In the wake of the killings at Sandy Hook it appears that we're going to have a fairly serious debate about gun rights. In recent years we've shown little skill in handling such complex policy matters. If we're going to address firearm regulation in a coherent way, we need to boil the discussion down to a few fundamental questions.
First and foremost, how much firepower do we need to satisfy our rights under the 2nd Amendment? Pistols? Hunting rifles? Assault Rifles? How many of each? What about hand grenades and RPG's? If a ban on AK-47's is the gateway to Communism, then why exactly can't I protect the American way of life by ringing my lawn with land mines?
In short, where should we draw the line between individual rights and public safety?
Further, what is the legitimate purpose of my gun ownership? Tradition? Hunting? Preparation to serve in the militia? Defending my home from criminals? Defending my home from the government? If there is a vital public interest served by my ability to buy an AR-15 this weekend at a gun show, then let's go ahead and state clearly what that is.
Personally, I like guns a lot. I learned to shoot as a kid in my back yard. I've had a lot of fun with friends firing weapons that were barely legal. Guns were everywhere growing up in Texas, so I'm not persuaded that guns are the reason that psycho killers do what they do. Mass killings still happen in places with much tougher gun laws than ours.
That said, guns are the reason that a deranged loser incapable of performing life's most basic tasks is able to kill so effectively, so efficiently, and in such mass numbers. A lunatic armed with a baseball bat can hurt some people, but his arms would get tired long before he could pull off something as serious as we saw in Aurora or Connecticut. There is no question that the broad availability of heavy firepower is a factor in the frequency and severity of mass killings in America.
Guns don't kill people. People kill people. However, people kill a lot more people, a lot faster, with a Bushmaster.
Congressman Louis Gohmert claims that Americans aren't heavily armed enough. It's true I suppose, that if we all had minefields in our yards and Gatling guns mounted on our roofs we would, for example, suffer fewer burglaries. We would also have fewer limbs. Life is full of tradeoffs.
We are paying a price in public safety for my ability to play with serious firepower. That's an unavoidable fact. The political question is whether that price is worth paying.
Some think America needs millions of assault rifles in circulation to defend ourselves against criminals. Now would be a great time for them to explain in some minimally coherent language why that makes sense.
Some think America needs millions of assault rifles in circulation to defend our freedom from Obama, or Communists, or ACORN, or Yankees, or God knows what. Let them explain their position. Hopefully they can do it without using quotes taken directly from either version of Red Dawn.
To paraphrase Sun Tzu, in defending everything you weaken your defenses everywhere. The NRA strategy of defending gun rights by opposing every imaginable form of firearm regulation, no matter how well-reasoned, raises the potential for a sudden, unanticipated political failure. It might be a good idea to start thinking about sensible gun regulations we can live with instead of continuing this scorched earth tactic.
Our gun laws do not make a lot of sense. The arguments in general circulation on both sides are usually poorly directed, aimed less at persuasion than at motivating a political base. In short, this debate, like so many others in recent years, suggests a culture in desperate need of grown-up supervision.
It not entirely clear whether tighter gun laws would prevent mass shootings. It is matter we need to weigh. Regardless what decision we make, if we can find a way through this debate to grow into the adults this country needs then the effort will not have been wasted.