Disarming the Gun Debate: The Case for Freedom in Moderation

February 6, 20132 Comments

It’s lonely in the middle.

It’s one of the smartest observations my wife has ever made. We’ve been talking a lot about guns lately—ever since twenty little kids no different from our son got blown away by another kid armed with an assault rifle just a few hours up the road. We’re parents; we can’t help it. In our more gullible moments, we’ve fantasized about a world without guns, a world in which children will never again be torn to shreds by hollow-point bullets in a schoolhouse, or anywhere else.

But we haven’t capitulated to illusion.

We are realists, and we value our freedoms. We don’t want to live in a police state. We want to live in a rational state—where moderation crowds out extremism and individual liberties are harmonized with the demands of social responsibility. Unfortunately, harmony is a hard sell in our polarized society. Judging by the war of words raging in the press over gun rights and gun control, it seems our nation is closer to the America of 1863 than 1789. The “more perfect union” of which our founders dreamed feels like a distant dream.

But I’m not sure I buy it. I’m not certain the great divide over guns really exists, at least among the majority of Americans who neither support a universal gun ban nor worry too much about Hitler reincarnate taking over the White House. I think this debate, which so many call intractable, could be resolved—and thousands of lives saved—if only we would, as a nation, tune out the howling hyperpartisans on the fringe, ignore the conspiracy theorists on YouTube, and come together in a spirit of reason and goodwill.

Let’s try it, shall we?

I’m not pro-gun or anti-gun. I’m pro-safety and anti-death. I bet you are, too. I have a healthy respect for guns. I’ve shot quite a few in my life. I appreciate their utility and their lethality. Let’s be honest: the gun is the most efficient personal killing machine ever invented. That’s why we issue one to every police officer and soldier, why we want one in our hands when confronting a burglar or a grizzly bear, and why we don’t want one in the hands of Adam Lanza or a curious three-year-old exploring her parents’ bedroom. Perhaps I’m naïve, but I don’t think the interests of self-defense and safety are mutually exclusive. I think it’s possible to strike a balance between gun rights and gun control using a bit of neighborly common sense.

Consider what we’ve done with automobiles—an inherently benign invention but deadly in the wrong hands. Our government regulates their manufacture and sale; we require drivers to be licensed and to pass tests of knowledge and competency; we require vehicles to be registered and annually inspected; we restrict emissions to prevent pollution; we ban Formula One cars and monster trucks from our roadways; we require our children to ride in safety seats; we spend millions a year on automobile safety research and billions on law enforcement to ensure that cars are handled responsibly and drunks and unlicensed drivers are kept off the street. Apart from trifling grumbles about long lines at the DMV, we have few qualms with our automobile regulatory scheme. Why? Because we are convinced, with good reason, that such restrictions make us safer.

Why can’t we do the same with guns?

Consider the price we are paying for the status quo. America’s homicide rate (67% gun-related) is triple that of Canada and five times that of Australia. Every year, over 10,000 Americans are murdered with a gun, compared to about 170 in Canada and 40 in Britain. Another 20,000 Americans are killed by firearm accidents and suicides. In the past decade, the U.S. has had roughly 60 mass shootings—17 in 2012 alone—compared to 20 in Europe, which has twice our population.

Either Americans are far more murderous than our counterparts in the developed world, or we have a massive gun problem. Logic suggests the latter.

Half of the world’s civilian-owned firearms are in the United States. At the same time, we have the laxest gun laws among developed countries, a badly neglected firearm enforcement bureau (the ATF), and a moratorium on firearm safety research, thanks to the gun lobby and feckless politicians. Private gun sales are untraceable, meaning that any person—including criminals and the mentally ill—may acquire a gun from another person without the police knowing about it. In many states, there is no limit on the number of guns and ammunition that one may purchase at a single time—a loophole that criminals exploit by paying straw purchasers (people with no criminal record) to buy guns for them.

Under the open carry laws in states like Virginia, any gun owner may carry a loaded firearm in public—including into grocery stores with moms and their kids—so long as the gun is held in plain view; no license is required. Our concealed carry laws are only marginally better. In Virginia, a gun owner may apply for a permit to carry a concealed weapon after completing a hunter’s safety course as a kid. Competency with the firearm need not be tested. With a concealed carry permit, a gun owner can take a loaded gun just about anywhere.

There is no legal limit on the number of guns that Americans can own, and many have arsenals. Alex Jones, one of the architects of the petition to deport Piers Morgan, claimed to have more than 50 guns. Moreover, no state that I am aware of requires gun owners to keep their firearms locked in a safe, though many take that precaution. Unfortunately, those that don’t sometimes make the news in tragic ways—either as a relative grieving a child killed by an accidental discharge or as a homicide victim like Nancy Lanza, slain with her own gun.

In addition, America’s gun manufacturers, constrained only by a 1930’s-era ban on fully automatic weapons, have invented semi-automatic weapons that behave in much the same way, despite requiring multiple trigger-pulls. The gun companies also peddle high-capacity magazines, drums, and strips that hold up to 100 bullets and novelty items like armor-piercing rounds, hollow-point bullets, and fingerprint-proof paint. As retailers like Walmart know quite well, guns and their accessories are a huge growth industry.

Given the flood of firearms in the United States and the absence of almost any meaningful regulation on their purchase and use, it is any wonder that we are reaping a whirlwind of gun violence and death?

What, then, is the solution?

To answer this question, we need to get clear about the obstacles we face. As I have argued with sex trafficking, if you want to understand our present dystopia, follow the money. Guns are not political kryptonite because of the Constitution. Everyone (well, just about everyone) knows the right to bear arms is not absolute anymore than the right of free speech. The Second Amendment is a diversion; the real problem is corruption. Our politicians are beholden to the gun lobby for campaign contributions and political endorsements, and the gun lobby, in turn, is beholden to gun companies.

Unfortunately for us, the status quo is good for business.

To overcome this political juggernaut, we the people have to speak with a united voice. We have to engage in calm, thoughtful dialogue about ways to make our country safer and then demand that our leaders act in our interest, not in their self-interest. In the past forty years, common sense car regulations have saved thousands of lives. We can do the same with guns.

But we need to act together, and we need to act now.

2 Responses to “Disarming the Gun Debate: The Case for Freedom in Moderation”

  1. Sara Kearney

    How refreshing it is to read what you have written. I couldn’t agree more with your approach. Although I would prefer to see no guns at all, I would like to respect the rights of those who disagree with my beliefs. But how do we get this message out?

  2. Jagriti Sachania

    Very well said! Could not agree any more! Our kids needs to be 21 to drink how about same age before parents are allowed to let their hands on it meaning have to have those gun locked.

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