This essay has been in the making for a few years. The recent incident in Arizona makes it necessary to take a stand. One of the big reasons it took me this long to “put pen to paper” is that solid reliable data is difficult if not impossible to obtain but hyperbole runs ramped and emotions run high on both sides of the debate. This is a complex issue that doesn’t have a single simple solution. My suggestions will disappoint both the progressives and conservatives but I feel they are realistic, reasonable and innovative.
Guns are here to stay
There is a very small group on the extreme left that would like to melt down all the guns and dump them in the bottom of the ocean. That is not in the best interest of America and is not going to happen. Contrary to right wing rhetoric, the group that advocates this position is extremely small! Personally I have only run into one rank and file Democrat and no elected officials who privately or publically advocated this position. In contrast, I know countless Democrats who are gun owners. One of my most left leaning friends talks of the “small arsenal” he has. The myth that the Democrats are all liberals who want to take people’s guns away is just that, a myth designed to stir up emotions, money for the N.R.A. and support for the Republicans.
Guns are part of the American culture, certainly more so in some regions of the country than others, but nationwide none the less. The passing down of a firearm from generation to generation in this country is something many take great pride in. Many on the left cite examples and statistic from other countries but America is unique and it demands unique solutions.
While I personally choose not to hunt I am glad many do. Hunting serves a useful purpose by thinning out the herds and making life better for the surviving of the species as well as humans. I’d rather have my neighbor shoot a deer than my wife kill one with a vehicle full of grandchildren. It’s better for all concerned including the deer.
Personal protection is a legitimate concern. Law enforcement matters are best left to law enforcement professionals. That being said, it is simply impossible for law enforcement officers to be everywhere all the time. Even outstanding response is often inadequate in split second, life threatening situations. A personal firearm is often the only answer and unfortunately even that is sometimes inadequate.
The Second Amendment dilemma
Below is the text of the Second Amendment as punctualized and capitalized in the form that the States ratified:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
A literal interpretation of the Second Amendment would lead you to believe that what the founding fathers authorized was State Militias or what today we call the National Guard. That would be too narrow an interpretation to be practical.
Justice Antonin Scalia took the opposite extreme and interpreted the word “militia’ to mean “the body all citizens”. If I were to be kind, I would say that is too wide of an interpretation. Being honest, I will say he was serving a preconceived notion. The wisdom of the founding fathers is evidenced by the small number of amendments, (which they made a provision for – and remember the first ten were theirs and two others wash each other out), that we have chosen in the 200 plus years that the document has been the foundation of this country.
In the mind of anyone who is being reasonable, there is no doubt that the Second Amendment provides for a National Guard and for individuals to keep and bear arms. Just how we implement both of these has been the source of debate for generations.
What we need to resolve is how do we protect Second Amendment rights and make for a safe environment for Americans in the early 21st century.
Reasonable restrictions on the user
As a society we have a responsibility to protect people’s constitutional rights and we also have an equally compelling responsibility to protect people’s safety. That dilemma is nowhere as apparent as it is with guns. Often the possession of a firearm is one of the best methods of protecting an individual’s safety, and yet the paradox is that someone else possessing a firearm is the greatest threat.
The registration of handguns would appear to be a reasonable restriction. We are a society that registers and traces potentially dangerous materials. We register motor vehicles. I have registered every vehicle I have ever owned and never felt it infringed upon my ability to use them. We track the purchase of certain sinus medicines. I just want to alleviate a stuffy feeling or stop post nasal drip. Unfortunately a small number of people want to manufacture illegal and dangerous drugs with these medicines. The trip to the druggist’s counter, producing identification and the couple minutes delay is a necessary price to pay to help protect society. The Constitution grants us the right to vote but States require us to register, why should our Constitutional right to bear arms be different?
The utilization of background checks would seem to be reasonable. One line used by the gun rights lobby is that guns don’t kill, the people operating them do. The gun rights people are correct. Therefore it is in the best interest of society to keep them out of the wrong hands. Going back to the voting analogy, States occasionally restrict the right to vote for certain reasons like a felony conviction, why shouldn’t they exercise the same discretion with gun rights?
Closely aligned to background checks is the issue of a waiting period. If a complex background check is conducted it goes a long way toward making the waiting period discussion moot. If the background check ends up being a quick check of an on-line database then the time involved is minimal and the discussion becomes germane again. I don’t know if there is any magic number but a waiting period of a week or more certainly seems reasonable to me. If you need a gun for sport sooner than that, you didn’t do a good job of planning in advance. If you need it for recreation, you can wait. If you need it that fast for personal protection you probably should be seeking police protection.
Reasonable restrictions on the weapon
What types of weapons should an individual be able to have? Remember when the Second Amendment was ratified we were still dealing with single shot muzzle loading weapons. Where to draw the line is where reasonable people can conduct an intelligent debate. Suggest that an individual should be allowed to have a nuclear bomb and you will find it virtually impossible to find supporters of your position. Advocate banning all guns period and you will find only a few more friends. The proper balance is obviously in between those two extremes.
The argument almost always ends up around the issue of capacity. The importance of the number of rounds a firearm is capable of shooting without the need to reload was never as graphically illustrated as it was this Saturday in Tucson. The shooter was disarmed and restrained as he attempted to reload. Interestingly one of the heroes who subdued the shooter was armed but prudently decided it was not necessary to use his weapon. Unfortunately 31 rounds were fired before there was a need to reload. Would the outcome have been less tragic if the shooter’s weapon had fewer rounds? More important, what would the outcome have been if the shooter’s weapon had a greater round capacity?
I feel it would be prudent to examine the number of rounds needed to hunt or for personal protection. Most states already have limits on the number of rounds a hunter may carry and there is no outcry that they are inadequate .When was the last time you heard the story of a hunter being killed by his or her prey because they exhausted their ammunition? As to personal protection if you are fortunate enough to get off a few shots before someone has the drop on you that is all. If you get into the shootout at OK Corral you have most likely already lost. Six to ten rounds seems to be more than sufficient.
The American gun industry – manufacturing
The American gun manufacturers face a number of challenges. First and foremost is that they are victims of their own proficiency. If I bought a Smith & Wesson today and used it and maintained it properly there is every reason to belief that I could pass it along to my seven year old grandson on his sixtieth birthday, (assuming I lived that long). Buy a Ford today and even with approved use and maintenance there is no reason to believe it would be in good working order in 50 plus years. Substitute the brand name of the American gun manufacturer or auto maker and the result is the same. The essence of this argument is that there is virtually no designed obsolescence; therefore you don’t cultivate the repeat customers that are so essential to business success.
There also appears to be significant foreign competition. I’m not a tariff advocate but I do have a suggestion that would help the domestic gun industry on this count, just continue reading.
I could not find good data on the size of the domestic gun industry as measured by workforce or sales. The numbers, where I could get them, seemed either grossly understated or overstated by flawed methodology. It does seem to be fair to say that the industry is not really large. This industry has a place in America and it needs assistance.
The American gun industry – retail
A conversation I had with a gun shop owner a few years ago when I first started researching this topic still sticks in my mind. He was basically confrontational, in his defense probably due to his perception of how he had been treated in the press as a result of prior interviews. I was not there to debate gun policy I was genuinely on a fact finding mission and needed an education on guns and sought this man’s expertise and opinions with an open mind. He enlightened me on a few points which I am grateful for. He also spouted a lot of what I, at the time, took as rhetoric. As I got further along on the journey I found that whether it was rhetoric or not a lot of the gun rights people believed it. It was the black helicopter; remember what the Nazis did stuff. As my research progressed I heard the Nazis story, (not the black helicopters one), from more than one Democrat so it is more than rhetoric, people actually believe it or at least give it serious consideration. This must be addressed, again read on.
I asked about the “gun show loophole”. For those of you who are unaware of the gun show loophole, gun shows can basically sell a gun anonymously in most states while gun shop owners have to obey several laws that they consider a constraint and in most cases don’t support. The volume of his voice was suddenly lower so that only I could hear since he was no longer putting on a show for his customers and staff at my expense. The gun shop owner said he could envision a 90% increase in business if the loophole were plugged.
Now I’m going to first view this strictly from a business standpoint. Here is a man who owns or rents a building, provides employment to several people, pays his taxes, purchases insurance and advertizes locally. In short, he is a local small businessperson who does the right thing. How does the government treat him? It gives the fly by night operator an unfair advantage. I think the 90% figure is too high but everyone I talked to said the number is very high. It appears that the majority of gun owners prefer to buy their firearms at gun shows to avoid records of the transaction. The black helicopters and Nazis myths appear again.
Now let’s look at this from the public safety standpoint. Your local gun shop owner has to play by the rules. They, like most small businesspersons, have the vast majority of their family’s wealth tied up in their business. They operate openly and in the same place. Authorities know where to find them. The person renting a stall at a gun show will by definition leave town. There is a lot better chance of them operating under the cloak of anonymity than the gun shop owner doing so.
While I may never agree with the local gun shop owner’s politics and may or may not particularly like them personally, they are a valuable member of the community that helps keep it solvent and along with me helps pay for the community services we all enjoy. I’ll take their side over the gun shows’ every day of the week. The gun show loophole needs to be plugged! It is good for American business and good for American society.
A 21st century AMERICAN gun industry
A common dilemma for a legitimate gun owner who uses their firearm for personal protection is whether or not to keep a loaded gun readily accessible in their home. Two common concerns are: what if a child gets a hold of the gun or what if the bad guy gets to it before me. The first case I outlined is the cause of many accidental shootings. The outcome is never good; some outcomes are just more tragic than others. We have all heard the stories of a young child shooting their young sibling. I can imagine few horrors greater than being awaken to the sight of your own gun in your face held by an intruder. So what is the citizen who wants to protect themselves to do? An unloaded gun is essentially useless. In an emergency what are you supposed to do? Call timeout so you can load your weapon. If it is kept in a locked drawer again it is not readily accessible.
The solution is to develop what I call a “smart gun”. Resources should be allocated to develop a gun that recognizes the authorized owner(s) for the benefit of the American gun industry. This recognition would have to be via a trigger or grip that would rapidly recognized the fingerprints or D.N.A. or some other unique personal identification and would be inoperable in the hands of anyone else. This would also make the theft of such a gun an exercise in futility. This would give the American gun industry a tremendous competitive advantage over its foreign competition and render all existing guns inferior. What a shot in the arm for American manufacturing. The increase in demand would be staggering.
What we need is comprehensive Federal legislation that would implement all of these changes in one package. We have to recognize that different states and often regions within those states have different attitudes and cultures when it comes to guns. Some latitude would have to be granted to the States and the States in turn would have to grant some latitude to Counties. This is much the same system we use with driving and voting. I currently live in North Carolina and some counties have slightly different motor vehicle laws than others. It makes sense and serves the people well. Things like ammunition capacity and registration would have to be uniform nationally otherwise we will just create a cross the border gun business which is unfair to local retailers and undermines the effectiveness of the reforms. Ages and use restrictions could very well vary from one locality to another.
To counter the myths the left will have to swallow an amnesty on existing weapons. This will mean the benefits of reasonable restrictions will take longer to be fully realized but our society neither has the resources nor desire to confiscate existing weapons and accessories.
All weapons will have to be registered and licensed as of a date certain. That is the only way we could control guns and grandfather old weapons in. If you did not register the weapon it will be considered stolen or contraband and will not be grandfathered. This would insure compliance to a great degree and provide a remedy for non-compliance. The right to use a grandfathered weapon that did not comply with the new restrictions would extend to only the original registrant. This would be a way to eventually get them out of legal circulation.
Education and licensing programs would have to be mandatory. The specifics determined at the state levels. Again this would mirror the system we use for obtaining a driver’s license. I would be perfectly willing to examine the possibility of letting the N.R.A. run the education part of this program. They are well equipped to handle this and the political reality is that they will have to get something out of the deal.
Is this completely effective?
The simple answer is no. Another one of the gun lobby’s lines is that if you outlaw guns only outlaws will have them. Again, I agree with the gun lobby. There will always be criminals, but under this proposal we have greatly reduced the availability of the most dangerous firearms and have made their mere possession illegal. Law enforcement can now take action before a tragedy in at least some cases. As to the black market we have increased the cost of prohibited items and made their sale and possession illegal. Perfect, no. A good start, yes.
Who can sell this?
When it comes to getting Federal legislation passed, the four most powerful people in Washington are President Obama, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Gun legislation will only be successful if all powerful interested parties agree to it in principle in advance. That includes the President, both Parties in both houses of Congress, the N.R.A., (with money talking it is in effect the gun lobby), and the gun industry.
Legislatively, the President is going to have to assure the House and Senate leaders that he will use his bully pulpit to support the legislation and of course not veto it. His bully pulpit will be of only margin effectiveness since the most skeptical of the gun control crowd don’t trust Democrats and certainly not Obama.
Harry Reid will have to promise that he will get the legislation to the floor and get significant Democratic support. Mitch McConnell will have to pledge that his people will not obstruct the bill and lend at least a few votes to counter the few Democratic nay votes of political necessity.
The key man is John Boehner. He has to pledge that he will get the bill to the floor in the House and deliver significant Republican support to augment the sizeable Democratic support to assure passage.
Selling sensible gun reform to the majority of the public should not be a major problem. The American public, when not overwhelmed by misinformation, is more astute than assumed.
Selling it to the N.R.A. is going to be the hard part. The N.R.A. has a great gig going when it can raise tons of money and only have to deliver lobbying in return. Boehner and McConnell are the keys. The N.R.A. is not going to trust Democrats. Boehner and McConnell will have to sit the N.R.A. down and offer them the opportunity to have input or face the consequence of having the politicians write the legislation on their own and the N.R.A. having to live with it pending unlikely repeal or the difficult path of amendment.
The N.R.A. throws a lot of money around Washington and few Republicans are willing to go without their support let alone face an N.R.A. challenge in their next campaign. The biggest question remains: are Boehner and McConnell courageous enough to put the good of American society ahead of the politically safe play?
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