Friday, April 19, 2013

Arguments for Gun Control

A day after the United States Senate’s cowardly failure to pass a proposal expanding background checks on gun sales, a proposal that 90% of Americans support, two gunmen engaged in a shootout with police in Watertown, MA. The two men are suspects in Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon, which left three people dead and over one hundred injured. Their gun battle with police began with the fatal shooting of a university police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, involved a robbery and a carjacking, and left another policeman injured. One of the two gunmen was fatally wounded; the other is currently at large.  

The timing, in my mind, could not be more bitterly ironic. Could it be any clearer that we need stronger gun control? Someone recently quoted the aphorism “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” at me. I was not in a situation in which it would have been appropriate to respond to her statement at the time. What I would say, however, is that some types of guns make it terribly, devastatingly easy for people to kill large numbers of people very rapidly and without much thought. And there are people who, through either illness or their past behavior, have given evidence that they should not be trusted with the responsibility of owning and using a gun.

 I can understand the attraction of guns. I learned through the military how to safely clean and shoot a gun in target practice, and that was fun once I got over being frightened. I respect people who hunt, particularly those who hunt for food. I can appreciate the desire to have a handgun at home for protection; I don’t want one myself, but I can understand the fear that motivates this desire. However we aren’t talking about banning all guns. The gun control conversation is about background checks and banning assault weapons. And I am confused about why there is so much controversy about what seem like very simple, reasonable restrictions.  

Background checks seem very reasonable to me. I ask for background checks on the people who care for my child. Heck, I ask for background checks on the people who care for my pets. It seems to me that past criminal activity would be an obvious reason to prohibit someone from owning a gun. And there are certainly precedents on prohibiting certain kinds of behavior based on a history of illness (military service, airline pilots, driving, to name a few) for the sake of safety of others. While it might seem unfair, you could just as easily say it is unfair that I will never be an NBA player because I was born short and female or that I can’t be a fighter pilot because my vision is too poor. All of us are born with characteristics that limit us in certain situations. It’s not a question of fair or unfair, it’s a question of what a person is capable of managing without danger to themselves or others. 

 The argument that I, or the government as my designated representative, may not limit the rights of others doesn’t seem legitimate either. I was taught in middle school civics that my rights stop where someone else’s rights begin. And so my “rights” are limited on a daily basis. I limit the speed of my driving. I obey stop signs and traffic signs. I wait in line in stores and I work so that I have money to purchase things. Civilized society depends on all of us being willing to constrain or accept constraints on our behavior for the well-being of the whole. So I am perfectly willing to say that your “right” to unrestricted ownership of any type of gun can be restricted in favor of my right to send my child to school without fear of her being murdered by an assault weapon.  

I have heard a few arguments by people saying they need to have access to assault weapons because the government does. They feel they need to protect themselves against our government, by force if needed. To which statement, I’m sorry, but I just have to laugh. I’m sorry, but I’ve been in the military. The military is not afraid of you or your militia, armed with an assault rifle or not. Trust me; you are not a threat to them. The only ways to keep our government in check are the way that were designed into our constitution: election of representatives who will consider the common good above their own self-interest, preservation of three separate branches of government so power is distributed among multiple people, maintenance of a media free of government control and influence that conveys accurate information to the public, and participation of an informed, educated citizenry in elections and decision making. 

 Is gun control the only or complete answer to the violence in our society? No, I don’t think so. I think we need to re-learn how to speak with respect to those we disagree with. I think we need to remember to speak with kindness and civility to people who seem different, who may frighten us. We need to remember the commandment “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” found in Matthew Ch 6:27-28, which is a direct command for 73% of Americans who self-identify as Christians and pretty good advice for the remaining 27%. We need to develop an attitude of openness and curiosity towards things that seem different or challenging instead of relying on an instinctive fight/flight/freeze response. But in the meantime, while we are learning these things, while we are re-forming ourselves into a civilized society, let’s make it harder for the violent and uncivil among us to act out their rage and confusion on innocent people. Let’s enact some gun control, shall we?