Gun safety, the Constitution and common sense

In the aftermath of last week’s tragic shooting on an Oregon college campus, the reactions of America’s political leadership ran the gamut.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Tennessee suggested that the lesson to be learned from Roseburg was that “serious Christians” need to acquire gun permits, to fend off the war being conducted against them as a persecuted sect.* Former Gov. Jeb Bush suggested that the best thing government can do to prevent such tragedies is to do nothing, as if citizens killing each other by the thousands is not a proper sphere of government activity.

Hillary Clinton is proposing to close the so-called “gun-show loophole,” which allows private firearms buyers and sellers to conduct business without a background check, and to make gun sellers and makers legally liable if they knowingly allow their products to be misused. Sen. Bernie Sanders also took a tougher line on gun regulation than he has taken historically, including calling for a ban on assault-type weapons. And on Thursday President Obama inadvertently echoed something I had written earlier that day, saying it’s time that the issue of gun safety be “politicized”:

“When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer. When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer. When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities. We have seatbelt laws because we know it saves lives. So the notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations, doesn’t make sense.”

So let’s look at the issue in a little more detail, from the legal situation to politics to what might be practical and effective:

2nd-amend-not-infringed-ap

The Constitution is not a legal obstacle to rational gun-safety legislation. In its most recent pro-gun rulings on the subject, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment gives the American people the constitutional right to keep firearms at home as self defense. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that conclusion — people do have the right to protect their homes. Even if the statistics tell us that guns kept at home are more likely to be used against friends and family members than against invaders, that’s a judgment that people have a right to make for themselves.

However, in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court’s 5-4 majority took the time to carve out a substantial area in which gun-safety legislation clearly doesn’t conflict with the Constitution.

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited,” the majority ruled. “From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” an observation that strikes directly at the heart of the NRA’s version of the Second Amendment. The court majority specifically noted that “the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment.”

It concluded:

“…. nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

All in all, Heller reconfirmed that government has the power to limit the types of weapons that are legally available. It ruled that Americans have no constitutional right to possess weapons of the sort they would need to challenge government with a violent takeover.  It recognized that laws banning or regulating the carrying of firearms in public have long been considered constitutional. And it explicitly endorsed the concept of a government-issued license to possess firearms, such as that still in effect in the District of Columbia.

Those parameters give government considerable legal latitude, should it decide to exercise it.

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Polling on the question of gun control is complicated. On the general question of whether tighter gun laws are needed, Americans are split roughly down the middle, and an overwhelming 73 percent say they would oppose laws that attempted to ban handgun sales nationwide. But when the questions get more specific, the numbers change.

For example, some 85 to 93 percent support requiring background checks even in private firearms sales, with strong support even among Republicans. Seventy percent support a federal firearm-registration system, a proposal that would make the NRA lose its lunch. Fifty-seven percent back a ban on assault-style weapons. Only 14 percent, according to Gallup, believe that gun laws ought to be made less strict. And 63 percent would oppose arming teachers.

At this moment in history, however, that 14 percent in favor of less strict regulation have more political power than the 86 percent who oppose weakening gun laws still further. And if that’s going to be reversed, it’s going to require a lot of community-level activism, education and organization. That’s how the NRA and its allies have achieved a veritable veto on such issues — through a dedicated, shrewd commitment to the democratic process — and that’s the only way in which that veto can be undone.

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The “good man with a gun” scenario is romantic Hollywood claptrap. Yes, it is plausible that a concealed firearm in the right hands in that Roseburg college classroom might have been used to reduce the carnage.**  Plausible, but not likely. When a gunman enters a classroom unexpectedly, wearing body armor and with guns drawn, prepared to kill, the likelihood of an amateur reaching into a bookbag for a handgun and responding effectively is pretty low. It’s certainly much too low to form the basis of public policy.

And here’s the other part of that equation. For that handgun to exist in that bookbag at the moment it is needed to fend off a mass shooting, it will have to be there, constantly, in tens of thousands of other bookbags across the country.  It will have to be there, easily accessible, in all those countless moments when it isn’t needed to fend off a mass murderer. It will be there to be stolen or lost. It will be there when a curious child goes poking around. It will be there when a lover’s quarrel turns angry, or when the bookbag is accidentally dropped to the ground. It will be there when someone’s thoughts turn suicidal, or when the neighbor won’t turn the music down.

It will always be there, and both common sense and data tell you that in an open public setting, it is much more likely to be used as an instrument of tragedy than of safety.

According to FBI statistics, for example, you are almost four times more likely to be murdered by someone you know — a friend, relative or co-worker — than by a stranger whom you might fend off with a firearm.  And for every murder committed with a firearm during the commission of another crime, such as a robbery, assault or burglary,  two murders are committed as a crime of passion, the result of an argument, brawl or lover’s quarrel.

Overall, trying to establish how many times guns are used in self-protection is very difficult. Concrete data is impossible to come by, with one important exception. We know how many people are murdered each year, and we know the circumstances. In 2014, FBI data tell us, there were 8,124 cases of murder with a firearm, balanced against just 229 cases of justifiable homicide by a civilian with a firearm.

In short, the average firearm, including that handgun in the bookbag, is 35 times more likely to be used in a murder than in killing a criminal.

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So what do we do? Closing the gun-show loophole would be wise, but I doubt it will produce huge dividends. The burgeoning movement to downplay media attention given to mass murderers such as the Roseburg killer is also worth trying. We can do a lot better at tracking and interrupting the flow of thousands of weapons into the hands of criminal gangs, particularly across state lines. Gun registration makes a lot of sense, again as a means of keeping weapons from those who should not have them. And if you’re going to suggest improvements in mental-health treatment as an alternative approach, as have many conservatives, then you should at least carry through on that initiative rather than cut back on mental-health funding, as has been the history.

However, given the huge numbers of firearms already in circulation, we couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle even if we wanted to do so. We’re never going to be Sweden or Switzerland or the United Kingdom, and I’m not sure we would want to be either. Any approach that we take to the problem would have to be tailored to the American reality and its traditions.

As a result, my own personal proposal in addition to those above would be to require passage of a gun-safety course before you are allowed to buy ammunition. The personal discipline needed to show up for and pass a six-week gun safety course would weed out a lot of people who should not have weapons while still allowing responsible Americans to exercise their right to hunt, protect themselves or just go plinking or target shooting.*** It would also make legal gun owners more cognizant of their responsibility to treat their weapons with the respect that they deserve.

There’s no question about the constitutionality of such a system. States such as Texas, for example, already require passage of such courses as a condition for getting a concealed weapons permit. And I hear from a lot of responsible, Second Amendment gun owners who consider mandatory gun-training classes to be sheer common sense.

It wouldn’t be perfect, but nothing would be perfect.

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*According to the most recent data available, 1.8 percent of hate crimes reported to the FBI were perpetrated against Christians.

**In Oregon, concealed weapons are allowed on campuses but not in classrooms. And there’s a lot of testimony that the Roseburg campus was anything but a gun-free zone.

***A gun instructor in California says that he was approached by the Roseburg killer a year ago for a course in firearms tactics, but ended up turning him down. “We wanted him to take a beginner safety course and he was trying to tell me that he already had experience with firearms,” Elon Way told Reuters. “And I didn’t get a good feeling about him, so I turned him down.”

Reader Comments 0

1091 comments
freezboy
freezboy

...got to have a gun....only way to keep the predators off.....

brian mumford
brian mumford

I think Jay Bookman and others should research how the SCOTUS has awarded itself extra-constitutional powers it wasn't supposed to have. I'd start with Thomas Jefferson's letter to Judge Spencer Roane and his comment about wax. 

lvg
lvg

How many guns have Georgia gun sellers  sent up the pipeline to thugs, gang bangers and felons up north where street price is double or triple purchase price in Georgia? And of course the gun huggers and NRA folks forbid tracing of the guns by registration and electronic records  because it infringes on their god given rights to be armed  with an arsenal and blow anyone away that threatens them.

outta GA
outta GA

The Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lawn darts after 3 people had been killed. just saying!!

LeninTime
LeninTime

If you want them... come and take them. Let's see what happens.

***

Molon labe baybee.

Ah the fascistic dregs, lol.

NGaChip
NGaChip

At my age, I should know better than to try to teach liberals to think. It wastes my time and annoys the liberals. But, since I haven't finished my morning coffee yet, here goes...

First of all, there is no such thing as the "gun show loophole." That is a blatant, flagrant lie repeated by liberal activists. Any FFL-holding dealer must follow the same procedures when selling a gun at a gun show, as when selling a gun at his shop... the dealer must verify the buyer's ID and age, call in the instant background check, and provide the federal transfer form. Also, gun shows are NOT Third World village markets where anyone can buy "machine guns", grenades, landmines, RPGs, and such. (Yes, I have heard idiot liberals actually say that.)


Moving on to "common sense", let's see... liberals claim that it's "common sense" to believe that:

-- more gun-free zones will NOT encourage cowardly murderers, who know they can slaughter for a long time before help arrives;

-- confiscating guns from the overwhelming majority of owners who are law-abiding non-criminals will somehow magically stop violent criminals, who by definition don't obey laws anyway;

-- despite having over 20,000 guns laws on the books at every level of government across the country, next time MORE guns laws will make the criminals (who don't obey laws anyway) behave;

-- normal Americans will actually, somehow, be safer when only violent criminals and runaway government have guns.


This is why normal, thinking, rational Americans believe liberals are mentally ill.


Gun control is not about public safety. Gun control is about peasant control; more specifically, about controlling us pesky conservative peasants, who stubbornly refuse to just shut up and do as we are told by our liberal "betters."


If you want them... come and take them. Let's see what happens.

LeninTime
LeninTime

@NGaChip 

This is why normal, thinking, rational Americans believe liberals are mentally ill.

**
Uh, pushing it there bub.

SFM_Scootter
SFM_Scootter

@LeninTime @NGaChip  Well let's face it LT.There are posters here that think those on the other side of the aisle (both sides) are mentally ill.  LOL

Brosephus
Brosephus

@NGaChip 

Dude, nobody wants your guns.  Geez...

Liberals have their own guns so why do you think they want yours?

fiftythreepercenter
fiftythreepercenter

"They found that more than 2.1 million people were treated in hospital emergency departments for ladder-related injuries from 1990 to 2005. That averages out to more than 136,000 cases a year."


Maybe you libbies could become proponents of background checks for ladder purchases...

ByteMe
ByteMe

@fiftythreepercenter You know that health insurance and homeowner's insurance covers that... as well as liability insurance held by the ladder maker.

td1234
td1234

SNC writes: "She knew he had mental issues td, she ignored it just like the Sandy Hook mom did and people died. She should go to jail for what her son did.

***********************************************************


Then advocate changing the mental health laws so that parents are mandated to report children that have mental health problems. Stop advocating for laws that would restrict my rights as a law abiding citizen and would not have stopped this thug from getting guns. 


Brosephus
Brosephus

This is how conservalogic works here.  This is also the primary reason we will continue to bury innocent victims of mass violence.

td1234:  "No, I do not want solutions that lead to restricting my 2nd Amendment right that will not stop the mass shootings from happening.

Give me some REAL solutions that will stop the mass shootings and we can discuss otherwise it is nothing more than propaganda for restrict my 2nd Amendment rights."


ByteMe:  "In your tightly constructed construct, there are no solutions and you offer none as well.  How convenient for you... but not for the victims."

td1234:  "Well if you admit there are no solutions to stop mass shooters then you are advocating restricting my second amendments rights so that you can feel good."

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So, who gets to define what is and what is not a REAL solution to mass shootings?  Notice that td does not want his 2nd Amendment rights restricted.  This is the very same td that consistently advocates restricting the 9th Amendment rights of women. 

We're never going to find a solution when people don't want a solution.  When people refuse to accept ANY solution, there is no solution.  So, I honestly wish that the people who don't want a solution would quit asking for a f**king solution that they don't really want.

td1234
td1234

@Brosephus And you advocate for those rights but want to restrict my 2nd amendment rights. How are you any different? 

Brosephus
Brosephus

@td1234 

I have not advocated anything to restrict your 2nd Amendment rights.  Unlike you, I firmly believe in everyone being able to exercise ALL their rights, not some of them.

LeninTime
LeninTime

The capacity of liberals to stay on the surface of an issue, refusing to look at what's just underneath, is remarkable. 

So a question for you: there are evidently tens of thousands of people in this country, mostly young men - though that profile could always change at some point, too - walking around like ticking time bombs, really to snap at any moment and go on a murder rampage. Do you think this fact is just peripheral to the question of how to respond to the latest killing? Or is this just collateral damage of modern life - like highway deaths or something - and the best we can do is try to cap the carnage?

stefpe
stefpe

@LeninTime No, apparently all we can do is gun control. Don't worry about all the people walking around thinking about stuff like this. They'll be just fine.

ByteMe
ByteMe

C'mon, "do nothing" Republicans!!!  Propose something "plausible" that will solve at least PART of the problem instead of expecting liberals to do the thinking for you.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

td: "Give me some REAL solutions"


Can you think of any?  I haven't seen your proposals. (I may have missed them, since I just got here)

SFM_Scootter
SFM_Scootter

@LogicalDude  He has proposed a few things but they are as ridiculous as some of the proposals from the other side of the aisle.IMHO

fiftythreepercenter
fiftythreepercenter

"Or you can do what td and percenter are doing which is shutting down discussion of ANY potential solutions by claiming "they're not going to stop every mass murder"."


How about putting up something that would stop ANY mass murder? This all or nothing routine you libbies keep spouting is getting old.  You haven't produced one idea that would stop ANYTHING, but you keep this tantrum of yours in full gear anyway.  Produce SOMETHING and we'll listen.  

ByteMe
ByteMe

@fiftythreepercenter And you've offered NOTHING so far.  And there's more to gun violence than just mass murders, of which we have about 300 victims of that so far this year, but nearly 100 times that of other types of gun violence.

TetoLeo
TetoLeo

@ByteMe @fiftythreepercenter 


In fairness to the other types of gun violence those are my main concern, because I fully believe if crazy enough there is not much to be done other than a police state to insure mass murders don't happen.


However our president chose to politicize it on this occasion while he made little if any remarks about the 15 killed in Chicago over the weekend before the Oregon shooting.


Chicago has extremely strict gun regulations, they still get in from neighboring communities.


How would anything on a national level differ?  Our southern and sea borders seem to have no difficulty getting in things that are currently illegal or heavily regulated against.

consumedconsumer
consumedconsumer

@TetoLeo If that's what the statistics show, then yes, really. believe the majority of the violence is gang related in certain areas . . . but, like in-town Atlanta, many think the city is just one big war zone . . . thus 53%'s fascination.

consumedconsumer
consumedconsumer

@TetoLeo the issue is political. no one chose to politicize it. he just didn't wait for someone else to start the politicizing this time.



ByteMe
ByteMe

@TetoLeo as though the NRA doesn't exist to politicize it... who exactly politicizes FOR the victims of gun violence on a daily basis?  who has conventions for them?  Who has "victim shows" that travel around the country trying to sell more victims? (uh, wait, that went too far)

Citizen-of-the-World
Citizen-of-the-World

In response to my earlier post, TetoLeo made a very telling comment: And some of us simply were taught and practice the art of accepting responsibility for ones actions and knowing the risk involved with our choices.


"Some of us were taught" -- you know, some among us weren't "taught," yet these people are blamed for their failures of personal responsibility by the Republicans who don't believe that the government -- you know, the one we formed to "promote the general welfare" -- has a role to play in making society a better place and stepping in to try to give children what their parents failed to provide. 

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

We need a national "Get Even" day.  On this day you could legally get even with anyone who wronged you during the past year.  That's the ticket.

fiftythreepercenter
fiftythreepercenter

@Jefferson1776 And the moms who aborted fetuses that year would be in a world of hurt.  


And so would those of you who stood on the sidelines cheering them on.