While OpEdge is on a two-week hiatus, we are running some of the more evergreen columns from past years. This blog entry originally appeared on December 19, 2012.
Through the years, I have read and heard four basic arguments by those who oppose gun control. Those who favor making it easier for people to buy and carry guns repeat these arguments with an almost religious fever, as if the incontrovertible logic of their statements trumps all other facts and reasoning. But careful examination shows that each of these arguments is illogical or non-factual or both.
Let’s examine the four arguments against control one at a time.
#1 The Second Amendment forbids gun control.
The second amendment states, “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.” The key words are “well-regulated” and “infringed”:
- Well-regulated: The amendment clearly says that the reason to allow people to keep and bear arms is to have a well-regulated militia, and regulated means rules, laws and control. You are allowed to have arms so you can be part of the militia and the militia can be regulated. Thus you and your weapons (arms) can be regulated.
- Infringed: Infringed is a mighty broad word, and many constitutional lawyers could drive a truck through the leeway it gives to regulate.
The interpretation of all of the Constitution through the years by both the right and the left demonstrates that our society understands that the document is not rigid, but pliable to the point that you can twist it into anything. While the Second Amendment unfortunately seems to clearly state that people do have the right to own guns, the amendment per se and as part of a document that has been stretched in every direction has nothing in it that prevents as much gun control as is necessary to keep order and safety, which is, of course, the primary job of a well-regulated militia.
I asked my cousin, Marshall Dayan, a renowned death penalty attorney who often deals with constitutional issues, for his view of the Second Amendment and here is what he wrote: “I would take issue (though Alito and the SCOTUS would not) that the Amendment clearly states the right to individual handgun ownership. It refers to the right of THE people, not the right of PEOPLE, so I read that to be a communal right, not an individual right. Hence, if AS A PEOPLE, we chose to keep arms in an armory for the purpose of maintaining a well-regulated militia, I don’t think the federal government could preclude that under the 2nd Amendment by its terms. But I don’t think a reference to the right of THE PEOPLE is the same as the right of individuals to keep and bear arms. But my interpretation is, at least for now, mooted by U.S. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago.” FYI, Jeffrey Tobin makes the same argument as Marshall in The New Yorker.
Of course, a simplistic and somewhat snider approach is to say that the amendment refers to firearms and not ammunition, and ammunition can therefore be regulated or even prohibited.
#2 Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
Glib, but inaccurate: People with guns kill people. As we saw in the Newtown tragedy, someone with a semi-automatic assault rifle can take out a lot of people in a matter of minutes. If the Newtown shooter had only knives, he would not have been able to kill more than a few people in that time, and maybe would not have been bold enough to attempt his mass murder. I heard someone on National Public Radio this week quote former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who said that it’s bullets that kill people, which is another clever argument for allowing the sales of guns but not of the ammunition that make the guns lethal.
The evidence for a causal relationship between gun ownership and gun violence is stunning. All other industrialized nations have much stricter gun control laws and far fewer people who own guns. The result is that they have much lower rates of deaths by guns. In fact, among the 23 populous, high-income countries, 80% of all firearm deaths occur in the United States.
#3 Bad guys will get guns no matter what; or “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
But if guns were more restricted, it would be harder for the outlaws to obtain their firearms, which would discourage many potential bad guys. There can be no doubt that the Newtown shooter would not have been able to buy a gun by himself; that he was allowed to practice shooting without going through a qualification process that included a certification of mental health is truly appalling.
Keep in mind, too, that restrictions on private sales of guns would give law enforcement agencies another arrow in their quiver in fighting violent crime.
Finally, as gun control organizations such as the Brady Center substantiate, many more people are killed by guns because of accidents, domestic disputes and mass murder by deranged nut-jobs than by criminals in the course of robberies, mob hits or other crimes. An estimated 41% of gun-related homicides and 94% of gun-related suicides would not occur under the same circumstances had no guns been present.
#4 If more people carried guns, the criminals would be afraid to use theirs
With this argument, gun advocates enter a Wild West fantasy in which we always know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. In a shooting situation, that just isn’t so.
These fantasists don’t really think through their scenarios at all. Imagine, for example, an attempted bank robbery or convenience store stick-up: The police arrive to find a shooting gallery. How do they know who the robbers are and who are merely defending themselves?
Or think of the mass murder of 12 people in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado earlier this year: You’re in the theatre and all of sudden the air is filled with smoke and gun shots. So you pull out your gun and start shooting back in the direction you think it’s coming from. Someone on the other side of the theatre sees you fire your weapon and thinks you’re the shooter and starts aiming at you. Meanwhile, the hundreds of other people in the theatre now have gunfire coming at them from three, maybe even more, directions. When you think it through, it’s clear that many more dead would have been the likely scenario if a vigilante had pulled a weapon out and started firing at the Aurora mass murderer.
Police are trained to know when to fire their guns and when not to. The average citizen does not receive this training.
At this point in American history, the argument is not about prohibiting hunters or range shooters from practicing their sport. It’s about protecting the public from the proliferation of weapons in society. As I pointed out about two years ago and others are saying now, no one objects to rigorous testing for driver’s licensing, complicated rules of the road and the requirement that people who drive cars must have insurance. Why should legitimate hunters and range shooters object to regulation of their sport?