A Serious Question on Gun Control

One of the hotter political distractions these days is gun control.*  Understandably in the wake of some pretty serious violence the debate has sprung back to life, much as it did after the rash of shootings culminating in Columbine.  I hesitate to even write about this because what passes for political discourse in this country today, especially on the internet, is essentially intolerance and hatred for those who would dare have a different opinion than you (which is ironically just as closed minded and tension-causing as those who claim to be enlightened claim to be against).  And I want to preface this with the fact that I do not personally own a gun, have only shot one a handful of times (not counting BB guns), and don’t really find it terribly appealing.  But my question is are guns really the issue or is it just another short term fix/ oversimplified political talking point?

*And I say distractions because there are far more pressing issues that serve as a greater danger than guns do.  Those dangers include but are in no way limited to North Korea, an economy that is showing no signs of recovering any time soon, and a federal government full of people hell bent on demonizing each other rather than doing what is best for the country.

I don’t want to get inside the anatomy of why we are having a rash of appalling violence.  It has little to do with a gun culture and more to do with the contagiousness of ideas.  If you’re really curious about this I suggest Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, he lays it out pretty well.

The first thing that jumps out to me is the numbers.  Conservative estimates have there being about 52 million Americans owning 260 million guns.  That’s a lot of people with a lot of guns.  A huge, huge, huge percentage of those people purchased them legally, own them legally, and use them legally.  To say that guns are the problem seems kind of strange.  Cars and alcohol kill people.  Yet there is hardly a movement to get any of these things outlawed (well I’m sure there is always a temperance movement out there).  Before you say “but cars, booze, have useful or non-destructive functions in society, guns just destroy” think about this: alcohol is pretty damn destructive, cars have a pretty crappy impact on the environment and due to their ubiquity actually kill and injure a lot more people.  I would also counter that guns do have a useful and non-destructive purpose.  Protection is pretty useful.  Shooting clays is not destroying anything beyond a clay target.

The other thing that jumps out at me is the War on Drugs.  Why is this relevant?  Because in the War on Drugs we outlawed drugs and spend millions and millions of tax dollars every year trying to catch those people who, decades later are still using them.  I don’t see guns being too different.  You outlaw guns, the only hands it takes them out of are those who are going to use them legally.  Your typical gang member doesn’t care that drugs are illegal, why would he care if guns are?  Outlawing drugs didn’t make them any harder to get, I don’t think outlawing guns would be any different.

So the real issue seems not to be no guns for anyone, but how can we keep the guns out of the hands of those who will use them to do bad.  One would think background checks are the answer.  However, background checks as they are right now really aren’t going to catch a whole lot.  They will check for felonies, misdemeanors, history of domestic violence, dishonorable discharge from the military, if you’ve renounced your citizenship, or if you’ve ever been involuntarily committed/ adjudicated mentally incompetent.  In other words they check court records and a few other things.  This background check would not have caught the guy from Newtown.  

So it seems that background checks are woefully incomplete.  I blame this on laws like HIPPA.  I don’t understand why people are shouting from the roof tops to take guns away from everyone, despite there being a Constitutional guarantee of a right to bear arms, yet no one has said a word that laws like HIPPA, which have no constitutional base whatsoever, need to be adjusted.  The right to privacy is not found in the Constitution, nor in the common law.  This “right” is a statutory creation of the 20th century (legal scholars are reminded the contortions Justice Douglas went through in Griswold v. Connecticut when he called it the penumbra of the Constitution aka the shadow), meaning it is actually a privilege.  Being a statutory creation means it is only guaranteed as long as the legislature guarantees it.  This means it can be modified.

I realize that your mental condition is not something you want out there for everyone to see.  But if guns are so dangerous, and it so important to keep people safe from guns why are we not going farther to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands?  Instead the response has been to let dangerous, crazy people remain secretly dangerous and crazy while taking a Constitutional Right (the Second Amendment, so important the Framers put it second) away from millions who wouldn’t even dream of using them to harm an innocent person.  It seems like we would be punishing the wrong people.  It seems to me like the extreme reaction is not the best, but a middle ground can be found.  Would it involve people giving up privileges?  Absolutely, but it would not involve giving up rights.  The thing about privileges is that they are luxuries; they are not necessary for a functioning republic.  Rights are the essential liberties that make the Republic.  When we start giving up rights for luxuries we start down the Roman path, which we all know ends in destruction.  

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