This post concludes a three-part series. On October 16 I wrote about the public health problem of too many Americans being shot to death, identified it as needing a solution catering to both conservatives and liberals, and set a series of ground rules. Last week I examined changes put forth by those on the left, made a case for some, and rejected others. Today it is time to look at what the conservatives have been proposing.
The single most powerful argument for more gun rights is not freedom, superior ideology, or the Second Amendment. Yet it is still powerful. It is that it is dangerous for people to be known to be unarmed. Although deterrence does not generally work for crimes of passion, or for those with unbalanced assailants, it does have value when dealing with perpetrators who are sane, which a higher share will be if the tighter gun ownership measures proposed in last week’s post are implemented. As well, when prudent people actually do turn up with guns at shooting scenes, lives, often many, can be saved.
Accordingly, concealed carry of legally registered firearms should be allowed. When combined with all transfers of guns being reported, I see that as comparable to the higher speed limits we have enjoyed since stronger penalties for drink-driving were implemented. That would best also apply to state-owned schools as well as to public places in general, although there is a cultural problem that calls for one restriction. Since high school and college students often experiment with mind-altering drug use and alcohol overuse, undergraduates should not be allowed to carry firearms on campuses. I know that is unfair to those who stay sober and straight, but, as discussed two weeks ago, that is no more than another unfortunate but uncorrectable case of miscreants spoiling a privilege for others. The possibility that any teacher, administrator, or other school employee eligible to own a gun might have one, almost regardless of how many actually do, should be sufficient to eliminate anyone’s assumption that if they shot or even threatened people with weapons they would not encounter anyone else armed. Government workplaces should be the same, but private ones, as well as any buildings not open to the public, should instead be free to establish their own policies.
Another area which should move in the direction of more freedom is the firearms, ammunition, and related hardware allowed. If such would be firmly identified with their legally liable owners, there is little need to prevent people from owning weapons more powerful than those now allowed. There would obviously be a limit of some sort, if only for physical dangers associated with huge weapons or arsenals, but they could be much higher than they are now.
On the minus side for conservatives, one suggestion I cannot accept is to leave the current situation as it is. It’s no better to say, as did presidential candidate Jeb Bush, that “stuff happens,” than it would be to condone a disease annually killing over 30,000 Americans.
How should we deal with the current 350 million privately owned guns? In deference to the massive majority being safely controlled by legal owners, we should not require anything more to be done with them. The exception would be new carrying permits, which should require specific identification of the firearms involved along with proper registration.
Overall, the proposal in these posts has the potential to greatly reduce the number of American gun deaths. It allows law-abiding firearm owners without disqualifying issues or histories more freedom in which guns they can own and how they can use them, while formalizing their legal responsibility when their weapons are involved in tragedies. It caters to a true difference in American culture not present in other advanced countries, while addressing one of its worst aspects more decisively than has ever happened. It comes closer than our current set of laws to delivering consequences to those abusing this aspect of national trust, while giving more rights to those who have proven themselves responsible.
We cannot go back to the time when people, even the most civilized of us, can do anything with guns they would like, as they could with the first cars over a century ago. We also cannot attempt to ban them, as some radicals also propose we do with automobiles. Both cars and firearms have their places in our huge, diverse country. The number of American motor vehicle deaths peaked in 1969, when our population was 37% less than today, with deaths per 100,000 vehicle miles 4½ times 2013’s rate. To decimate that problem we used a judicious and even-handed combination of more freedom and more regulation. We can and should do the same with guns. There is no time like the present to start.