Thursday, June 23, 2016

What Kinds of Guns and How Much Gun Control Do We Need?

In the wake of the recent, terrible massacre in Orlando, House Democrats and Republicans worked together to author and pass a bill that would have imposed modest restrictions on legal gun sales to certain people deemed a credible threat for gun violence. Presumably the passing of this measure would have prevented the Orlando mass-murderer from legally obtaining the weapons he used to kill 49 people and wound 53.

But the bipartisan supporters of this bill were unable to secure the number of votes necessary to overcome procedural blockage to bringing the bill before the entire House for a vote, and the subsequent 25-hour Democratic sit-in aimed at appealing to the public and the rest of Congress to have the bill brought up for a vote was eventually swept aside by Republican House Speaker Ryan, and the Republican controlled House of Representatives continued on with business as usual blocking all gun reform.

Discussions I've seen since then on Facebook and elsewhere continue to plow the same fruitless ground, and, frankly, I don't know what to think. What if any restrictions should be placed on gun ownership? Who should be allowed to own guns and related accessories, what kinds of guns and accessories should they be allowed to own, who decides, and who enforces the decisions? And would implementing stronger gun control measures on a state-by-state or federal scale significantly diminish gun deaths and violence in a country plagued with gun deaths and violence?

Both sides of the issue marshal statistics to support their cause, and, especially given my uneasy familiarity with such maxims as "Figures lie and liars figure," I don't know what to make of them. The "pro-gun" people cite figures that gun ownership stops more crime than it causes; their opponents argue the opposite with their own figures.

And then, of course, "pro-gun" people cite the Second Amendment as ironclad proof that virtually every American citizen has a right to own guns, despite the counterargument that the Second Amendment refers only to gun ownership in a "well-regulated militia" and was authored at a time when muzzle-loading muskets were the standard firearm and posed far, far less of a threat for mass-shootings than assault style semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines do today.

But the impression I get from discussing this issue at any length with ardent "pro-gun" people is that the real reason to make widespread gun ownership free and easy is not because of the Second Amendment or as a means of deterring or stopping crime, but as a way of deterring or stopping the federal government from tyrannizing the American people.

That's right, if Obama or some godless Democratic president ever gets it in his or her head that we should all be thrown into concentration camps or subjected to complete government oppression, we can grab our assault weapons and fight off the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, and Seal Team 6, and retain our freedoms as true-blue, flag-waving, apple pie devouring Americans.

In fact, one person on Facebook said, with less melodramatic elaboration, this very thing to me this morning. And I responded by asking him whether, in order to counteract the awesome weaponry of the U.S. military, private citizens should be allowed, if they can afford it, to possess the same weaponry as the U.S. military, including fully automatic weapons, flame throwers, tanks, cluster bombs, chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and so forth. For if not, how credible a deterrent can the American people offer to a military takeover, and, if so, what danger would we be in from religious and political zealots and the mentally ill armed with military grade weapons of mass destruction?

I never got an answer from him. He just kept going back to the Second Amendment. I know the Supreme Court has traditionally interpreted the Second Amendment as granting private citizens outside "well-regulated militias" the right to "bear arms," but I guess I need to investigate the legal rationale for this as it seems to me very clear from reading the words alone that this right applies only to citizens manning said militias.

Aside from that, I'd like to see probing discussion in the media and elsewhere of the very issue I raise about which weapons private citizens should be allowed to own in order to deter or stop government tyranny, because I can't say that I've seen much or any such discussion.

I personally don't see compelling reason for why we shouldn't prohibit the sale and ownership of all assault style weaponry, high capacity magazines, and military type body armor, except, perhaps, with well-regulated exceptions, or why we shouldn't impose draconian sanctions on those who defy these prohibitions or, at least, who commit crimes using prohibited weaponry and accessories. People can still defend themselves with more modest weapons like conventional shotguns, hunting rifles, revolvers, and semi-automatic handguns, and they can still indulge their passion for recreational shooting or their need to hunt for food to put on the table without wielding AR-15's with 75-round drums.

These are just preliminary thoughts of mine about this perennial issue of gun control. Maybe I'll have more to say after I've investigated the matter further.

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