Commentary on gun control abounded back in July, in the wake of a horrific mass murder - 12 dead and 58 wounded during a midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. It got us thinking about the issue, too, but we decided to hold off on sharing our views until later, when our writing and your reading would be more level-headed, not such an emotional reaction to that one incident.
A chorus of calls for gun control goes up every time there's a mass shooting in this country - and there have been a whole lot of them in recent years - but it's the times in between when the issue can be discussed more reasonably.
And now, on the verge of hunting season, is as good a time as ever.
With regard to legal restriction of firearms, we think a clear distinction should be made between guns that exist only to kill people and guns that serve as tools for other tasks.
Those that are primarily tools for hunting, like rifles and shotguns, should probably have less regulation than they do now. The current rules are designed to prevent the spread of murder weapons but has the unintended consequence of making things harder on hunters.
A quick word on hunting: Don't gloss over its value, as urban people are often too quick to do. It's legal, it's necessary for many people to feed their families, and in the eyes of many, it's more humane to eat meat from a hunted animal that's lived freely and naturally than from one that's spent its life cooped up on a manmade feed lot. (That's not meant to say livestock farming is inhumane.) Plus, hunting helps control an overpopulation of deer in U.S. suburbs that results in diseases for the animals and frequent collisions with cars and trucks that are bad for deer and humans. (If you want to learn more about this, we refer you to George J, Bryjak's well-researched three-part series on the subject, "Oh Deer!" which ran in the Enterprise in December 2010; it's still available on our website.)
Very few of those who own hunting rifles would willfully use them to kill someone, but when they do, these weapons' single shots and difficult-to-conceal length don't pose the same kind of public danger as a semi-automatic. Yes, they're dangerous and have been used for homicide as long as they've existed, but so have bows, axes, knives, chainsaws and sledge hammers, which are also tools and which are not restricted by law. Their practical value is significant enough, and their danger limited enough, that society has not seen it worthwhile to restrict them, considering that doing so would limit people's liberty and be a general pain in the neck.
Of the 12,996 murders in the U.S. in 2010 (the most recent year available), just 358 were recorded as being done with rifles and 373 with shotguns, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports database. By comparison, 1,704 people were murdered with knives or cutting instruments, 540 with blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.) and 745 with "personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.)."
But 6,009 people were murdered with handguns, according to that report. (There may be more, since the report says 1,939 were murdered with firearms where the type was not stated.)
Handguns, semi-automatics and the like are not like hunting guns and should not be treated that way. As far as we can tell, the only job they are designed for is killing people. We acknowledge, sadly, that they have necessary roles in human society, but they are also far too often used for criminal offense. We are of the opinion that it does much more harm than good to allow them for anyone, anywhere, anytime. These are the guns it is appropriate for society to control.
Of course, doing so must fall within the widely interpreted boundaries set by this famous sentence in the Bill of Rights: "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 second half of that sentence, taken alone, would prevent any gun control, but it's qualified by the statement that this Second Amendment's purpose is to allow civilians to protect themselves in case of invasion, and that such a militia should be "well regulated." No wonder the debate still rages 223 years later. In the end, though, it's clear to us that some regulation of the civilian militia's weaponry is allowable.
Not every gun-control idea is effective, though. It's hard for us to believe that microstamping bullet casings has enough forensic benefit to offset its huge hassle and expense. But banning semi-automatic assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines for civilians, as the U.S. did from 1994 to 2004 - that makes sense to us. It was James Holmes' semi-automatic AR-15 (a civilian version of the military's M-16) and his 100-round clip, not his shotgun, that allowed him to kill and wound so many people that night in Colorado. He was able to buy them, and more than 6,000 bullets, too easily.
The tension is huge over this issue in the United States today. On one wing are those who think, the more guns of almost any kind, the better; they encourage people to carry concealed weapons frequently. Some states - not New York, thankfully - have cooperated in clearing away obstacles to carrying concealed weapons.
On the other wing are those who would essentially ban many kinds of guns, as was done with handguns in some cities before the Supreme Court declared those laws unconstitutional.
The fact is, the U.S. has far more gun deaths than its economic peer nations - eight times more, according to a study published in 1997 (by E.G. Krug, K.E. Powell and L.L. Dahlberg, International Journal of Epidemiology, Oxford Journals). Granted, some things have changed since then, but still, the status quo with firearms in the U.S. is problematic - and hunting guns aren't the problem. That's why there should be fewer rules for them and more for, at least, semi-automatics and high-capacity ammo clips.