Thursday, April 11, 2013

Continuing the Conversation on Responsible Gun Ownership


According to social media and the traditional media it would appear that there are really only two views on guns.  One view is that all guns must turned in except for those in law enforcement and the military.  The other is that there should be no exclusions for private ownership of guns whatsoever.

While neither of these views represents the majority of Americans, they do contain within them some wishful thinking.  The first view ignores the fact that there are over 300 million guns in our country today.  There is simply no way all of those guns will be turned in.  That is the reality.  Also we have a societal history and relationship with our guns that is part of the fabric of our society.  This means guns are not going anywhere.

On the other hand there is also the belief that we must have a well armed citizenry to protect us from among other things: our government and the United Nations.  This sort of thinking is beyond wishful, it is delusional.  The government represents us, the people (at least in theory).  And as the stories of standoffs can attest, if the government is coming after you, there is little you can do.  One of the classic arguments is that if the Jews had guns, the Holocaust would not have happened.  The reality is, look at the Warsaw Ghetto.  The Jews there armed themselves and resisted.  They held back the Germans for an entire month.  And then, they died.  Just being armed is in no way a protection against a well trained and well armed military.

There is also an argument floating around that if you take our guns away (which almost no one is proposing) only criminals would have guns.  So don't pass any laws because only citizens follow the laws.  Well isn't that the whole point of a legal system?  To hold everyone accountable?  Without laws, it would all be anarchy and chaos.  Just look to Somalia.  Therefore the must be another more sensible approach to this challenge

With regards to gun control, what I think really is going on is the central tension between rights and responsibilities.  For those who fall on the side of rights, they believe all rights to be inherent, and therefore there should be little if no restrictions on rights.

And yet, the Bill of Rights, which was an addendum to the Constitution, contains rights that can be restricted.  For example there are certain types of speech that are not permitted.  The classic example is of someone yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theater.  With regards to the free expression of religion, another "inherent' right,  is that any religion that would seek to engage in human sacrifice would equally be forbidden under the law as well.

Guns too also have certain limitations, like if someone has a felony conviction.  So already we can see rights are not as absolute as we might wish or believe them to be.

As a Jew, I tend to err on the side of responsibility.  The term mitzvah, though often mistranslated as 'good deed' really means commandment, or in modern terms, obligation or responsibility.
Therefore if we change the conversation to responsible gun-ownership in order to ensure rights, the conversation widens significantly.  I feel that every responsible citizen, with certain exclusions like felony convictions and mental illness does have the right to keep and bear arms.  But I also feel they these same gun owners also bear the burden to me as a fellow citizen to do it in a responsible fashion.

One of the analogies that comes up often are cars.  We are expected, under the law, to drive in a safe manner other wise we can be held accountable.  Our cars have to be periodically tested and insured.  Does everyone follow these laws?  Of course not, but the majority of Americans do.  Car sales are regulated and licensed .

And these are for machines of transportation, not even for machines with a singular purpose, which is to kill.  Guns are weapons.  That is their purpose.  We can use terms like 'self-defense' and 'sport' but their design is to kill.  This does not make them inherently good or evil, but is reflective of what they are.  They are weapons.  And as such, we should handle them with extreme care.

So if we have certain responsibilities when it comes to car ownership, shouldn't we expect similar levels of responsibilities when it comes to gun ownership?

I would think the people most angry when events like Aurora, Tucson, and Newtown take place would be legal gun owners.  These assaults represent, among other things, a direct assault on their rights.

And the only way we can continue to ensure the rights of citizens to keep and maintain firearms is by ensuring that it is done in the most responsible fashion possible.

I think it is fair to have debates about background checks for all gun purchases.  I think it is fair to hold gun dealers accountable when they sell guns to people they shouldn't.  I think it is fair to keep track of guns in the same way we keep track of cars and trucks.  I think it is fair to really have a conversation if it is necessary for the average citizen to be more well armed than the police.  Because these conversations are what responsible citizens do in order to continue to ensure the viability and the future of the rights we all hold so very dear.

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