The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: "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."
What does this mean? Does it mean guns should be readily available on demand? Should we not be concerned about the proliferation of guns and the disconcerting rise of urban violence because of the Second Amendment?
Unfortunately, too many members of the National Rifle Association believe the Second Amendment is absolute, thus, all arms should be legal.
With the current spike in urban violence it is fair question ask is there a correlation between gun availability and escalating murder rates? While I don't believe there is a magic bullet that will eradicate the increase in urban violence, imagine if America embraced the type of gun control similar to Japan.
Shotguns are the only firearms that Japanese citizens can acquire. Sportsmen are permitted to possess shotguns for hunting and for skeet and trap shooting. This however, requires a lengthy licensing procedure. In Japan a person cannot hold a gun in his or her hands without a license.
The licensing procedure is extremely thorough. A prospective gun owner must attend classes and pass a written test. After the safety exam, the applicant takes a simple 'mental test' at a local hospital, to ensure that the applicant is not suffering from a readily detectable mental illness. The applicant then produces for the police a medical certificate attesting that he or she is mentally healthy and not addicted to drugs.
Moreover, the police investigate the applicant's background and relatives, ensuring that both are crime free. Membership in 'aggressive' political or activist groups disqualifies an applicant.
The police have unlimited discretion to deny licenses to any person for whom 'there is reasonable cause to suspect may be dangerous to other persons' lives. Perhaps, most important, handguns are illegal. They also have the right to conduct random searches of individuals who already have the license.
Japan's approach is a far cry from a Congress and a president that allowed the assault weapons ban to expire in September 2004. We are also witnessing a trend where 38 states have made it easier to apply for and receive a concealed-weapons permit. As the New York Times recently reported, a person carrying a concealed weapon in those states cannot be banned from a public building--even a library with children on the premises.
It is bad enough that 76 percent of the states have concealed weapons permit policies, Florida has upped the ante by adding a "shoot first" provision.
Given the political climate, why should hold those in lower socio economic classes to a higher standard? The dominant culture, led by the powerful lobby efforts of the NRA, are sending a message, paraphrasing "Wall Street's" Gordon Gekko, "guns are good." And it is being heard and erratically interpreted at every level of our society.
It would also be unrealistic to believe that America would go to the lengths of Japan to ensure that only responsible citizens owned a firearm. Furthermore, Japan's efforts to limit gun access would not only cause anxiety among Second Amendment advocates, I believe their methods infringe on the Fourth Amendment.
That said, why is it that America seems headed on a path that most would assume to be antithetical for a civilized nation? The Japan approach is hardly a panacea. They still have handguns sold on the black market.
But Japan, along with a number of Western European countries have a significantly lower homicide rate than the Untied States. It is not a coincidence that they also have much stricter gun laws.
But any significant policy discussion that will authentically limit the availability of assault weapons and handguns will require that politicians stand up to the NRA--something that few have been willing to do.
While I respect the NRA's right to defend their position, I am quite certain that the Founding Fathers never intended for the Second Amendment to mean that urban families should live in fear.