The problems with discussions about this subject are that (A) zealots from both sides and the liberal media made it an ideological battleground. Most reports, articles and blogs present this theme pre-loaded with the authors’ stance and strong, preconceived notions, according to the motto: “if I want to hear your opinion, I will give it to you”. No genuine questions are put forward. Rather, their publications and broadcasts reflect entrenched positions with merely rhetorical questions to fit the answers the authors want, in the vein of: “don’t you want to prevent the future slaughter of innocent children?” (B) Like with politics or art, everybody has an opinion about guns, but few have an authoritative knowledge to provide factual comments. There are several aspects, which cannot be lumped together just for the sake of making a greater impression.
( I. ) The Second Amendment is an important and vital part of the US constitution. To call it “outdated” is to call the entire constitution outdated. (One could call it outdated, for the sole reason that it survived well over two centuries, proving its efficacy.) Laws are the entities which are enacted to follow social development, but must always remain subordinate to the constitution. Changing articles for convenience of legislation is a light-speed trip into the abyss. However, it is unwise and irrational to keep referring to the Second Amendment for justification of gun-ownership. This gives the ideologues on both side room for irrational and impractical drivel. We shall try to stay away from statistics either, so neither side can claim numbers-fraud. We also exclude hunting and target-shooting from this discussion. Hunting and the many shooting-sports are not under legislative threat at this stage and the provocative question: “why do you need an AK 47 to hunt ducks?” is not designed to inquire but to ridicule and does not deserve consideration.
Let us examine some other main arguments, on the basis of rationality.
(II.) “High-capacity” magazines: To reduce the number of potential victims by limiting the numbers of cartridges one can stuff in a magazine, is like trying to reduce the number of traffic-victims by limiting the quantity of gas a driver can fill in his tank at the pumps. Or, to run several school-buses with each seating not more than 6 children, in case one of the buses runs off a cliff. A trained operator can switch a new magazine in a second and can carry many clips.
“Assault-weapons”: The term the hoplophobes love for its colorful, aggressive distinction from a “harmless” and (therefore justifiable?) “defensive weapon”, is a red herring. Whether a weapon is used to attack or to defend does not lie in its design. Is a knife with a short blade a “defensive” weapon; one with a long blade is an “assault-knife”? The logic seems to be: a weapon which is less effective is good enough for defense, only criminals (and therefore the police too) need better weapons – and here we arrived at that relative word “need”.
(III.) The quintessential question, who decides on who needs what lies between a free and equal society and an authoritarian state. One could then ask why anyone would need a big SUV, a speedboat, a private plane, or car racing, etc., all objects or activities which can potentially lead to loss of dozens of lives. Preventive laws, (laws to eliminate potentiality) are hallmark of a weak society, a nanny-state at best. Such types of laws presume nonage and question your fitness for social membership. That some are unfit is sadly evident, but this is common in a pluralist society and cannot lead to a universal curfews. For politicians and activists it is common to react on certain visible symptoms of deeper-seated flaws with quick-fixes, to pacify their constituents. I do not like the argument that “guns don’t kill people, only people kill people” – it is sophism and distracts from solutions. It is a fact that many more people are killed and maimed in traffic-accidents as by accidents through use of a variety of inanimate objects or substances. If we claim that those devices are needed (!) for our “common good” or to function properly as society – than would this not be an equally plain hypocritical and irrational argument?
(IV.) The point is that the source of gun-related (and all other) tragedies is people and their mental state. If you do not trust a person with an “assault-weapon”, you cannot trust him with any firearm. In Switzerland, almost every able male has a privately owned military-issue “assault-rifle” in their wardrobe (usually for all their adult lives), as part of their militia-system. How often did you hear about a gun-related massacre or even public shooting incident in this nation? In Israel, citizens go to bed with their guns and female officers breast-feed with their “Galil” over their shoulders.
I spent over 15 years in Cambodia, starting 1989, when the Khmer Rouge still held 40 percent of the country. After the UNTAC mission, AK 47s were a common welcome- or house-warming gift. A significant security problem after 1993 was caused by decommissioned poor and depraved soldiers, resorting to robbery and kidnapping. After these “Ronins” were re-integrated with jobs and homes (or killed and arrested), the crime dropped to levels comparable to neighboring countries. After 1997, the UN initiated a large anti-firearms campaign, financially and enthusiastically supported by the saintly Japanese. Within two weeks, all licensed gun-owners, mainly affluent homeowners, officials and foreigners surrendered their guns, sold them on to less worried acquaintances, or simply threw them into the Mekong. The vast majority of guns, however, disappeared predictably into the underground, where they escaped any official control. All weapons are still there (except the ones thrown into the Mekong, plus additional ones smuggled in from Thailand) – but nobody knows who owns them now and where they are kept. Despite this failed UN-show, Cambodia is today a safer place than New York. Perhaps the Khmer have better ethical principles and rationality?
(V.) We understand the benefits of licensing motor vehicles; we should accept the licensing of firearms (if it works as a common record-system, not as a ploy to restrict ownership to the elite). Since we understand the need for driving tests, we appreciate the importance of ensuring that any gun-owner can demonstrate safe and competent handling of his firearms. No firearm should ever be given to a minor without instruction and supervision. The person responsible for doing so, the person who allows a gun to fall in the hands of an unqualified, unstable person and an owner who does not keep his arms safely and securely should be severely punished. The real culprits in the shootings by minors or students are the parents or guardians and those who facilitated the possession of his weapons.
(VI.) I do think the NRA pursues some very unfortunate and insensitive policies. Nevertheless, it is not an impersonal, self-propelled bio-mechanical monster, which needs to be destroyed with extreme prejudice, but a legal and voluntary association of over 4.3 Mill. US citizens. Surely, their voice and influence is commensurate to the size of their community. Should they then not be integrated into US society with equal zeal as the tolerant liberals demand integration of Muslims, illegal aliens, under-performers, homosexuals and other minorities and fringe-groups, or is the NRA an enemy of the state?
(VII.) No law will ever prevent tragedies or massacres. Laws can only define what society abhors and list the punishment for delinquency. If Laws would work as prevention, one could simply outlaw stupidity or evil. Prevention of depravity comes from the teaching of ethical principles, a common moral philosophy, education and the concept of taking personal responsibility. A person who commits such a despicable act as in Newtown has obviously been deeply disturbed and set irrevocably on his road to perdition. But, he did not take his trip in isolation! The very people, who proclaim the blessings and success of a cozy, protected and egalitarian universe, now cannot accept a personified result of their wholesale discrediting of traditional values and deliberate blurring of moral borders; the entire institutionalized political correctness, where only the competitive, productive, successful, inventive and rational person must be fearful of consequences of failure. The perpetrator did not come from Mars or North Korea, but from our midst. Blaming his weapon is clearly not an adequate response and an insult to the victims and their loved ones – and an assault on rationality.
I just heard over the Radio, President Obama said that “something has to be done” well, there you go. A new law takes a signature on a document, a few minutes of his time. To bring purpose and meaning to the lives of millions of young people, however, takes a generation. But something will do just fine, I guess.