Thursday, February 14, 2013

Out of control

I'm the first to admit that the entire gun control debate leaves me puzzled. But, I'm the first to say I'm happy we're finally having it.

The wording of the Second Amendment has always left me in a bit of a quandary. Yes, we have the right to bear arms ... but there are some practical limits that are included in the working of the amendment itself. Certain registration laws and restrictions have been ruled constitutional. The Founding Fathers didn't want mob rule, even if there is serious disagreement about what they were thinking when the amendment was written. In other words, no one is suggesting that I have the right to have a nuclear cannon on my porch.

On the other side, very few people argue that people don't have the right to defend their lives or property in certain situations. Throw in the fact responsible sportsmen should maintain the right to hunt.

Fine. But where exactly is the line between the two?

I can't tell you. But I know we've been doing a bad job of guessing where it is.

Take a look around the world, and America is at the bottom of all of the statistical categories when it comes to deaths and injuries connected to guns. The fatalities usually take place one at a time and thus only receive a little publicity in a specific area. But there are said to be 30 such incidents a day across the country. And then there's some dreadful incident, in which a high-profile person or an entire group of people gets shot. Then we think about the issue for a while, bring it up to politicians who write the laws, and then watch those attempts at new regulations die in committee.

I was surprised that the shooting spree at Columbine High School or in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater didn't spark some sort of national conversation. After all, the idea of having the right to attend school or a film safely seems pretty basic. But it's very hard to legislate against all disturbed people, let alone cover every possible violation of the law centering on a weapon.

Then came along Sandy Hook Elementary School. Would a mass shooting of very young children in a school start that conversation? Indeed it has. President Obama, safely reelected and in possession of some political capital, has taken the lead at examining what we as a nation need to do to prevent such incidents.

Such a discussion is good for us all ... if it's a reasonable one. For whatever reason, though, groups such as the National Rifle Association have come off as somewhat tone-deaf in the weeks since Sandy Hook. Do we really want to have elementary school teachers carry guns on their person, since you don't exactly want those guns sitting in the drawer where 7-year-olds can grab them? Pro-gun rights rally seem to attract many hard-core advocates, who seem to think the government is ready to go house to house any minute now in order to take away their hunting rifle. They probably aren't representative of that segment of the population as a whole, and are quoted in the media because they are provocative, but they are out there.

The NRA and its supporters do have political clout, though. In a world in which Republican Presidential candidates used gun ownership as a tool to rally support last year, it's a little unrealistic to think very much will get done on this issue. We're too divided, too lacking in trust in the other side on most issues including this one.

Some sort of legislation, even it's a small step or three, seems likely because of Sandy Hook. A majority of citizens - in some cases, a large majority - want something done, such as better registration laws or restrictions against certain types of weapons. Here's a suggestion to the gun rights advocates - you are better off being inside the room, where negotiations are taking place, than outside the room. I'd like to think both sides could talk this out rather than just shout at each other from a distance.

A little sanity in the public discourse might create a little more sanity in our society if we do it right.

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