Monday, December 16, 2013

The Argument over Guns

If you are at all interested in politics and what makes our society work, I would strongly encourage you to read The Thirteen American Arguments by Howard Fineman. He posits that we are a nation born to argue and that the arguments we have actually make us a stronger, more unified nation.

Well, here's a long-standing argument that has taken hold in our nation. With every new tragedy, and with every anniversary of a tragedy, we hear more and more about the need to address firearm safety. On the one side, there are those who believe that the 2nd Amendment to the constitution guarantees citizens the right to bear arms in any circumstance. They believe that an American citizen has the right to any firearm they choose, any size magazine, any type of ammunition, etc. They believe that the way to curb gun violence is to give more people guns, because no one is going to want to pull a gun on someone that could pull a gun right back.

On the other side, we have people who believe that the 2nd Amendment is antiquated and referred to a style of weapon that no longer exists. They believe that guns and ammunition should be tightly controlled, and used only in very specific circumstances. They advocate that concealed firearms, large-capacity magazines, and automatic weapons are not necessary for the general public, present major safety concerns, and are not meant to be protected by the 2nd Amendment.

There are plenty of people on both sides of this issue, but the majority of folks fall somewhere in between these two extremes. I certainly lean more toward the control end of the spectrum, but will always subscribe to a common-sense approach to gun safety and control.

The issue that I see coming up with this debate, however, is the extreme stances both sides are taking in order to push their views. For example, nearly all the sheriff's in the state of Colorado have refused to enforce new gun laws. On the other side, gun control advocates have stepped up their plans to fund candidates in the 2016 elections. I don't agree with either of these approaches.

Firstly, I don't believe that a law enforcement officer should refuse to enforce a law, even if they don't personally agree with it. Like the Florida sheriff who released a man who had been arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, and was then acquitted of misconduct charges, who claimed he did it to uphold the man's 2nd Amendment rights, a law enforcement officer should not be able to ignore the law simply because it does not match their personal beliefs. If there's a law on the books, the police are supposed to uphold it. Shouting "fire" in a theater is technically free speech, but we don't allow people to do that. What if a police officer doesn't believe that people should smoke marijuana in a place where it's legal. Will that officer still arrest people for it? Can an officer refuse to arrest someone for murder if the officer believes it was self defense?

Conversely, I don't think that any special interest groups should throw money into elections. If they want to advocate for stricter gun control laws, I will support that (to a point). But attempting to buy election results goes against my belief in the democratic election process. No one, not even groups I agree with, should be able to spend unlimited amounts of money in campaigns to elect politicians that will vote the way they want. It goes against the principles of our country (in my opinion).

As I've said before, I believe in taking a common-sense approach to gun control. I live in an area where hunting and recreational shooting are very common. My state has some of the loosest gun laws in the country, and one of the lowest gun-related crime rates. I think that, if people are given the tools to act responsibly, and only use guns in recreational capacities, there's not a problem. But when a person says that they have the right to carry around and AK-47 with an extended clip, that's where I draw the line. A gun like that might be fun to shoot, but you don't need one for personal protection or for hunting. If it serves no peaceful purpose in your life, you don't need it. If you want to shoot an AK, go to a gun range that carries them. Common sense also tells me that you don't need a high-capacity magazine, armor-piercing rounds, or assault-type weapons for personal protection or recreation. I have no problem banning personal ownership of assault weapons (indeed, it used to be banned, with the NRA's blessing. The NRA also used to support universal background checks).

I believe that the argument over gun rights will never be completely resolved, nor should it be. The argument forges us into a stronger nation where everyone can have their views taken into consideration. The problem is the fundamentalist, black-and-white rhetoric that has taken over the conversation, and drawn battle lines around their extreme viewpoints. The middle ground is a no-mans-land of crossfire and punditry, and nothing seems to every get done. Let's bring back some common sense, common respect, and have a real conversation about guns, using our inside voices and everything.

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