In the wake of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, last week, there has been a lot of soul-searching and discussion about the nation’s gun laws. It didn’t seem to matter that mourning was, for a while at least, more appropriate than ratings grabs and political posturing. Commentators and politicians couldn’t wait to have their say on gun control. And as surely as the sun rises in the east, gun ownership was defended by the NRA — sometimes in grotesque statements that verged on blaming the victims for not having been armed and ready to defend themselves.
To the NRA and its supporters: Don’t tell non–gun owners you have a right to own guns while denying them the right to be free from guns and the danger they (and possibly you) pose. Only some 30 percent of Americans own guns. They have that right. But that means 70 percent of Americans don’t own guns. They have that right, and they need to assert it. The only reason we don’t have stricter gun laws is money — the money the National Rifle Association and its supporters spend to influence politicians and buy votes in Washington.
Lawmakers have limited the purchase of pseudoephedrine (brand name Sudafed) because it can be used to make meth, the purchase of fertilizer because it can be used to make bombs, nail clippers on planes because they can be used to attack pilots, and tape measures in court houses because they can be used to strangle guards. Those same lawmakers should also limit the purchase of firearms because they can be used to shoot people. All it takes is a little political fortitude.
We need some strict new laws governing the purchase, ownership, and use of firearms. And don’t say it’s too late; there are already too many guns out there. We may not be able to retrieve all the guns in the hands of criminals and irresponsible or incompetent individuals, but we can certainly make it more difficult for them to get guns in the future. If we don’t, we’re little better than enablers. And don’t argue that tighter laws will never stop the lone wolves. We know we can’t stop all of them, but we can certainly make it harder for them to succeed. When the problem in society is too many guns, the solution is not more guns, as the NRA argues; the solution is fewer guns and tighter controls.
Here are some off-the-cuff suggestions for lawmakers to consider:
- Ban the sale of assault weapons.
- Ban any clips or magazines larger than the minimum for any gun.
- Ban the purchase of police- or military-grade ammunition such as armor-piercing, hollow-point, etc.
- Ban the online sale of guns and ammunition. Anyone who wants these items badly enough must at least drive to the nearest retail outlet to get them.
- Ban the ownership or possession of more than, say, four guns, except for licensed collectors or retail merchants.
- Limit the number of guns that can be purchased within a given period of time to, say, one per year. No fast stockpiling of weapons.
- Require thorough background checks and waiting periods for all gun purchases. No impulse purchases.
- Require registration of any gun in working condition or that can be made workable.
- Ban the possession of guns in public except as necessary to transport them to and from gun ranges or hunting areas. During transport, guns shall be unloaded and secured out of reach of the driver and passengers.
- Eliminate carry permits. No civilian needs to be carrying a handgun in public. We have law enforcement officers for protection; we don’t need self-appointed vigilantes.
- Ban guns in all public buildings and venues.
- Ban guns in any establishment that serves or sells alcohol or other intoxicants.
- Charge with gross negligence, including a stiff fine or jail time as appropriate, any adult who allows his or her gun to fall into the hands of a child, resulting in the death or injury of that child or anyone else.
- If any gun used in the commission of a crime is traceable back to a registered owner who did not report that gun as lost or stolen, that owner shall be charged as an accessory to the crime.
- Institute a lifetime ban on gun ownership or possession for anyone convicted of a crime or DUI, or with a history of mental illness, or who brandishes as gun as a means of intimidating or threatening another individual. Gun ownership is a right that should be contingent on the owner being a responsible adult; demonstrate that you’re not responsible and you give up that right.
To many gun owners, the right to bear arms is practically a religion. And that’s a useful analogy. The law says we can practice any religion we want, but we don’t have the right to impose it, its tenets, and its effects on anyone else. Gun owners should confine their religion to their homes, gun ranges, hunting areas, and churches. They should not be allowed to impose it on the rest of us.
Tighter laws would not deny and are not intended to deny responsible, law-abiding adults their constitutional right to own guns. But some reasonable controls are in order. They are, in fact, long overdue. If other civilized, modern societies can do without guns, so can the United States. We are well past the days when a “well regulated Militia” was “necessary to the security of a free State” and every man carried a musket.
Regaining control of our guns will be a monumental task, but that should not deter us. The task will only get bigger with time. We need to start now.
President Obama once said:
He wasn’t speaking of gun control at the time but the reasoning is the same: If not now, when?
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