By Marsha Sutton
My Dec. 20, 2012 column titled “Twenty dead children have to matter” – about the Newtown tragedy and the renewed debate over gun control – elicited reactions across the spectrum that reminded me how far apart we are in our views on the proliferation of guns.
Yet I also found reasons to be hopeful. Everyone without exception wants kids to be safe at school. And almost everyone who wrote in agreed that sensible gun laws consistent from state to state (depending upon one’s definition of “sensible”) need to be combined with better and faster treatment of the mentally ill.
Violent movies and video games are also contributing factors, and most said ways to protect schoolchildren should be considered.
Clearly, several approaches are required. Gun control alone won’t do it. Actually, nothing will do it completely, and that’s a fact. But steps can be taken to reduce these horrific shootings, and we can make progress if we stop thinking they can be eliminated altogether.
Thanks to knowledgeable readers who clearly know a great deal more about guns than I do, I learned that gun laws in California have been tightened since I last visited the local gun show (which admittedly was a while ago and I’m still traumatized by the memory).
In my column, I wrote that it was easy to buy guns of all sorts at gun shows, “immediately, with little if any waiting period.”
Actually, there is a 10-day waiting period, even for gun show purchases, which must be made through a licensed dealer, according to the Calif. Dept. of Justice Office of the Attorney General.
However, gun shows are still frightening exhibitions of killing machines, no matter how long buyers have to wait to receive their weapons.
And rules are not so stringent in other states. According to the Campaign to Close the Gun Show Loophole, about 40 percent of the 5,000 gun shows across the country each year allow unlicensed sellers to sell guns without conducting a background check: “Although 17 states have taken action to partially or completely close this loophole, 33 states have not.”
So the overarching point of my previous column, that guns are far too easy to access, stands.
Some would repeal the Second Amendment. Others say all guns and all kinds of ammunition should be legal. Two extremes. Is there no place to come together in the middle and reach compromise? Most certainly.
Despite what some have charged, gun control supporters are not trying to “punish” citizens by taking away their constitutionally guaranteed rights. In fact, even many gun advocates support more responsible ownership and believe there are reasonable limits that should be placed on the right to own firearms, given how this right has been abused by criminals.
Gun owners are generally law-abiding citizens who also want, obviously, these murderous rampages to stop. After all, shootings give gun owners a bad name. So we are in agreement on that for certain. This, at least, is a place to start.
In the world of public education and union/management negotiations, this sounds very much like interest-based bargaining, when both sides identify areas of common interest instead of first putting forth each side’s polarizing positions.
We agree for the need to treat violent, mentally unstable youth, uncover the causes of this condition, and prevent them from taking out their internal rage on innocent citizens.
And many on both sides believe that protecting schoolchildren from future tragedies may mean locked gates, bullet-proof windows, electronic lockdown mechanisms, metal detectors and backpack checks.
But none of this will help until we acknowledge that our country’s obsession with guns and firepower, easy access, and lack of proper training for novices, have contributed mightily to the rise in random mass killings of innocent citizens.
Guns are clearly a part of the problem. How big a part of the problem is the primary point of disagreement. And that’s positive because it means there’s room for dialogue.
In several exchanges with gun owners, who were initially angry with me for advocating tighter gun control, it was encouraging to find some agreement.
One writer said California’s gun laws are sensible and have had an impact on gun safety and gun violence. “There are states with no waiting period and no magazine size regulations,” he wrote. “All states need to be brought up to a uniform standard, and that standard should be something similar to California law.”
Another gun owner, after listing many reasons why gun control proposals are unworkable and when applied haven’t really had an impact, wrote, “I am in favor of mandatory firearm training for citizens who wish to purchase a gun, along with background checks at every pipeline a gun can be acquired.” He also objected to “the piecemeal, individual state requirements which are confusing, cumbersome, and promote illegal activity to circumvent certain states’ laws.”
One lawyer weighed in on the issue from a constitutional perspective, referring the first line of the Second Amendment: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state...”
“The founders were not concerned so much about an individual’s right to a private arsenal, as an individual’s responsibility to participate in collective national defense, should the government fail in that defense,” he said, offering an interesting interpretation on intent.
“It is notable but little-known that the founders considered putting into the Constitution, right next to the Second Amendment, a related amendment which would have given individuals the right
to bear arms – that is, to be conscientious objectors, pacifists. This, obviously, is not in the Constitution, but its consideration does shed light on how the framers were thinking.”
A national conversation about the intent of the Second Amendment is important but will be unproductive if we all settle comfortably into our polarized positions and refuse to listen to one another.
With mass media, everyone can find someone out there who agrees with their views, and it feels good to have our positions validated in this way. But the more we are told we are right, the less inclined we are to open our minds to the ideas of others.
It’s of little value to become locked into intransigence, surrounded by those who think alike. This has contributed to the decline in civil dialogue, a tremendous barrier to progress.
This applies not just to gun control but to stubborn inflexibility on everything from private property rights up to the national fiscal cliff debate.
We have to give up getting our way 100 percent of the time. And respectful disagreement that challenges us to think outside the familiar is integral to accomplishing anything constructive.
I still don’t understand why citizens should have the right to own military-style assault weapons or armor-piercing bullets, or why some consider it fun to hunt and shoot animals.
But I do respect the right of lawful citizens to buy guns, as long as they respect the need to be responsible gun owners. And nearly all of them do.
In the wake of Newtown, we must work together on several fronts at once: sensible gun control laws at the federal level, better mental health treatment, ending the glorification of violence in the media, creating safer schools to protect against senseless attacks, and greater awareness of the compassion and love we all share for America’s children.
And keeping compromise and respect a fundamental part of any discussion.
Marsha Sutton can be reached at SuttComm@san.rr.com