Not every gun control measure infringes on the right to bear arms.
Senator Charles Schumer recently outlined the parameters of what could become a reasonable discussion about gun control. His was a welcome opening in the face of relative silence on gun control after the shootings July 20 in an Aurora, Colorado, theater.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vowed to keep gun control legislation from the Senate floor, neither presidential candidate made the kind of strong statement that would help define the debate, and many newspapers and radio channels skirted the central issues of what would be appropriate restrictions on access to 6,000 rounds of automatic ammunition, of the kind used by the gunman in Colorado.
President Obama waited a week before affirming the traditions of hunting, shooting and gun ownership, saying that he believes the Second Amendment guarantees people the right to bear arms. “But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals, that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.” Mitt Romney said, without substantiation, that the gunman had obtained many of his weapons illegally and that new gun control laws wouldn’t help. But it took a week after the shootings to get these statements, and that was pretty much where it stopped.
Some editorialists have expressed doubt about the president’s support for the Second Amendment, based on the pro-gun control opinions of Supreme Court justices he has appointed. Whether or not it makes sense to challenge his stated views based on the actions of others (there are many other issues that factor into a presidential nomination to the Supreme Court, after all), it appears clear from comments from campaigns that the well-funded gun lobby is geared up to fight any politician who brings plain talk to the issue of gun control. It also seems possible that part of some gun owners’ knee-jerk opposition to any gun control anytime anywhere does stem from fear of it being a first step toward opposing the right to bear arms.
Schumer, D-N.Y., proposes a simple concession to open up the possibility of debate: for gun control advocates to clearly state that their agenda is not to restrict the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. “We need a new conversation on guns and I was trying to suggest a direction for it,” he later explained. For me, as a wife and mother of gun-using deer hunters, that has some basic appeal.
Unfortunately, whether many gun owners’ fears could ever be allayed so that the conversation could be opened up depends principally on the calculus of those who influence gun owners, i.e., the gun lobby. Whether there are any circumstances under which the gun lobby could accept any restrictions on any gun is doubtful, especially given that lobby’s response in recent years to modest requirements for background checks, restrictions on semiautomatic weapons, and other common-sense approaches.
Tragically, the lobby’s outsized influence both with gun owners and politicians means that unless gun control advocates can communicate meaningfully with gun owners or create an equally strong political force for common-sense laws, the seemingly sensible approach by Schumer will find no traction. And the nation will continue to be periodically shocked by tragedies that should never happen in a civilized society.
August 5, 2012
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Margaret Krome lives in Madison and writes columns for the Capital Times.