Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Aurora, Colorado and the 2nd Amendment

The latest gun violence tragedy in Aurora, CO, has triggered yet another round of vituperative exchanges between those in favor of stronger gun controls versus those who oppose any controls on access to firearms whatsoever.  I wrote an extended essay on this topic in 2004 that represents my thoughts on the issue rather well, 8 years later.

But this recent episode prompts me to clarify some of my thoughts in that earlier essay.  To begin with, I want to promote the notion that everyone is in favor of some gun controls:  No one is advocating that we should be handing out weapons like party favors simply for the asking to children, to the criminally insane, to folks with severe mental disability, to avowed enemies of the USA and American freedoms, members of organized criminal gangs, and so on.  Even the nuttiest of gun nuts (this pejorative term does not necessarily include the vast majority of folks who own firearms!) would be aghast at the very idea of doing so.  OK - everyone wants to limit firearm access to someone, including those who want no limitations on their own personal access.

These folks fail to comprehend that their characterization of any efforts, no matter how limited, to enhance existing gun control laws as an infringement of their 2nd Amendment rights makes it easier for those very folks they agree should not have firearms to acquire them!  This comes across very clearly in this most recent example of random mass murder.  Yes, there's no doubt that someone sufficiently determined to arm themselves will do so by whatever means possible, including doing so illegally.  Gun control won't be effective against criminals, but that doesn't mean we should have virtually no gun control!!

The opponents to gun control like to characterize the debate as all or nothing:  either there should be no gun control whatsoever, or the government will be out confiscating everyone's guns!  This is the fallacy of a false dichotomy.  I have no particular dispute regarding the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, despite my personal dislike of guns.  I agree that guns don't kill on their own.  I agree that we will always have those who will become unstable and threaten society -  I just don't want them to have only limited obstacles to their obtaining murderous firepower like assault rifles.

Do you have locks on your doors and use them?  Why?  By the logic advanced by the most radical gun nuts, since there's no way to prevent a sufficiently determined thief from simply breaking in, lock or no lock, why even bother?  The fact is that a door lock is a deterrent only to the most casual potential intruder into your home.  It keeps honest people honest, despite its ineffectiveness at slowing down the "professional" intruder.

By the same token, gun controls won't deter those determined to commit mayhem with firearms.  But it will reduce the ready access to them by seemingly ordinary folks, some of whom might subsequently become extraordinary in a very murderous way.  Gun control isn't inconsistent with the 2nd Amendment - it simply is a means by which ordinary folks can remain ordinary.  Anyone who says an armed society is a good thing is seriously deluded:  an armed society is a violent society!  The evidence for this is clear from our anomalously high gun homicide frequency here in the USA.  As I've already said. everyone is in favor of some gun control, even if they selfishly want to exclude themselves from it!

The apparent ease by which the mentally unstable bozo responsible for the Aurora massacre obtained his firearms and ammunition (as well as combat armor) should be a matter of concern.  Surely there should be limitations on this easy access, and surely there should be ways to alert law enforcement about suspicious transactions involving firearms and ammunition!  Yes, it would introduce additional inconvenience for legitimate gun owners, but must we be so protective of those 2nd Amendment "rights" that there can be no serious obstacle limiting access to assault rifles, armor-piercing ammunition, and combat gear?  This guy didn't even need to lie to anyone about his intended use of this arsenal!  Evidently, only a few questions could even be asked of him because no one has the right to question the dictates of the gun lobby!!

As I indicated in my earlier essay, no sane person favors the right of ordinary people to have easy access to machine guns, hand grenades, mortars, artillery, flame throwers, nuclear missiles, vials of engineered infectious agents, chemical weapons, tanks, and so on.  These are weapons that should be limited to the military.  For some such weapons, law enforcement has a legitimate need, but even that has some limitations.  And of course, licensed collectors and firearms dealers can obtain some military-type weapons.  The issue is not that there should be limitations on gun access - the issue is where we draw the lines.  I say that assault rifles (even in semiautomatic form) and armor-piercing ammunition should not be accessible easily to just anyone.  What say you?

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