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Mon, Aug. 19

Column: Reasonable gun control infringes on no one

If you're a gun supporter with a closed mind, you can stop reading now!

I don't own a gun. I have a son who owns and uses many guns. I have gone target shooting with him. I hunted pheasant some years ago. I have discussed guns with many people, including hunters and avid gun owners.

Gun controls shouldn't restrict the vast majority of gun owners who are responsible, but reasonable restrictions can be aimed at irresponsible owners, including criminals and the mentally deranged. In America, the deaths per capita due to guns (homicide, suicide, accidental) significantly exceed every other modern country. Gun controls won't be effective overnight because there are thousands of powerful guns already in people's hands, but that's a poor argument for doing nothing now. Gun controls cannot guarantee against crazy people or gang-bangers killing others, but they can reduce the mayhem they cause and help gangsters be caught. Existing gun laws need to be enforced; anyone who flouts them should suffer heavy punishment, especially if death results.

The NRA is concerned that Second Amendment rights would be curtailed by gun controls. Until the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 (District of Columbia vs. Heller), it was unclear if this amendment allowed all Americans the right to bear arms or if that was restricted to well regulated militias. The court decided this right applied to all Americans.

However, writing for the majority, Justice Scalia ruled as follows: "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 qualification on the commercial sale of arms." He went on to say it is fair to prohibit "the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons." So under current Constitutional rules, despite what the NRA says, some gun controls are allowed.

While the current attention to gun control began with various recent horrific mass-murders, don't forget that day-to-day deaths caused by guns far exceed those headline-grabbing slayings. So, improving safety for everyone and reducing the epidemic of ongoing gun deaths must also be addressed. Based on the 2008 Court ruling, requiring background checks on all gun sales would probably pass constitutional muster, including private sales and sales at gun shows. There's wide support for this approach from both sides of the aisle. A better database of people with mental problems also needs to be compiled - that won't be easy.

The three main reasons for a person to own guns are: 1. Collectors (especially rare or antique guns); 2. Hunters or target shooters; 3. Protection of yourself and your family. By imposing reasonable gun controls in a hierarchical fashion, the safety of everyone can be balanced against the desires of gun owners -without violating anyone's constitutional rights. At the base level for the average person, semi-automatic guns (each pull of the trigger fires a bullet) should be disallowed, as should large magazines (say over six bullets). These restrictions would still allow people to hunt and protect themselves.

Having a regular driving license doesn't permit you to drive a 10-ton semi-trailer. For that you need a special license with more stringent controls and training, including safety considerations. For gun owners who want more firepower, a special license would allow them to buy semi-automatic weapons and larger magazines. Perhaps trigger locks should be required. This license would require much stricter background checks and firearms training - such licenses are already available in many states.

If all bullets in a box had a number inscribed internally, and purchasing bullets was recorded using a photo ID, the likelihood of tracing a homicide back to the killer would be enhanced. Gang bangers would think twice about killing if being caught were probable.

Military-style weapons (including automatic weapons) should be restricted to the armed forces, or perhaps to law enforcement - not private ownership. None of the three groups listed above need a military style weapon. If you want to drive a car at over 100 mph, you have to go to a special facility where this can be done safely. If you want to fire a military weapon like a machine gun, a similar rule should apply.

Some people want to own guns to protect the country from an oppressive government. I think they are seriously deluded that a few diehards could effectively fight against a modern army with tanks, artillery and helicopters.

Nigel Reynolds is a pragmatic engineer, now retired, who has lived in Prescott for more than 15 years.


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