Guns … C’mon

As for the gun-control debate  — which, by the way, fades every few months — I am somewhat torn about the desirable scope of additional legislation, The Heller decision that established the right to keep and bear arms as a fundamental right under the second amendment (1) limited that right only to the types of arms in existence at the time the amendment was enacted, (2) expressly stated that the amendment does not prohibit “dangerous and unusual weapons” (probably like military-style assault rifles), and (3) expressly stated that the amendment does not prohibit reasonable regulations forbidding firearms of any kind in the hands of felons, the mentally ill, in sensitive public places such as schools or government buildings, or “conditions and qualifications” on the sale of firearms. Thus, the “right” conferred by the amendment –like fundamental rights conferred by other amendments– is not at all absolute. 

Thus, the contention of those who would glibly declare that the right to keep and bear arms is absolute in the sense of being beyond the purview of any governmental regulation is just flat wrong. In addition, any contention that the imposition of a particular regulation upon the right forecasts the outright abolition of the right (i.e., a slippery-slope argument) is entirely unfounded because the fundamental right to keep and bear arms –at least ordinary “guns” for lawful purposes by non-felons and non-mentally ill persons for private use or display in private places (like the home)–  is a right that cannot be infringed by governmental regulation.

The latest argument by the NRA leadership is that further gun control regulations will “not stop criminals,” and therefore there is no cause for additional regulation. This argument, of course, essentially advances the proposition that we have no cause as a society to have any laws of any kind for the simple reason that “criminals” (who by definition break the law) will not obey the law. The ostensible logic is that we ought not to have any speed-limit laws because some people don’t obey those laws. In short, the argument overlooks the unassailable fact that laws generally deter law-breaking or, at least, make it more difficult for people to break the law.  

As Joe Biden correctly observed no gun regulations can guarantee that our nation will not face future, sick mass murders as we have witnessed so dramatically in recent years. So too, there should be no expectation that gun regulations can appreciably reduce violent crimes. Instead, the problem we face is that roughly 12,000 people are killed each year in this country by guns. Guns do fall into the hands of felons and the mentally ill. Universal background checks (without loopholes) promise, as a matter of common sense, to at least reduce somewhat the likelihood that guns cannot be as easily obtained by felons and the mentally ill as would be the case in the absence of such comprehensive checks. In turn, that promise is likely to save at least some lives each year, even though that would be hard to empirically quantify. Just as the HIPPA laws are quite stringent and effective to ensure privacy with respect to medical records, so too records of individuals possessing guns based on a background check can be kept private and limited to the proper use of law enforcement authorities only in prescribed circumstances.

I own a number of guns including several that might be described as “assault weapons”.  I enjoy shooting and hunting, yet I wonder about “assault weapons” and about resurrecting the former assault-weapons ban. As stated above, the second amendment is no barrier to such regulation. Does it not stand to reason (or common sense) that, if we at least reduce the number of such weapons in our society, we may reduce at least somewhat the possibility that these weapons might be used to cause mass killings?

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