The effort to minimize wrongful use of guns in this county should involve a two-pronged approach — one directed to criminal behavior involving guns, the other to accidental or mental-health driven acts of violence. This column will focus on the latter category, leaving commentary on overtly criminal issues to a future column.
Let’s change the dialogue and talk about gun safety instead of gun control. The use of “control” versus “safety” is not just a matter of semantics. The way an issue is framed influences the way it is viewed, can focus the mind on new approaches and can help moderate biases and preconceptions.
Most strong believers in the Second Amendment see any measure of gun control as an inevitable infringement of their individual rights to own weapons. No limitations on types of weapons, number of weapons, magazine capacity, ammunition, background checks, ownership responsibility. None. Period.
But no one can argue rationally that the safe possession and use of potentially dangerous firearms are not essential actions to minimize wrongful injuries and death caused by such weapons. Everyone who has a gun should be responsible for its secure storage to prevent its theft or use by irresponsible people, as discussed in my previous column on the recent shooting at Sparks Middle School (Nov. 2, 2013). Firearms should have trigger locks to prevent accidental or intentional misuse. Every user of deadly weapons should be trained and know how to handle a gun safely. Youngsters under an age of responsibility and individuals with mental health issues should not be able to legally acquire arms. Background checks are essential to prevent the lawful sale of firearms to people not qualified to have a gun.
U.S. Supreme Court decisions dating to 1875 have placed limitations on the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear Arms” (United States v. Cruikshank). In the latest Supreme Court decision, District of Columbia vs. Heller (June 2008), the court stated “the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms. Of course the right was not unlimited. ...” Written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the leading conservative jurist and legal scholar, the majority opinion named numerous limitations that can be placed on the Second Amendment’s meaning.
Among the limitations cited by the court are that felons and the mentally ill may be prohibited from possessing firearms. Guns may be prohibited in “sensitive places such as schools and government buildings. ...” Protected weapons are those that were “in common use at the time” of the Second Amendment’s adoption (1789). “Dangerous and unusual weapons” may be prohibited. “Laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms” are permissible.
The limitations advocated here are far less restrictive than those cited by the court. They are reasonable, responsible and effective means to achieve a higher degree of gun safety than now exists in this country, and they should be strongly sanctioned by law. No single step or combination of steps will prevent all wrongful deaths or injuries by firearms. But we can and must do better.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aide and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at email@example.com.