Balancing right to gun ownership against right to safety


If it hasn't been clear already, those who espouse unfettered gun ownership on grounds of public safety are lethally wrong.

There's a difference between reasonable gun ownership and the current state of affairs where military-grade weapons that have no other purpose other than to kill the maximum number of people possible are easily and legally obtainable.

Extreme gun ownership proponents have for years asserted that gun ownership will make everyone safer; these past few months of gun massacres have shown concretely otherwise: Twelve dead in a Colorado movie theater, six dead (plus the perpetrator) in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and five dead (plus perpetrator) in a Minnesota factory. Now, 26 dead--20 of them children--plus perpetrator in an elementary school in Connecticut. The victim's mother, killed at home, makes the total 28.

Guns are inherently dangerous objects--the slogan that "guns don't kill people, people do" overlooks the inherent function of a gun: killing people. All other things being equal, people who live in households with guns are more likely to die from a firearm homicide and more likely to commit suicide. Guns make accidents and incoherent thoughts assume concrete action far faster than other instruments.

Already some have made the false argument that had someone at hand in those massacres possessed a gun, the shooter would have been brought quickly down with minimal loss of life. This is, of course, a fantasy.

Guns are not neutral objects to be dispersed as widely as possible for quick drawing. This vision of righteous gun owners bravely stepping up against a deranged killer overlooks the likelihood that the same gun owner may have been already victimized by his own gun. Even more immediately, it overlooks the lack of clarity such situations play out in, the high potential for mistaking friend for foe, unsteady marksmanship, and panic. Those who carry a gun professionally undergo training that must be continually renewed; those who expect to use them often we call soldiers. Amateurs in their first, and probably only, live-shooting situation are unlikely to match those professionals' ability. They could as easily shoot a police officer as a killer.

In this country we have a constitutional right to bear arms and nobody can take this away from us. However, there are degrees by which that right plays out--no right is absolute. The First Amendment is constrained by anti-defamation status, laws against criminal incitement and false commercial claims. The gun that the Connecticut elementary school shooter used is a Bushmaster AR-15 assault-type weapon. It was legally purchased by his mother. It was used to kill children. It's time to make ownership of those weapons harder.

Someone may be inclined to mouth the other tired cliché of unfettered gun ownership--that "when guns are illegal, only criminals will have guns." If so, don't overlook the fact that it would make America a safer place. In the 62 mass shootings that have occurred inside the United States from 1982 onward, nearly all were undertaken with legally obtained weapons, notes Mother Jones.

In any case, the Constitution makes talk of a total gun ban specious. No one has seriously proposed to ban all guns here. What's needed now is balance--a weighing of individual gun rights against our ability to safely go to school, to work, to religious gatherings, to the movies. Mass shooters favor fast guns over revolvers and shotguns--semiautomatics and assault weapons. Greater restrictions in permissive gun ownership in those classes of weapons would be a step toward that balance. - Dave