There are an estimated 280 million guns in the United States. One for nearly every American. One in 15 Spokane County residents has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. In Kootenai County, it’s 1 in 20. Since the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, people have stood in long lines to turn in permit applications.
The sheer volume of weaponry in the United States suggests that Americans must accommodate gun ownership while becoming more secure. People want to be able to defend themselves, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled as recently as 2008 that they have a right to do so with a gun.
A debate on what to do next is being waged in Congress and across the land. State legislatures will soon be inundated with gun-related bills. Passions are high, but those battling this out on the extremes should come to grips with the fact their unrealistic positions will merely impede any progress toward greater security.
On the gun control side, activists need to accept the long history of gun ownership in America. Insulting law-abiding gun owners or demeaning their motives only exacerbates suspicions that any new regulation is a stepping-stone to confiscation. On the other hand, the gun lobby must stop treating all proposals as assaults on the Second Amendment.
If we could look at this issue through the prism of homeland security, proposals shouldn’t look so scary. After terrorist Richard Reid attempted to ignite plastic explosives packed into his shoe, all airline passengers had to remove their shoes. This security measure has been inconvenient, but it wasn’t designed to punish law-abiding passengers.
Similarly, reasonable gun control proposals are focused on security, not punishment. Each one of them can be criticized for not keeping us entirely secure. No single measure can. The best hope is to chip away at the problem.
However, some gun owners will feel picked on if other parts of the equation are not addressed. Mental illness, the proliferation of violent images in the media and video games featuring mass carnage are all issues.
Those need to be included in the discussion.
This problem resembles immigration in that some people think it’s possible to round up 12 million illegal immigrants and ship them out of the country. That isn’t any more realistic than the mass confiscation of guns. But as long as people hold on to the possibility, there will be no progress.
So let’s stop the insults, halt the sloganeering, build trust and work on some reasonable compromises. Everyone in this debate needs to surrender something, rather than take cover behind the same counterproductive barriers.
Increased regulation – whether it’s widening background checks, bolstering registration, mandating training or making it more difficult for the mentally ill to possess weapons – will cause law-abiding citizens to be inconvenienced. Most public safety measures do.
But to do nothing in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting would be a tragedy.