Special to The SWT
James Peele’s recent commentary McAuliffe and gun control is just another predictable screed of threadbare arguments from gun rights advocates as to how our nation can become a safer place by increasing the number of guns in circulation. But Peele offers nothing of substance presented to remedy our epidemic of gun violence, one of our most serious problems and a national disgrace. What is needed are real, workable solutions that reduce that carnage.
The magnitude of problem of gun injuries and deaths cannot be exaggerated. Our United States has more guns and more gun deaths, per capita, than any developed nation on earth. Americans die from gun deaths at a rate 165 times greater than Japan, 40 times greater than Great Britain, seven times greater than Italy, and four times greater than Canada. Mass murders in particular are on a steady, 30-year upswing. Solutions beg for development and implementation.
The basis for gun ownership law arises from the Second Amendment, which 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.”
Gun rights advocates are fixated on the “shall not be infringed” phrase, but conveniently gloss over the “A well regulated militia.” What is meant by a well regulated militia?
Militias in the colonial era were volunteer units with self-chosen leaders that formed when needed for communal protection. The militia system that existed when the Amendment was written no longer exists. The modern equivalent is principally our state National Guards, along with various police departments and law enforcement agencies. We should infer that the Founding Fathers, in recognizing the need for public safety, felt compelled to add the words “well regulated,” not merely suggesting regulation but mandating it. So in absence of the proper training and registration implied by “well regulated,” then the right to keep and bear arms must be infringed.
Constitutional scholars continue to debate whether the Second Amendment grants weaponry rights solely to organized, trained groups or to every Tom, Dick, Harry, (or Seung-Hui, Adam, or Jared Lee) who wants one. The word “security” is typically overlooked in the discussion, but the Founders clearly intended for public safety to be a stringent responsibility.
Why would anybody need or want a gun? There are three arguably legitimate reasons:
* A hedge against a tyrannical federal government
* Personal protection from other citizens
Let’s discuss individually.
Peele argues correctly that in the Federalist Papers (28 & 29), Alexander Hamilton notes Americans of that era were wary of a national government using its military to oppress individuals. However, the weaponry by our federal government possesses now was unimaginable in Hamilton’s time. Our military can put a laser-guided missile in any window in America in 20 minutes and a single submarine carries enough firepower to obliterate a continent. Individuals or groups stand no chance. Our safety now is dependent on the government restraining our military, not in our individual ability to defend ourselves against it.
Regarding personal protection, I understand that some people feel that their personal protection is enhanced through gun ownership and carry. The reality is that people are statistically MORE likely, not less, to be injured or killed owning a gun than not. Nevertheless, if someone feels compelled to own a gun for protection, he or she should be “well regulated” in the sense of affirming such a need publicly, obtaining proper training in ownership and use, proving competency, and becoming insured for losses resulting from improper use, as a needed acquiescence in the spirit of public safety.
By illustration, I am a motorcycle rider. In Virginia in order to own and operate a motorcycle, I must get a driver’s license including an eye exam, then a specialty license, then insurance for myself and the bike, along with periodic re-licensing and re-inspection. Why? Because driving otherwise is deemed a public safety risk. Why should the ownership and operation of a device – a gun – designed to kill others, not be equally regulated? More to the point, why would any caring citizen willingly submit to regulation and training for automobile ownership and use, yet be unwilling to do the same for gun ownership and use?
Regarding hunting, the same rules should apply. Hunting is a time-honored tradition with many avid adherents, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. However, hunters should also be subject to stringent rules on eyesight, competency, and mental acuity.
Peele’s final point is also one that is often used by those advocating for no gun control. Eviscerating his own rhetoric with this closing, logically bankrupt claim, Peele says, “The argument that escapes this writer is a simple one. Gun control laws target those who obey the law.” Since when do we ask our legislatures to only pass laws they think people will obey? Should we eliminate laws forbidding bank robbery because some people will ignore them and rob banks anyway? Gun control laws, like all laws, target everyone. Law abiding citizens will obey them and law breakers will suffer the consequences. Always.
The problem I have with the gun rights advocates is that either they don’t see gun violence as a problem or they do but are devoid of solutions. The only modest solution Peele proffers is better mental health intervention … while his ideological mates are often the first to slash government programs that fund mental health care services!
It defies logic, reason, and statistics to argue that putting more guns in our schools, stores, sports venues, and other public places makes them safer. Can we not find common ground in enhancing enforcement for gun trafficking, extending mental health resources, and making background checks and licensing integral parts of gun ownership?
I am realistic enough to know that gun violence is not going away tomorrow and that one or two laws will not solve the problem. But I am optimistic that reasonable people will agree it is worth solving and will support candidates, like our new Governor McAuliffe, who devote themselves to meaningful solutions. Every legitimate solution should be scrutinized and implemented until positive results happen.
*Michael Abraham is a businessman and author who lives in Blacksburg. He recently ran for the House of Delegates in the 7th District.