Repost: A Rational Argument for Common Sense Gun Control

Not far from the neighborhood where I grew up, a police officer was shot and killed serving a warrant yesterday morning.

The day before yesterday, a former employee of a northern Florida trucking company, went on a shooting rampage before turning the gun on himself. Last night, farther south in Florida, police shot it out with a murder suspect as they were trying to arrest him for an Aug. 11 shooting murder, and a hotel guest was shot. Also yesterday, a woman at Faulkner University in Alabama was shot on campus at around noon, in what police are calling a “possible domestic violence” situation.

Last week, a baseball player from Australia was shot and killed by a few teenagers who claimed they were just “bored.”

Late last year, a man was able to get hold of his mother’s AR-15, and shoot up Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, killing 26, including 20 under the age of 8.

Earlier last year, a man went into the back door of a dark movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, decked head to toe in Kevlar, and shot people pretty much at will.

Every single day, about 316 people are shot by a gun, with 83 of those dying as a result. That’s each and every day.  Now, no one expects that to ever go to zero. But it should certainly be a goal, don’t you think? The other day, the government set new standards for workers’ exposure to silica dust, with the aim of saving 700 lives per year. If we can stop even five percent of those who are shot every year, that’s 5,000 shootings, and 1,500 deaths every single year. Why would we not want to do that? And frankly, we can do a lot better than five percent.

The problem we have is actually quite easy to solve.

The Sandy Hook shooter was able to get hold of his mother’s gun and enough ammo to do some serious damage, without any problem at all. The Aurora shooter was able to buy dozens of guns and thousands of rounds without so much as a background check. The little jerk who shot Gabby Giffords and many others needed a doctor’s clearance to return to class at Pima Community College, but when he tried to purchase the gun he used to massacre those people, and the shop did the instant background check, he was cleared.

There is no doubt there is a serious gun problem in this country. The problem isn’t the guns themselves, as  gunloons love to tell us. But gun control isn’t about the guns, it’s about making sure the wrong people don’t get them and are less able to violate our rights. The concept of “freedom” has been twisted by the gun culture to protect gun owners and carriers from any “inconvenience” whatsoever, without consideration of our collective freedom to not be shot and the “inconvenience” of being shot and either hospitalized or killed. How free are we, really, if we aren’t sure the bad guys aren’t armed to the teeth, because almost no one buying a gun is being properly screened. There may be “too many” gun laws, but as they currently exist, they are completely inadequate. A report by NBC News shows just how easy it is for one person to buy a gun legally, through licensed gun dealers, and then list the gun for sale, with no legal requirements for doing so:

That’s how about 40 percent of all guns are obtained. As the old saying goes, it’s a loophole big enough to drive a Mack Truck through. In all but a handful of states, there is no requirement that a private seller conduct a background check on a buyer. A gun buyer can legally buy an arsenal of deadly weapons, and if he or she resells them through private methods, there is no requirement in most states that the seller even ask a question like, “are you a convicted felon?” or “Have you ever been committed to a mental hospital, or diagnosed as a violent sociopath?” These folks could be selling to anyone, and there is no recourse if they sell or give the gun to someone who eventually shoots others. And, as in the case of the Aurora theater shooter, Internet sales also don’t require a background check, or even identification.

To say the law is flawed is an understatement.

This proposal isn’t about mass confiscation. Such a thing is impossible and would be unconstitutional. It is about common sense regulation, which is not only necessary, but is required by the same Constitution that contains the Second Amendment. The Constitution is a big document; and each clause does not work in isolation from all other clauses. As part of the “militia,” you have the right to keep and bear arms; there is no doubt about that. But Article I, Section 8 also gives the government the power to regulate that militia and its arms.  Here’s the Second Amendment:

Amendment II

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.

And here is the relevant portion of Article I, Section 8:

Section. 8

The Congress shall have Power To: (…)

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Guns are also “interstate commerce,” so the Commerce Clause would apply as well. Guns are not special exemptions. The words “gun: or “firearms” do not appear in the Second Amendment, or anywhere else in the Constitution. Even the strongest gun advocates have to admit we can’t keep a rocket launcher or nuclear warhead in our backyard. Even the mucky-mucks in the NRA would call the police and sue if any one of them discovered a chemical weapons plant in his neighbor’s basement. Those are also “arms.” Obviously, we can regulate nukes and chemical weapons as “arms,” so why is it so controversial to simply differentiate between different types of arms, and make rules regarding who can have them and when, and even how many? The Constitution actually mandates it.

And don’t use the emotional argument, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” Since gun control is about keeping guns out of the hands of the wrong people, that argument is ridiculous. A gun locked in a gun safe isn’t dangerous, and no one wants to take those. The issue is keeping the gun in the safe and/or out of the hands of people who might pose a danger to others. A variation of this silly argument has been making the rounds in recent years:

If guns kill people, then pencils misspell words, cars drive drunk, and spoons make people fat. Remember: Hold the person accountable for their actions, not the means they chose to utilize!!!

No, pencils don’t misspell words, and spoons don’t make people fat. But they are regulated to save lives. Pencils and spoons both used to be made with lead, and when it was found out that pencils and spoons were making people sick, the government regulated then. I think we can all agree that guns are more dangerous than guns and spoons – that’s why they were used in that argument. Yet pencils and spoons are more highly regulated than guns. 

The issue is not whether or not people kill people. Of course they do.  And when people demonstrate a level of irresponsibility that results in 30,000 deaths a year, most sane people would agree that a higher level of responsibility should be enforced. And the Constitution and case law back up the concept that government should be regulating guns. Check out this case, decided by a conservative Supreme Court in the 1930s; US v Miller. While the government can’t ban guns altogether, they most certainly can regulate them. Even far right icon Justice Antonin Scalia agreed in his decision in DC vs. Heller.

Now, what about the “cars don’t drive drunk, people do” example above?

You have a right to drive. It’s not a privilege, it’s a right. But as is the case with all rights, your right to exercise it depends on a balance between your right to drive and everyone else’s safety on the road.  To drive a vehicle legally, the operator must have a license, requiring the holder demonstrate minimal competence behind the wheel. The driver must be able to see and read road signs, show physical capability to operate a vehicle safely, and demonstrate knowledge of driving laws and regulations. Also, if your doctor finds that you can no longer be trusted to drive, he is legally required to report you to the state motor vehicle department, and your license can be suspended pending a hearing. Likewise, if you can’t demonstrate financial responsibility in case of an accident, in the form of either insurance or a bond, you lose your license. If you demonstrate irresponsibility on the road, your license can be taken away for that, as well.

Every vehicle must also be registered with the state, and each owner is responsible for maintaining his or her vehicle. If your car is involved in an accident, the state knows who to go to. Even a licensed driver can’t drive a tank or a rocket car. In other words, you have a right to drive a vehicle you own, but that right is balanced with the right of everyone else to drive their vehicle safely.

Why don’t we treat guns and gun owners like vehicles and their drivers?

All guns should be registered, and all gun owners licensed and made to demonstrate financial responsibility, in the form of insurance or a bond. Gun owners should have to attend gun safety courses and demonstrate a minimal competence and a knowledge of basic gun laws in order to keep and/or carry a firearm. All gun owners should also have to insure every gun, and be required to report it every time their gun is missing or stolen. As with vehicles, registration, licensing and insurance costs could be indexed to the type of gun, and the potential damage. Shotguns could carry a low registration cost, and would probably also be very cheap to insure. A small handgun for personal protection might cost a little more, while military-style weapons could cost a lot more.

It’s no secret that some people are not naturally responsible, and must have it enforced upon them, under penalty of law. We do that with everything else; why do guns get a pass? If the cost of lead was half the price of stainless steel, do you think manufacturers would hesitate to continue to use it in pencils and spoons, if they could do so legally? Laws, regulation and enforcement are what keep us safe.

We have to do a better job of enforcing the laws already on the books. There probably are too many gun laws on the books, but there are also too few mechanisms in the law to enforce them. Convicted felons and the mentally ill are not allowed weapons, but if we don’t screen for that every time a gun is sold, what good is the law? Ever try to sell a car without signing over the registration and pink slip, and transferring responsibility?

We already have a version of this common sense regulation in place in a number of states, in the form of concealed carry permits. The holders of such permits are licensed, their guns are registered, and they have to demonstrate a competence in handling a firearm that makes it unlikely they will do anything stupid. Let’s just expand the concept to all gun owners.

The problem isn’t the guns; it’s the people. But as is the case with every other aspect of our society, we have to make rules that protect the majority from the crazy minority. Even though the United States has less than 5% of the world’s population, 45% of the world’s gun murders occur here We have a problem, and we have to fix it.

It’s just common sense.