Saturday, June 1, 2013

An Appeal to Responsible Gun Owners



The gun lobby wants it both ways. 

Whenever a child dies of an "accidental" shooting, whenever a disturbed individual takes a gun into a school to kill a dozen children, whenever anything happens that leads to an outcry against our lax regulation of firearms, the response is the same: don't blame us! We're the responsible ones, the ones who take safety classes, always lock up our guns, teach our children to respect them and never ever play with them. That would never happen in our home, my kid would never do that, it's the nut cases and the irresponsible gun owners who are the problem. 

That may all be true. In fact, I'm willing to stipulate that the vast majority of gun owners are as obsessed with safety as a Tote 'n' Chip trained Scout with a pocketknife. But here's the problem: even if all the murders and suicides and accidents are exceptional, that's 11,000 exceptions a year, 3 exceptional deaths for every 100,000 people in this country. If this carnage was being committed with anything other than guns, we'd regulate it in a heartbeat: require safety courses, testing, and licensure of every person granted the privilege of owning a gun. 

Yes, I said "privilege," and raised the indignant hackles of every gun-rights believer reading this blog. This is the other side of having it both ways: any regulation at all is considered a violation of Second Amendment rights. 

So let's look at a different piece of technology, used by far more people than guns, and responsible for even more deaths: the automobile. 

I'm its early days, the car took relatively few lives. There weren't many of them, they moved slowly, and they probably spent as much time being repaired as being driven. But then Henry Ford figured out how to make large quantities of them cheaply, and overnight, car ownership took off. It didn't take long for the death toll to rise, and with it, the realization that this new way of getting from one place to another needed regulating: traffic direction, licensing of vehicles and drivers, safety improvements to roads, bridges, and cars. Headlights, seat belts, brake lights, running lights, tires with inner tubes, specially treated window glass, crumple zones, air bags, alcohol levels, speed limits: they all make sense. In a world without them, a world in which anyone can drive anything at any speed, without regard to training, ability, or the safety of others, the already enormous body count would be far higher. It wouldn't be the responsible drivers causing the accidents, either. It might just be a small minority of under-trained, over-imbibing idiots. But without the regulations, there's no way to prevent them from being on the road, slaughtering the safe drivers and innocent pedestrians. 

Most people wouldn't think twice about the need for these laws. There may very well be some libertarians who would prefer our roads to be a free-for-all, but I have yet to meet one. 

This is where the ball gets lobbed back over the gun lobby's net: if guns, in the hands of responsible people, are safe, if, in fact, they are less dangerous than any vehicle on the road; if it is only in the hands of a reckless, inadequately trained person that guns become dangerous and deadly; then it stands to reason that reducing the number of such irresponsible gun owners is in the best interest of everyone, not least the responsible gun owners tired of being associated with the careless and bloodthirsty ones. If that's the case, if the responsible ones really care about public safety, and are sincere in their belief that education is the best way to reduce gun deaths, then it's well past time for them to step up and help create a universal regulatory system that guarantees every potential gun owner is required to pass an approved safety exam, as well as mental health and background checks, prior to receiving a license to own a gun; and, further, that such a system be run by the only institution with the authority and infrastructure to do it, the same institution that regulates roads, cars, and drivers: the government.

So there it is: a solution to our current situation that doesn't involve taking away your gun. Can you get behind it? Can you even advocate for it? I hope so; because the blood of 11,000 Americans a year is watering the tree of your precious liberty, and that's just too many babies being sacrificed to the god of Smith & Wesson. 

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