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Letters 1-26-2013

Gun control

Times have changed

Most Americans accept the constitutional right to “bear” arms does not grant a citizen the right to own and use every type of weapon. Not even the most extreme advocates of unrestricted gun rights expect legislation granting civilian use of a fully automatic rifle, an RPG launcher, or a LAWS rocket.

The question is where legislators should draw the line between weapons available solely to the military and firearms citizens may own and use. Some of the most strident voices I’ve heard would have us believe any gun regulation, such as limiting magazine capacity, carry and conceal restrictions, gun registration, ammunition restrictions, purchasing and gun show sales strictures, and other limitations would be onerous violations of constitutional and personal freedoms. They remind us that an armed citizenry is a safeguard against government tyranny.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted on Dec. 15, 1791, about 10 years after the end of the war for independence from Britain, when muzzle-loaded single-shot muskets were the state-of-the-art firearm, when conflict with British colonialists was still fresh in the awareness of Americans.

A deranged gunman with destructive intentions in that era would have found it a challenge to shoot more than one individual in a gathering before finding himself on fairly equal terms with any remaining intended victims able to dodge an empty musket wielded as a club. Benjamin Tyler Henry patented the first lever-action repeating rifle considered to be practical in 1860, about 69 years after the Second Amendment was formulated. The first semi-automatic rifles arrived on the scene another 20 years later, equipped with magazines which were of rather modest capacity when compared with those currently available to mount on military-style rifles now on the U.S. market.

Would our nation’s revered framers have written the amendment with additional limitations if they’d foreseen the advent of compact semi-automatic carbines equipped with large-capacity magazines and the impact that such weapons would have on public safety?

Two centuries have passed since the amendment’s adoption during which, perhaps with the exception of the Civil War, few citizen militias have felt a need to challenge the U.S. government with arms.

Assuming our military forces could somehow be persuaded to attack and dominate their own countrymen, it’s unclear to me how a Bushmaster will equip an indignant militia to contest a Predator drone anyway. Most of us throughout the years have been content to express dissent and resist Washington “tyranny” with votes, protest songs, or maybe letters to the editor.

NRA leaders claim current firearms regulation by the ATF is adequate to limit gun violence but have neglected to disclose their detrimental influence on that agency which NRA lobbyists have done their level best to render ineffective with the help of legislators like Kansas Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt.

The NRA’s leadership seems to long for a world resembling the TV image of the wild West, in which gun play becomes almost routine when conflict arises. Despite the supposed unpopularity of excessive government spending among conservatives, the NRA’s La Pierre is publicly advocating a vast expansion of armed security in schools, and presumably other facilities like theaters and auditoriums where gatherings take place. The NRA’s “good guy with a gun” substitutes for gun regulation.

From whence did this hysteria gun rights advocates are using as justification for their refusal to embrace regulatory action come?

Why do they continue to exaggerate the potential our government might suddenly shed its essential “by and for the people” representative nature and assume autocratic powers beyond acceptable limits if citizens aren’t permitted to arm themselves with military weapons like AR-15s?

Why do purportedly responsible gun owners discount the low gun crime rates that other nations like Australia, Japan and the U.K. have successfully achieved through arms regulation, and why won’t they support legislative efforts to grant school children and others in the U.S. similar levels of safety?

Michael Helms

Fern Forest