To Ban or not to Ban Firearms?
To Ban or Not to Ban Firearms?
Until recently, I have never given much thought to guns. As a matter of fact, if someone had asked me to play a word association game using the word “gun,” I would probably have mentioned the refrain from A Christmas Story, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Or, perhaps, the line about a sawed-off shotgun from a Cyprus Hill song that was popular more than 15 years ago.
But as I mentioned in my previous post, I was deeply disturbed by the mass shootings that occurred in Germany and Alabama on March 11th. I used to refuse to watch the news, especially before bed; it gave me nightmares. With age I have learned to palate and poke holes in the headlines. Yet, for all the media’s faults, its coverage of the series of mass shootings that have occurred since March 11th hardly constitutes sensationalism. Reporting is not always synonymous with exaggerating or capitalizing or spin doctoring; some events are just inherently dramatic. It is disturbing enough to read of one murderous rampage, but 6 (5 in the U.S.) in less than a month, resulting in 59 deaths! Excuse me for feeling troubled by this. Oddly enough, I am actually grateful to have been so affected by these events because they have prompted me to work towards a better understanding of the 2nd amendment controversy and current gun laws in my own state of FL with the goal of arriving at an informed position.
Allow me to establish a few facts, disclaimers if you please, about myself. And guns. And gun policy.
I never played with toy guns as a child.
I do, however, have a few scattered adolescent beach boardwalk memories of playing the game where you try to shoot as many moving ducks as you can before your gun runs out of water. I was lousy at that game, never won any of the shabby stuffed animals, and I’m not bitter about it at all, really.
I am not a radical leftist or staunch advocate of ‘more government.’
I am also not so naïve or unrealistic as to believe that banning guns altogether is going to eliminate evil from the universe. I’ve done the research. I get it. The example of England alone is enough to drive home this point; in the late 90’s, the nation placed a complete ban on handguns and many types of long guns and confiscated guns from citizens then willing to relinquish them. In turn, over the next decade, the violent crime rate there soared, far surpassing the rate in the U.S., which had, in fact, begun to decline in spite of the continually increasing rate of American gun ownership. In case the English example didn’t satisfy, consider the gun-less former Soviet-Union. Between 1998 and 2004 the Russian murder rate was four times that of the U.S.; in the absence of guns the murderous will find alternative weapons, if not black market guns.
Okay, so substantial research has shown that there is not a correlation between gun ownership and murder rates. Proponents of the right to bear arms get a bit overjoyed by these studies, all but sticking their tongues out and saying ‘I told you so’ as they head off to the shooting range. But what studies also show is that looser gun restrictions are not the only reason for the decline in U.S. violent crime rates in the past two decades. The prison population has tripled and the execution rate has quintupled (from approximately 5 per year in the early 80’s to 27+ per year in the 90’s). Hence, more criminal offenders are behind bars or R.I.P.
I have consulted the 2nd amendment, in all its variously punctuated glory, with some sources printing it with 1 comma, some with 2 commas, and still others with 3. As an English teacher, I eat this up, though truth be told, punctuation in the 18th century was far from standardized and often appears arbitrary, even haphazard. If only Oscar Wilde, who famously remarked that he took out a comma in the morning and put it back in the afternoon, had been born a century earlier to weigh in on the situation.
Here are two of the three different versions:
“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 2nd Amendment Foundation uses this version.)
“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.”
(Many argue this is the official version; the copy of the Constitution on hand at the National Archives has 3. This is also the version used by the NRA and The Cornell University Law School.)
Gun advocates have argued that what comes before the comma in the one-comma version is merely preamble and that the emphasis lies in the individual’s right to keep and bear arms. Gun opponents have argued that the crux of the amendment lies in the first two clauses of the three-comma version, adding also that “militia” and “state” are capitalized, while people is not.
I have more to say on this subject, particularly on that of girls and guns, so stay tuned for that post.
In the meantime, I will end with this. While I am by no means an advocate of complete gun bans as I have tried to make clear, I do believe the government can and should do more to ensure safe and responsible gun ownership, particularly with regard to sounder background checks prior to issuance of permits. A May 2008 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the 12 states that require local, and not just federal (NICS) background checks, had the lowest firearm suicide and homicide rates. The local checks provided crucial information regarding history of mental institutionalization, domestic violence, restraining orders, etc. that the federal checks did not. The government should heed these findings and either mandate both types of queries or do something to facilitate the transmission of such pivotal information from the local to the federal level.
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