Saturday, January 19, 2013

It's Time

I made frequent trips to Oklahoma the past few years to visit my mother; on many of them, I accompanied her to a doctor's office. At the entrance to each building that housed medical practitioners, the decal pictured above was displayed. As I had never seen such a thing in my life, I was compelled to ask to ask once inside: is there a possibility that one would bring weapons into a medical practice? If so, why? No one ever answered me.

It seems that Oklahoma is a state that allows one to conceal and to carry one's firearms. I think one can even carry one into a place that sells liquor, as long as the sale of liquor is not that establishment's primary business. What could possibly go wrong if one combines liquor sales with loaded weapons? I have an image of an irate guest in a Chili's responding to rude service or unacceptable food.

We have had this discussion many times over the years. In every situation, one side states that we need to do something to curb the random violence in which innocents are slaughtered by an armed madman. The other side states that they will accept no regulation on the sale and distribution of any kind of weapon or ammunition. The latter position was eloquently stated by Charlton Heston when he bellowed that you would have to pry his gun from his cold, dead hands before he would give it to you.

I do not say this as a way of laying the foundation for some argument of equivalence.

I have deliberately avoided following much of the news about the shootings that occurred last month in Connecticut. That this took place is something that should be so horrible as to be beyond our comprehension. Yet, it was not an isolated event, merely the latest in a string of obscene mass homicides.

One of the facts I have retained is that each of the victims in that school was shot multiple times, almost all in the head. Another is that the gunman was armed with weapons equipped with ammunition magazines that enabled the firing of dozens of bullets within seconds.

I don't own a gun; in fact, it is unlikely that I will ever own one. I do not, however, think that my preference on gun ownership should apply to all citizens. If people enjoy hunting or target shooting or collecting firearms, then they should be allowed to do so. The NRA and their defenders in Congress and on their cable channel scream loudly about their Constitutional rights, citing a vaguely-worded sentence in the 2nd Amendment as their rationale.

The First Amendment is less equivocal, going so far as to state that Congress shall make no law (emphasis added) infringing freedom of speech, religion, assembly or press. Have we not made some boundaries around these specific prohibitions? Justice Holmes famously wrote that freedom of speech does not give one the right to yell fire in a crowded theater. Libel laws exist to protect citizens from lies printed for the purpose of defamation. Groups can assemble peacefully, but not to sacrifice live animals. Can we not permit similar limits on the sale, regulation or possession of firearms? Is there not some common ground between no regulation and confiscation of all guns?

Let's call these arms and ammunition used by these murderers what they are: weapons of mass destruction, for they are designed to do but two things: to kill lots of people and to do so quickly. We should not allow assault and automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines to be in the hands of anyone but those who are trained in their safe and proper use, such as members of the military and law enforcement officers. Civilization will not end if we get these instruments off the streets; it may, in fact, become more tame.

I read a quote this past week; unfortunately, I cannot recall where I saw it. It said something to the effect that we need guns so that we can resist our government when it becomes a tyranny. That government becomes a tyranny when it tries to take our guns away. Joseph Heller would be so pleased. Maybe it's time we injected some common sense into this dialogue.