A Sensible Approach to the Gun Debate

Let’s look instead to the government that we have, the one created by the same founding fathers who listed both gun ownership and freedom of speech as inalienable rights.

The tragedy in Sandy Hook has brought the national conversation to gun violence, which inevitably leads to the seemingly insurmountable differences between those who advocate for gun control laws and those who vow that the only way to get their guns from them is to “pry them from their cold, dead hands.”  The facts that the only cold dead hands increasingly seem to belong to those of the innocent, unarmed variety only serves to cement their case: the answer, according to Wayne LaPierre, is to arm more good guys with weaponry in order to combat the bad guys with weaponry.  That this makes sense to anyone who isn’t a comic book writer illustrates the huge disconnect we feel with society, and each other.

Sensible arguments about passing legislation to restrict high capacity magazines are met with staunch opposition from many on the far right.  The argument goes back to the wording and the intent of the second amendment.

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.

In order to secure a free state, according to gun advocates, it’s necessary to enter into what has become a domestic arms race.  When the Constitution was written, goes the argument, the people had access to the same types of assault weapons as the government.  They all had muskets.  Yet, as the technology of weapons had become increasingly sophisticated it is up to the general public to keep up in order to ensure their freedom against a tyrannical government.  To leave ourselves unarmed, or un-heavily-armed – is to be vulnerable to the Hitlers and Stalins of the future.

The voices of those who echo this argument have turned deaf ears to the counter-argument that the American government has accumulated more weapons of mass destruction than the entire world over, and that no amount of AK-47s is going to stop them if they are so inclined to turn them on their own people if they are taken over by hostile tyrants.  The right to amass weapons to protect themselves is ingrained as a fundamental right and a threat to that right is perceived as a threat to their freedom.  And freedom is the cornerstone of this country, a source of pride to our citizenry, and a distinct part of our culture.

It isn’t going away.

Instead of alienating each other at this point, instead of yelling and trying to paint the opposing side as stupid, ignorant, or downright wrong, why don’t we come up with some constructive action that would serve to unite us and to become a rightful source of pride?  The fear of a tyrannical takeover might be dismissed by those who pass it off as a paranoid delusion of a gun nut.  They would be wrong.  Political takeovers happen, sometimes supported by this country for our own political gain, masked under the cloak of promoting worldwide “freedom.” Those who believe it could never happen here might have also believed that we were insulated from terrorists.  9/11 changed that game.

Yet, arming ourselves to the gills doesn’t seem to be the answer.  Firstly, because the government has much bigger gills and secondly, because with the proliferation of semi-automatic weapons, tragedies like the one in Sandy Hook have a greater chance of happening.  And no one, including Wayne LaPierre, wants that.

Let’s look instead to the government that we have, the one created by the same founding fathers who listed both gun ownership and freedom of speech as inalienable rights.  Let’s consider this experiment of a country that we have inherited and honor it by contributing to it in a meaningful way.  The best protection against a tyrannical government is not to load up the country with rifles (ask Somalia).  It is to participate in our democracy to make sure we have the strongest, most efficient government.  This includes electing a congress who serves the people, rather than solely focuses on an obstructionist political agenda.  The best protection is to make sure our government is functional, to hold our politicians responsible for governing.  This includes voting out those whose sole function is to make others fail.  This includes changing the notion of success in government from meaning to step over the bodies of those we have defeated by ugly and dishonest means.  It means supporting laws that restrict unlimited corporate donations to politicians in order to further corporate interests at the expense of the people in the name of “free speech.”  It means to make sure our children are educated, that it is for the good of the people to invest in making government function and cooperate, to stand united, to pick up the smallest and weakest of us, to actually leave no child behind.  This is the way we honor that magnificent document and the legacy we were born into.

And if we can come together and have a productive conversation without alienating each other, name calling, ridiculing – and demand that our elected leaders do the same – might we find our fingers slowly retracting from triggers?

Author: Jaime Franchi

Jaime Franchi is a freelance writer living on Long Island. Her work can be found on Salon.com, Milieu Magazine, Punchnel's and the New York Times. www.JaimeFranchi.com

18 thoughts on “A Sensible Approach to the Gun Debate”

  1. On Sunday, my local paper – the same one that created a stir by printing a map of residents with gun permits – printed an op-ed by a gun owner who took the position that we need more “armed good guys.” The accompanying photo showed someone testing a child’s bulletproof vest and backpack. If our solution to the epidemic of gun violence is to dress our schoolchildren in bulletproof clothing, can we even call ourselves a civilization anymore?

    In the hours after the Newtown massacre, I got into a couple of online arguments with gun owners. Two things struck me: 1) their first instinct was to assert and defend their own rights, rather than to ask, “What can we do to prevent more tragedies like these;” and 2) when pushed, the gun owner admitted that private citizens have no legitimate reasons to own assault weapons, which meant that their position wasn’t that far from mine.

    I have good friends who are responsible gun owners who obey the laws and treat their weapons safely, and I am deeply disappointed that they have chosen to circle the wagons rather than speaking up for sensible regulations that don’t impinge upon their Second Amendment rights. They could be a voice of reason, but instead many are content to let Wayne LaPierre be their voice, which has nothing to do with reason.

  2. sound reasoning and excellent writing, ms. franchi. i hope cooler heads with prevail in the discussions that will follow the introduction of comprehensive gun safety and citizen protection laws by the obama administration. your point that it’s about keeping people safe is the most important one, not someone’s alleged constitutional right.

  3. Ya pretty much nailed it, Jaime. I’ve been going back and forth in a forum on the issue. My view probably favors the side of more and stricter regulation on gun ownership, but I also want to bed fair to the people who see a need for having guns in the home.

    Like on so many issues, however, the extremes on the matter seem to dominate the discussion. There seems to be no desire, let alone willingness, to understand “the other side” by the people with perspectives set in concrete.

    Not sure how this is ever going to be “solved”, but it my guess is we will go through a LOT more national tragedy because of guns before we ever truly get serious about making things different.

    Glad to see there are people like you who can at least look at the problem from many perspectives.

  4. Suggesting sensible debate is rhetorically a truism. The issue is whether America remains a free country and based on Liberty. Liberty requires that all individuals have the right to defend themselves. If individuals have the right to defend themselves then individuals must be able to arm themselves with whatever arms are available to those whom would cause harm. If the bad guys have automatic weapons then the good guys must have the right to have automatic weapons.

    If an individual passionately values his or her freedom and views such freedom as maintaining their right to defend themselves by possessing arms equal to or greater than the assailant(s). “sensible debate” that suggests forcibly denying an individual’s right to bear such powerful weapons will sensibly be viewed as an act of aggression against the freedom loving individual. This may explain why some defenders of the 2nd Amendment appear unnerved when anti-gun activists suggest to engage in “sensible debate” about taking away the right to own an automatic weapon.

    The Government created by our Founders was assumed to be distrusted and inefficient which is why the Founders created a Constitution to limit the power of the federal Government. The Founders made the amendment process difficult because they believed that events like Sandy Hook would conjure great emotions which might persuade Americans to depart from American principles and fundamental individual rights that are necessary to preserve Liberty.

    As emotional and repulsive to some is the availability of dangerous weapons, Liberty requires that individuals be free to obtain such weapons deemed necessary to protect themselves.

    A recent debate that I found enlightening was between Pier Morgan and Larry Pratt which made some the my points.

  5. Clifford, I appreciate your thoughts posted here. Where we come to disagreement, however, is in the actualities of what I have called the domestic arms race. As for matching the weaponry of the government, it’s already been lost by the common man. As for matching the artillery of a perceived enemy, real or not, it just doesn’t suffice to create legislation to protect it. Your liberty is as important to you as mine is to me – even if you capitalize it. Yet, I think that when you perceive your liberty as the right to keep and bear semi-automatic assault weapons with unlimited magazines, I see this as an infringement of my rights as a citizen to take my children to school in a safe environment. There should be a working partnership between our government and her citizens to mutually create a safe society. Optimally. But I’ll have to go to my undergrad poly sci days of John Stuart Mill, and believe that your version of liberty affects mine and is therefore grounds for discussion. “As soon as any part of a person’s conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion. But there is no room for entertaining any such question when a person’s conduct affects the interests of no persons besides himself, or needs not affect them unless they like (all the persons concerned being of full age, and the ordinary amount of understanding). In all such cases there should be perfect freedom, legal and social, to do the action and stand the consequences.” JSM

  6. Jaime, your characterization of the second amendment as a right for the citizenry to match the military power of the Government is misguided. That being said, if the second amendment needs to be clarified or expanded to prohibit weapons of mass destruction, then the proper course for a civil and free society that values the Rule of Law would be to amend the Constitution…not allow a President to legislate through executive orders a form of gun regulation.

    The right to defend oneself is paramount to Liberty. Frankly, Government should protect individual rights against the will of a majority…not impose the majority’s will on a minority.

    Your understanding of rights seems distorted. You do not have a right to restrict others from exercising their rights based on your FEAR of firearms. You have no right to be free of fear or hunger or want or anxiety.

    In quoting JSM you take a utilitarian position of the “greater good” to argue that gun restrictions would benefit society. While I do not prescribe to utilitarianism, a utilitarian argument does not work for gun control. A free society is most prosperous and peaceful. A free society requires that all individuals have the right to protect themselves from physical violence. In fact it is your version of Liberty which affects all of society in benefiting the criminal who by their nature will violate the law and make vulnerable the law abiding citizen.

    As Ben Franklin said ““Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”

  7. Hi Clifford – Again, you make some compelling points and I appreciate your input. Let’s just consider this: you say that I don’t have the right to restrict others based on my fear of firearms. Yet, isn’t the argument for military-grade weaponry with unlimited magazines precisely based on a fear of a government overtaken by tyranny? Your fear is legitimate, even though it has not happened, and mine is not, even though it happens at an increasing pace in this country? I am not saying that your fear is unreasonable. In fact, I said that it was in the original piece. My argument is simply that by using our combined efforts to strengthen the country by electing competent politicians and holding them to their jobs, we stand a lesser chance of a takeover. It’s when we weaken ourselves by dissolving into these debates where we cannot see common ground – and roots for the other party to fail at the expense of the country at large – that your fear seems less a remote possibility. The answer to the gun debate is multifold. And it starts with conversation. Thank you for engaging.

  8. Wow. That’s one lofty article. I like the the way you dream. BIG! I get that people can’t stand the notion of losing anything and because they can see guns…they understand the concept of loss. However it’s ironic that when it comes to things like home loans, because it’s all words and rhetoric, no one seems to care that year after year we’re losing more and more freedom. Have any of you applied for a refinance or a primary residence mortgage in the last year? I have. And the process is beyond arduous. But apparently, heaven forbid we tighten up paperwork for existing and future gun owners. Personally I can’t imagine any situation that logically (mentally underline that word) requires any type of gun with multiple rounds. No one needs to be mass killing anything—ever—in my opinion. (Unless we’re talking bugs, germs etc. and you don’t need live ammunition for that.) So while I love your 10,000 up view and your ideals, I hope that some basic steps will be taken. Because while big picture change must happen, last time I checked, that sort of change most often happens in nooks and crannies of documents average citizens aren’t paying too much attention too. Like the commercial mortgage back securities reform that a former president signed in. Just musing out loud.

  9. Jen – thank you for a thoughtful comment. I believe that the legislation that has been passed concerning gun ownership thus far has been negotiated in exactly that way – in the nooks and crannies of law that no one looks at. This is how the NRA itself was able to influence the exact wording in legislative documents. But it all must be brought into the light now – and argued, and discussed, and thought out with the safety of the innocent in the forefront of our minds. As far mortgage paperwork, I’m all too familiar with the tightened restrictions. My husband would be better suited to address that with you.

  10. Jaime, the right to bear arms is not just to defend against a tyrannical Government or to join a militia but to defend oneself against an assailant(s). Self defense is a fundamental right. Any “conversation” that constrains one’s right to defend themselves will be viewed as a threat to the person that seeks to defend themselves.

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