To the editor:
Thirty thousand people – three times the population of Davidson – died in gun-related incidents last year in our country. You would think the government would do something.
As most know, however, the Senate recently killed a bipartisan piece of legislation calling for enhanced background checks as a reasonable step in establishing more responsible gun ownership. According to many polls, around 90 percent of Americans supported passage of the enhanced background check requirement.
Unfortunately, our system of government and our Constitution sometimes function in the short-term in a way that is anti-democratic. The defeat of the gun legislation demonstrates that the will of the people does not always immediately triumph even in a government established of the People, by the People and for the People.
The future, however, is bright for supporters of responsible gun regulation. Opponents of responsible gun regulation are now on the wrong side of history. Once the people decide that they want something a certain way, their will can only be thwarted for so long. The overwhelming support for reasonable gun regulation is now clear. In addition, public attention directed to this issue will demonstrate that the arguments made by opponents of reasonable gun regulation are flawed and wrong.
The gun measure failed in the Senate not because there is doubt over the essential rightness of reasonable gun regulation, but because in the short-term it is still too politically dangerous. As all know, the opponents of reasonable gun legislation are very organized and very well funded. They lobby very loudly while they quietly tell key legislators they will be punished if they vote a certain way. They are very good at this even though it is anti-democratic.
Yet the debate on this issue is now set and will continue. As it does, the emptiness of the arguments made by the Gun Lobby will become more plain. Legislators will gain backbone as they take heat for failing to move on this issue. This is what happens when history swings against a losing argument.
And the arguments made by opponents of reasonable gun regulation are losing arguments as demonstrated by consideration of just a few of them. For example:
First, to the extent gun regulation opponents argue that enhanced background checks violate the Second Amendment; they are wrong. The Second Amendment undoubtedly sets forth a personal right to keep and bear firearms and the Supreme Court has said so very recently. But no constitutional right is unlimited. Try, for example, to hold a large political rally wherever and whenever you want without notifying any governmental authority. Every American possesses freedom of speech and assembly under the First Amendment. Yet the courts have long recognized time, place and manner restrictions requiring permits for demonstrations and restricting them to designated times and places. Similarly, certain weapons such as fully-automatic machine guns are already regulated in this Country and have been for a long time. This is why none, or very few, of the mass-shooting tragedies we repeatedly suffer involve fully-automatic weapons. Thankfully, the Second Amendment is no more unlimited than any other constitutional right.
Second, no one is trying to take guns away. No one is telling any US citizen that they cannot legally possess weapons for self-defense, collecting, hunting or other sporting purposes. The only thing law-abiding citizens will need to do is similar to what they need to do to drive a car. There is a generally recognized constitutional right to interstate travel yet, if you want to do so in a car, you have to get a license and in most States, take certain tests, get insurance and so forth. No one really complains about this. As this debate unfolds, there will likely be regulation of certain weapons or accessories such as high-powered military style assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. I suspect that most of our citizens will come to realize that they can hunt, sport shoot and defend the home without weapons whose design is specifically oriented toward the efficient killing of enemy combatants under battlefield conditions.
Third, is the old saw that if we regulate common citizens, criminals will still find ways to get guns. Yes, of course this is true. This is because criminals are … criminals and not generally in the habit of obeying the law. This argument has always been a red herring. The fact is that most criminals get their weapons by stealing them; usually from the home of some law-abiding citizen. Or they buy them from another criminal who stole them. Having guns stolen from houses is one of the prices we pay for having a right to own them. Proponents of reasonable gun regulation do not use this fact as an argument to ban guns or to repeal the Second Amendment – but only as an argument for regulating the types of guns that can be kept in the home.
Fourth is the argument made in the wake of every mass gun tragedy that new regulation being proposed would not have prevented the tragedy. Well, who knows? It is always cheap and easy to say that a law which is not in effect would be ineffective. But more importantly, this argument is simply nonsensical. It is like saying that since murder occurs even though there are laws on the books against murder; we should do nothing to review and periodically improve the laws against murder. No reasonable person would say this and it is not an argument against considering improvements to current law.
There are more arguments that could be similarly refuted. The point is that the argument is now joined in the mind of the public. There will be more mass gun tragedies made worse by the lack of legal tools to control who can get powerful military-style weapons. After each, the empty arguments of the Gun Lobby will empty a little further and its power will wane. Constituents will demand action from legislators and punish inaction – as has already happened in New Hampshire and a few other places. Our legislators will find courage in that, at last.
The only question is how many more tragedies must we endure before the Congress finds its backbone?
Ray Kolls is a resident of Davidson and a moderate, pro-business Democrat who is conservative (in the context of his party) on fiscal issues and progressive on most social issues. He believes that if you want to write something like the above, you should declare where you stand.
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