The gun debate: 13 years later

Feb 5 2013 - 1:49pm

In the summer of 2000, two young mothers left their young children with their fathers and flew with their mother to our nations' capitol. They were joined by 999,997 other women to protest gun laws. My two daughters wanted to make a statement about gun safety. 

My first opinion article for this newspaper in October of 2000 was on the subject of gun laws. The Million Mom March, supported by Rosie O'Donnell, in Washington D.C. had drawn a great deal of attention.

Shortly after this I attended a gun show at the Salt Palace where thousands of guns, knives, books, and related items were offered for sale to thousands of people attending. Large posters with the face of Rosie O'Donnell were on display with petitions attached to stop Rosie from taking our guns. There were also smaller versions of this poster placed above the men's urinals with a slightly different message; I didn't check the ladies room.

Since then more gun laws have been passed but nothing much has changed with regard to murder by gun. The same problem exists today because there have been no serious attempts to tackle the full spectrum of contributing causes which include encouraging and fostering a culture of violence, much of it through the entertainment industry. The entertainment industry contributes heavily to the Democrat candidates who gladly accept their money. The NRA contributes heavily to Republican candidates.

The Second Amendment is the source of our right to bear arms. This one sentence description reads --"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." Please note that Militia, Arms, and State are capitalized, an indication of the significance of those words. That's it, one sentence that defines a very important right. Which begs the question, is it definitive enough for the 21st Century?

At the time they wrote the Second Amendment, the authors generally understood what a militia was; many of them had served in militias. To include this in the Bill of Rights they naturally wanted it to be a "well regulated militia" because it was critical for the defense of the country; we had little in the way of a standing army. They wanted to guarantee that nothing would stand in the way of citizen soldiers owning guns. The two primary elements of a militia are men and firearms; if the two are together it requires rules and organization. Citizen soldiers had their own guns and kept them at home and were responsible for their upkeep and use.

In the 21st century personally owned guns, legal and illegal, are kept and used for many purposes including hunting, sport, protection and even criminal activity; illegal guns are more apt to be used for the latter purpose. Gun owners may be mentally stable, or not. Much has changed since the 1790s; the words of the Second Amendment have not but there is reason to believe that an updated interpretation is necessary. Certainly the word militia has a different meaning today than then, and a reasonable interpretation is that gun owner's responsibility must be included with the right to bear arms. The meaning of "infringed" also deserves study. Does it mean that under no circumstances is gun ownership to be limited?

It is dishonest and delusional to focus on only one factor of death by gun as many reactionaries are doing and insisting on passing meaningless laws. It is also fantasy to believe that everyone has a right to own any gun, anytime and anyplace or to believe that gun owners are not responsible for the consequences of improper use of guns they own.

Not much has changed since 2000. If anything, the causes of violent behavior culminating in death by gun have increased. We haven't yet learned that the cause and effect of gun violence correlates to that of the cause of auto accidents; it's the "loose nut" behind the wheel at fault.

Violence continues to be a huge factor in movies and television; video games simulating violence are more popular than ever. Mass murder by deranged persons will continue unless and until we take serious steps to attack the contributing causes of murder by gun regardless of how many laws or Executive Orders are written. 

The question is; will we as intelligent citizens living in a free country find the means to control if not eliminate violence in our society; or will we continue to be placated by politicians whose only response is to pass more laws? History tells us that we will go back to old habits as soon as a new gun restriction is in place or some intervening act redirects our attention.

John W. Reynolds lives in Pleasant View.

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