against guns. I support the right to own a handgun for self-defense. I support the right to own a rifle and a shotgun to hunt. I believe, however, that instituting universal background checks and restricting the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity clips and magazines is not only reasonable, but needed.
Some cite the Second Amendment as a license to buy, with no restrictions, any type of weaponry and ammunition. The Second Amendment provides no such license. First, it provides that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Second, while the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller found that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, that right is not unrestricted. The Supreme Court in Heller stated quite clearly that like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state constitution provisions on bearing arms. The Court said that its opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.
Also, and quite importantly, the Court stated that its opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on “laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
After last month’s massacre of defenseless first graders and their schoolteachers and principal, President Obama signed a comprehensive series of executive orders to, among other things, require background checks on all gun sales; restore a ban on military-style assault weapons; ban gun magazines with capacities of more than 10 rounds; and toughen penalties on people who sell guns to those who can't have them.
These restrictions are reasonable. Previously, people buying guns in gun shops were required to submit to background checks. Why not people buying guns at gun shows? It doesn’t make sense. Whether you buy a new car from a dealership, or a used car from a dealer or a private party, you need to be a licensed driver and the car has to be registered with the state. Why shouldn’t we be required to prove the right to own a gun and to register it?
Some claim that this is the beginning of a tyrannical dictatorship. They liken President Obama to Stalin and Hitler and Mao because of his executive orders. President George W. Bush issued 291 executive orders during his presidency (to Obama’s 144 executive orders so far); he wasn’t tarred with such labels. The real problem comes when sheriffs and law enforcement in over a dozen states have said they will not enforce the president’s executive orders. Furthermore, at least half a dozen states are considering legislation that would make it a crime for federal law enforcement to enforce these laws in their states. I do not understand how these men and women of law and order, who took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America (which, in Article II, Section 1, Clause 1 allows for “Executive Powers”), can suddenly refuse to do so. If the chief executive issues an order, bound by law, then law enforcement officers must uphold it.
Some advocates of unrestricted gun ownership claim that Adolf Hitler compelled the German people to “turn in their guns.” This simply is not true. According to historian William Pierce, “German firearms legislation under Hitler, far from banning private ownership, actually facilitated the keeping and bearing of arms by German citizens by eliminating or ameliorating restrictive laws which had been enacted by the government preceding his: a left-center government which had contained a number of Jews.” The comparison of Obama to Hitler is simply ludicrous
Why would any clear-thinking person have a problem with the restriction of being able to buy only gun a month, as proposed by Massachusetts Governor Patrick in a bill he plans to file on Wednesday? You could still buy a handgun for self-defense, and a shotgun and a rifle for hunting within about 90 days. As Jon Stewart points out, it’s illegal to own tanks, F-16 fighter jets, and “surface-to-air anything” because it would be dangerous and nobody needs that. I would extend his list to military-style assault weapons and 30-bullet clips.
Proposals to arm every schoolteacher in America are so far outside the mainstream as to not be taken seriously. Adding even more guns into society – especially the society of our most vulnerable and innocent, our schoolchildren – is like pouring gasoline onto a spark near a powder keg to try to put it out. It just won’t work, and, most likely, will explode.
The solution to gun violence is indeed multi-faceted. It must include mental health reform, stricter regulations for the purchase of firearms and ammunition, universal background checks, and longer mandatory sentences for convicted offenders.
To ensure the safety of our all our citizens, we need to limit the amount of guns being sold. We need register guns whenever and wherever they’re purchased – just like cars and trucks – so those who own them are responsible for them. We need to ban assault rifles and high-capacity clips. We need to reform the mental health sytem. And we need to have better education.
We shouldn’t be afraid of saving ourselves and doing the right thing for our country. Let’s take the steps to change our society for the better. Let’s make gun control a real discussion and generate some real results.