31 January 2013


Recently my father and I were talking about the epidemic of mass shootings in the U.S., and the debate over proposed gun control legislation.  We agreed that ~

  • most people misunderstand the term "assault weapon".  Military assault rifles (e.g. the M-16 or the AK-47) are capable of both semi-automatic fire (a single squeeze of the trigger will fire only one round) and full automatic fire (a single trigger squeeze will fire multiple rounds, for as long as the trigger is held down and the ammunition supply lasts).  Most civilian assault weapons visually resemble military assault rifles, but are only capable of semi-automatic fire ~ just like my old Remington .22 rifle or my Glock .45 pistol.  One round fired per trigger pull.
  • most people misunderstand the meaning of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the NRA has deliberately distorted the meaning to its own ends.  The 2nd Amendment reads in its entirety as follows ~ "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."  At the time of its passage, the U.S. did not maintain a standing army, and relied on state militias in time of conflict.  Today, we obviously do maintain a standing army, and state militias have evolved into the National Guard (and do not include small private self-styled "militia" groups of anti-government survivalists).  Clearly the definition of "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" has become subject to legal and scholarly interpretation, especially when you consider that the founding fathers could not possibly have predicted that weaponry would become so much more sophisticated and lethal than the muskets of the day.
  • the fact that there are nearly 300 million firearms in private hands in the U.S., more than the other developed nations combined, is a clear case of overkill.  The ease with which most adults can legally buy guns, often without a background check or waiting period, is the path by which so many guns fall into the hands of criminals and psychopaths.
  • the level of gun violence in America has long since passed the point where regulation is needed.  Why not treat gun ownership and use like we treat car ownership and use?  We require drivers to pass knowledge and skills tests before issuing a renewable driver's license.  We also require that every vehicle be licensed, registered and insured.  It makes perfect sense to require every gun owner to pass a gun safety class and demonstrate firing skill on the range (as well as pass a criminal background check and undergo a psychological evaluation) before issuing a license to carry or use a firearm.  Similarly, every gun should be licensed and registered, and liability insurance should be required.
None of the above should be interpreted to mean that I am anti-gun.  I am a gun-owning liberal, and have been all my life.  (See Confessions of a Liberal Gun Owner)  I simply recognize that with freedom comes responsibility.  I received hunter safety training as a teenager, military weapons training in the Army, and safety training to qualify for my state-issued concealed carry permit.  A gun is an absolute last resort, precisely because it is a lethal device.  But I would not hesitate to use my weapon if an assailant threatened innocent lives, including my own.

During our talk, my dad mentioned an anecdote that appears to justify private gun ownership and resistance to gun regulation.  Allegedly, Adolf Hitler passed laws that first regulated, and later removed the right of citizens to own guns during his ascent to power.  The implication is that attempts to regulate gun ownership in the U.S. could lead to a powerless citizenry.  The anecdote is false, and the implication is therefor illogical.  Here's what happened ~

Germany passed its gun registration law in 1928, five years before Hitler's rise to power.  Hitler didn't need to take away the guns of Germans ~ they loved him and elected him.  He won with propaganda, not gun laws.  Further, in 1938 Hitler actually liberalized gun laws in order to put weapons in the hands of younger and older men.  The only people who were subject to restrictive gun laws were citizens of conquered countries, as well as oppressed minorities like Jews.

Here and here are my information sources.  And here is a comprehensive discussion on the gun law debate in the U.S. today, presenting both rhetoric and facts.

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