The Herald Bulletin

February 23, 2013

Editorial: Greater gun control: Rational response to random shootings

The Herald Bulletin

— Fear. Paranoia. Distrust.

These are among the roiling emotions fueling the gun-control debate examined today in The Herald Bulletin’s special report.

On the side of greater gun control, people fear mass shootings like December’s in Newtown, Conn. On the other side, they fear armed intruders breaking into their homes or armed assailants stalking the streets.

Distrust of the government is a strong motivator, as well. Rumors circulate that President Obama and his supporters are pushing greater gun control so that the government will have superior fire power and be able to squash its opponents. These rumors, of course, are ridiculous.

That’s a big part of the challenge in determining the right course for the nation when it comes to gun control, separating the ridiculous and the outlandish from the practical and the probable.

First of all, any thought of striking down the Second Amendment would be inane, partially because diminishing the Bill of Rights would put us on a slippery slope, sliding quickly away from liberty. It is the right of Americans to bear arms.

But, which arms? That is the question.

This is where public safety takes priority. The level of armament that an individual can acquire should be limited. The line has to be drawn somewhere.

Practicality also informs us that criminal record, age and mental health should be mitigating factors when it comes to Second Amendment rights. Right now, in this country, many 18-year-olds can get a semi-automatic weapon with relative ease and speed. People who have a history of mental illness can get such firearms, as well.

Now, there are many wonderful teenagers and many wonderful people who suffer from mental illness, but it’s not unreasonable to make maturity and mental stability prerequisites for gun ownership and use.

President Obama’s proposal to help defuse gun violence would address most of these concerns with moderate but effective measures. His proposal would, among other results, ban assault weapons, provide more counseling in schools and make background checks compulsory for those who wish to purchase guns.

Some have pitted against Obama’s proposal the observation that the new laws would be followed only by those who follow laws. Therefore, they argue, the stricter gun-control laws should not be enacted because they would take assault rifles from the hands of law-abiding citizens while criminals would still acquire them. But following this logic leads you to the conclusion that all laws are useless.

The value of laws, of course, lies in their ability to make an act more difficult to commit, as well as in their ability to attach penalties to acts that potentially harm others. Yes, law-abiding citizens will follow gun-control laws just because they’re the laws. Others will be compelled to follow them, too, not because they are good human beings but because the presence of the law makes it more difficult to get guns, and the breaking of the law brings the possibility of fines and imprisonment.

The gun-control issue is thorny and complex. But when it comes down to it, the proof of the need lies in the danger that guns present as evidenced by the murder of innocents at Sandy Hook and in dozens of other mass, random shootings over the past decade in the United States.

Responsible gun ownership should not be threatened. But the federal government must move to limit the sorts of firearms available and who has access to them. It’s literally a matter of life-and-death, even from an unemotional point of view.

In summary

The Second Amendment and responsible gun ownership should not be threatened. But the federal government must move to limit the sorts of firearms available and who has access to them.