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An Honest Conversation About Gun Control

I’d love to have an honest conversation with a liberal about gun control, but the truth is, the liberals I know are willing to talk to me, or at me, but not with me, at least not about this subject. So I’ve decided to have an imaginary conversation. The challenge for me is to avoid making my imaginary liberal friend (LF) a straw man, so I’ll do my best to put in my liberal friend’s “mouth” only what I have heard actual liberals say on the subject.

LF: The Sutherland Springs, Texas church massacre is one more tragic example of the need for tighter gun control. The scandal is that the Republicans continue to oppose it.

Me: The gun the shooter used was an AR-15 assault weapon. It was apparently legally purchased, even though he should have been barred from purchasing it because he had a history of domestic violence and a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force.

LF: So why wasn’t he refused purchase?

Me: According to the Air Force, his court martial data was never entered into the federal law enforcement database at the National Criminal Information Center. Their error, and it prevented the seller from blocking the sale.

LF: He used an AR-15, an assault rifle. If the law forbade anyone from purchasing AR-15s and other assault weapons, no one would be able to purchase them, so this massacre wouldn’t have occurred.

Me: You’re partly right. There actually was an earlier ban on the AR-15 and other assault rifles, but it expired in 2004. If the ban still existed, the gun would not have been available legally, so he could not have gotten it legally. However, if he wanted a gun badly enough, he could have gotten it illegally. That happens all the time where guns are outlawed. The best example of that situation is in Chicago, where the gun laws are tough yet gun violence is out of control.

LF: Are you then in favor of people being able to buy assault weapons?

Me: No. In fact, I think a strong case can be made for outlawing them. But that will only be effective if penalties are increased for selling them as well as possessing them. And outlawing assault rifles doesn’t address the problem of random murderous assaults with handguns, rifles, shotguns, knives, clubs, and other weapons, including home-made bombs.

LF: Now you are making light of the problem.

Me: Not at all. In the Manhattan killing, the weapon was a pick-up truck. And in other countries, cars have been used in similar ways. If people are intent on murder, they certainly won’t have scruples about purchasing illegal weapons or making weapons out of everyday things.

LF: But do you deny that the Constitution is being misinterpreted by gun-rights advocates? In other words, that the Founding fathers meant “the right to bear arms” to apply to militias and not individual citizens. After all, they wrote, “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.”

Me: I believe that the popular liberal view on guns oversimplifies that issue. The U. S. Constitution was preceded by three state constitutions that mention the right to bear arms without the supposedly limiting phrase “well regulated Militia.” One was the Pennsylvania Constitution, which stated, “the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state.” The others were the North Carolina, and Massachusetts constitutions, which referred, respectively, to the “right to bear arms” for the “defense of the State” and the right to bear arms for “the common defense.”

LF: That is well and good, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Founding Fathers chose to refer to a “well regulated Militia.” My point is that we shouldn’t pretend they didn’t.

Me: I’m not pretending anything. The phrase could conceivably have been intended to limit the right to bear arms to a “Militia.” But the structure of the sentence does not suggest that interpretation. The Militia phrase has the function of explaining why there can be no infringement of the right. In other words, the people’s right to bear arms is fundamental (as the other constitutions say) and is not qualified in any way by the other phrase.

LF: Are you saying you know that the Founding Fathers would be against gun control laws if they were alive today?

Me: I’m not saying that because I have no way of knowing. I’m only saying that the second amendment, like its predecessor documents, does not give any evidence, let alone proof, that they would.

LF: What, then, is your answer to the problem of gun violence if it is not tighter gun control laws?

Me: There can be no perfect, foolproof answer as long as human beings have free will and can choose evil over good. But I believe there are some partial answers. One is to reduce the amount of violence, particularly gratuitous violence, in entertainment, and I don’t mean only movies and TV shows, but video games and popular music as well. Another is to promote respect for others at home, in school, and in the workplace. One of the best vehicles for doing so is through the various kinds of advertising, especially TV commercials. The idea would be to make courtesy, manners, and respect for others as popular in years to come as rudeness and incivility have become today.

LF: Surely that is an ambitious program and it would depend on the good will of a lot of people in a lot of industries and agencies.

Me: I agree, but I believe it is worth the effort because it addresses the real problem of man’s inhumanity to man and not just the means employed to that end.

Copyright © 2017 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved