The Gun Debate's Inconvenient Truths

The current yelling match about guns is distinguished by two truths disconcerting to each side. As loony as the argument sounds after a history of 224 years, the faction that opposes any oversight or management of gun rights is correct about one thing. The Second Amendment doesn’t exist to protect people’s right to hunt. It doesn’t exist to protect people’s right to shoot a thief or intruder. Derived from a similar stipulation in the English Bill of Rights of the 1600s, the Second Amendment exists for the same reason as the rest of the Bill of Rights—to further define the relationship between individual freedom and state power, and in this case to prohibit the state from unilaterally disarming the citizenry. It’s an important principle of human freedom, however fueled it may be in this day and age by the paranoia and derangement of a social fringe. The left focuses obsessively on the Second Amendment’s language about maintaining a militia because the Second Amendment is the one instance in which progressives—after interpreting the other amendments so broadly as to extrapolate from the fourth a constitutional right to an abortion—suddenly become strict constructionists, in the same way that the Second Amendment is the one instance when those on the right suddenly become passionate about civil liberties. The people who wrote the Bill of Rights didn’t elevate the individual’s freedom to arm oneself over all other liberties except those enumerated in the First Amendment in order simply to run a militia. I write this, I should add, as someone who doesn’t own a gun and finds the romance of guns unfathomable, and as a father who, on a purely personal level for the sake of his two children, would just as soon every damned gun vanished from the face of the earth.

On the other hand, the disconcerting truth that gun-freedom absolutists must confront, assuming they can recognize let alone acknowledge it, has to do with themselves, or at least those arguing their cause. Let us descend from the lofty pinnacle of dispassion long enough to point out what any reasonable person can discern, which is that Wayne LaPierre is a bad dude. “Evil” is a word too epic for him, so let’s just say that the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association means no good for our country and couldn’t care less about it. He is spokesman for a thriving firearms industry that pays him in blood money, profiting from both the siege mentality of people too unstable to know better as well as from some irresistible human impulse to cause as much damage to something or someone in as little time as possible. While we’re careful not to assume guilt on the basis of association, at some point a cause becomes characterized by, and then interchangeable with, those who advance it, and it’s fair to correlate the merits and faults of an argument with the merits and faults of those who make it.

In their reading of the Second Amendment, gun-safety advocates would be better advised to note the phrase that precedes that word militia: “well regulated.” The framers of the Bill of Rights were not absolutists about gun freedom or, in fact, any specific freedom, particularly as it might apply two and a quarter centuries later. In the same way that the Second Amendment speaks to an overarching principle, the First does as well, advocating freedom of expression broad enough to include, for example—in the view of those freedom-of-expression absolutists among us, anyway—the right of consenting adults to make and distribute pornography to other consenting adults. Even a free-expression absolutist, however, has to take leave of all moral sense to believe such a principle protects pornography that involves children, since at that point pornography no longer is about expression but molestation. An AR-15 in the hands of children or the mentally disturbed (or both) is the child-pornography of the Second Amendment, and Wayne LaPierre is its purveyor, the gun lobby’s equivalent of the pedophile who flourishes by the desecration of the innocent. Regulating well that exquisite balance between freedom and order, between what can’t be given up easily in the name of safety and what the bloody massacre of eight-year-olds demands of us as a civilized people, is the task that the first Americans left to those of us here now who still care what being American means.   


NRA represents the 4.5+ million gun owners that care about gun safety. NRA is the leading organization for providing gun training and safety standards. Your rant on the NRA and its leadership is just unfounded.
As a parent, you should be concerned about gun ownership. Your children should be exposed to proper gun handling and usage. This is absolutely necessary for the children to understand safe usage. Otherwise, you get really silly comments like our VP recently stated (e.g. Shoot in the air or shoot thru the door) being considered OK.
You should also be active in getting "armed citizens" in your children's school. I would personally prefer the school administration and teachers, but police in the schools would be an acceptable alternative. "Gun Free Zones" are just prime killing zones for the mass killers.

The NRA used to represent gun owners. Now it primarily represents gun dealers, and couldn't care less about gun owners except as gun BUYERS. I used to be a member. Then I realized I was being played - that my dues were going to support a powerful special-interest lobby rather than anything I really casred about. So I quit.


I would not call the writer's presentation a "rant." It seems well-reasoned and well-evidenced, at least to those who read the scholarly research literature on the topic, to me. I'm a hand and long-gun owner who doesn't hunt at all. I happen to agree with the writer in all of his points. Your arguement about "guns in schools" is not very well-thought out and illogical. After all, gunmen don't kill people just in schools. If I follow your (and Mr. LaPierre's) logic to its conclusion, we must have police or armed individuals in every public place to protect people. If Mr. LaPierre had his way, everyone would carry a gun of some sort. That, I needn't add, is a receipe for further killing.

While I appreciate your even handedness in your approach in this article, I have to take issue with your comparison. While I do agree that our rights are not unlimited (my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins, et al). When we find people distributing child pornography we don't ban cameras and the internet. We punish the wrongdoers for the evil they've done, not the tools the committed the evil with.

You also equate firearms in youthful hands automatically means bad ends. I shot trap and hunted when I was young as ten. My father taught me responsibility, care, and respect around firearms and I grew to have a healthy, sane relationship with them. This is not to say that everyone will, but to indicate that it is impossible for youth to handle firearms responsibly is rather ignorant.

Mitchness, your analysis of the analogy between gun misuse and child pornography has a glaring weakness. You said we punish the wrongdoers, "not the tools" with which they committed the evil. It is not an either/or situation, and nobody wants to abolish guns. It is possible both to punish child pornographers, for example, AND to prevent them, after their release, from having contact with children (at least to try to do so), and we COULD, if we wish, also restrict THESE PEOPLE from access to cameras and the internet, as well as children.

So the point of gun safety legislation is to make it difficult for a KNOWN CRIMINAL or someone who is dangerously mentally disturbed to buy a gun through legal channels; adding background checks to private or gun show sales, so that anyone currently allowed to buy a gun, who sells it without making a background check, would be TRAFFICKING, thus breaking the law. Yes, some criminals will still get guns, and some unlicensed drivers will still find a way to get control of a car (or truck or bus or ... tank). But if FEWER criminals or unstable people can get guns and ammo, FEWER "personal apocalypse" massacres will happen.

The part about firearms in youthful hands was not meant to refer to ten year old kids being taught firearm safety; it was meant to refer to four year old kids finding Daddy's unlocked gun, playing with it out of curiosity, and killing or injuring themselves or other kids. But even the trained ten year old might be tempted to do something irresponsible if Daddy lets him take the gun out of sight of adult supervision.

In the interest of disclosure, I am in my sixties, I had a BB gun as a child, which I tired of using after shooting a few "safe" targets; I played cowboys and Native Americans with a cap gun, and I KNEW there was a difference between cap guns and REAL guns; I saw a real gun once in my uncle's nightstand drawer and left it alone; I had the basic pistol familiarization for one day in ROTC summer camp as a college student; I was fortunate enough not to get drafted, and so have never had occasion to want a gun or use one since. But I recognize the Second Amendment, and understand it as both a right and a responsibility.

Too many of the public voices promoting it as a right sound, to my ears, like "poster children" for denying gun access to the mentally unstable (some of them must know already they would not pass a background check). We have a right to transportation, but not a right to drive an unregistered and uninspected car without a license to drive. The right to self defense with a gun likewise calls for REASONABLE regulation of access, to save lives.

"It is possible both to punish child pornographers, for example, AND to prevent them, after their release, from having contact with children (at least to try to do so), and we COULD, if we wish, also restrict THESE PEOPLE from access to cameras and the internet, as well as children."

The only way to restrict their access to a commodity would be through... background checks. Seeing as you don't need one to buy a camera it would need to be implemented solely for those who have done wrong with them. If we now have set the standard that everyone needs to be checked for purchase of any object that may be used in a crime we will effectively be under fascism.

"You said we punish the wrongdoers, "not the tools" with which they committed the evil. It is not an either/or situation, and nobody wants to abolish guns."

Have you even read any of the proposed legislation, or heard any testimonies from the backers of said legislation? The Congress/President aren't just imposing UBCs, they want bans on weapons and accessories as well from law-abiding citizens. We go back to the analogy that if child pornographers commit their crime we now ban/regulate cameras and their accessories to the rest of the public as well. True they aren't abolishing ALL guns, but they are abolishing some guns. This effectively bars arms from our future generations which effectively "takes" their guns. Crafting a law that denies future generations a right guaranteed them is far worse than physical confiscation. That is not a decision our incredibly uneducated representatives are even close to being capable, nor authorized, to make.

I know that some of the proposals call for banning some types of guns. You can make a case that total abolition of those guns MAY not be necessary, but do you believe that ANY guns should be banned for the general public? How about Tommy guns, aka Chicago typewriters, the icons of the gangs of the 1920's? How about bazookas (now called RPG launchers? Flame throwers? Explosives? Nuclear weapons (we don't even want some COUNTRIES to have those)? Where do you draw the line?

Then again, some people should not even have Derringer pistols, because they can be used to kill anyone at close range, even a President. Why is it so abhorrent that guns should be for the sane and law-abiding? Do you really think there is a conspiracy for government to confiscate all guns? We have had all motor vehicles registered for over a hundred years, and I have not heard of any conspiracy to seize all the cars!

As to the point you made about denying future generations those guns that cause massacres, you are aware that they would still be manufactured for MILITARY use, right? So manufacturers will still be making them! And any FUTURE Congress that decides "well, they aren't so bad after all" could always lift the ban if the PEOPLE want them to. This Congress, although bought by the NRA, has to deal with a 90 percent voter majority that wants background checks, and a slight majority that want to ban assault rifles.

If we work to make sure the OTHER amendments of the Bill of Rights are honored by our elected representatives, and stop them from denying voting rights to the "wrong" voters in their minds, we will not have that hypothetical need for the Second Amendment Final Solution. Some of us tried that in 1861, and it didn't work out that well!

Mitchness, your comparison of cameras and guns is silly, of course, because cameras take pictures, they don't kill; used in the wrong way, these pictures can do great damage, which is why we punish the people who abuse their use. Guns, on the other hand, are designed and manufactured to kill. They are deadly weapons, and those that take large magazines can be used as weapons of mass destruction, to our recurring horror. All civilized societies regulate the ownership and use of deadly weapons; not to do so would be a dereliction of duty to our fellow citizens. No Constitutional amendment is absolute: even the First Amendment right of freedom of speech does not give someone a right to yell "Fire" in a crowded theater, as we all know.

The Supreme Court's "Heller decision" (5-4, led by Antonin Scalia) made abundantly clear that regulation of guns is not only permissible, but prudent. Your argument against background checks and prohibiting some kinds of guns is not supported by the Supreme Court decision.

"'From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,' wrote Scalia. 'For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues.'

Nothing in the Heller ruling, he said, should be read to cast doubt on 'longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.'

Another 'important limitation,' explained Scalia, was contained in the justices’ 1939 decision in Miller v. U.S. 'Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’ We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons,’ ” he wrote. Based on Miller, the Second Amendment does not protect weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns, he added."

I clicked "save" too soon. The quotation in my comment above can be found at


Open letter to Oakland mayor Jean Quan:
The only legislation that can realistically end gun violence in Oakland – and Chicago – is a labor law: doubling the minimum wage to $30,000/yr. The Crips and the Bloods could not whip a decent paying Ronald McDonald.

Crackpot? More than doubling the federal minimum wage from $7.25/hr to $15/hr ($600/wk) would cause less than 4% direct inflation:
$3.87/hr (half/average raise) X 2080 hours (full work year) = $8,049/yr X 70 million workers (half the workforce -- $15/hr is today’s median wage) = $563.4 billion. (3.5 million workers at the minimum wage would get a full $16,020 raise may be left out to simplify eighth-grade math.) Divide $563.4 billion by a $15.8 trillion GDP and we get 3.6% direct inflation (not counting leap frog pushups which may not add up to that much – LBJ’s median wage was only 25% higher than his minimum – high minimum wages often approach median level in other economies).

Oakland won’t educate its way out of poverty and crime. Catch 22: political scientist Martin Sanchez-Jankowski, from neighboring UC Berkeley -- who spent nine years in five poor New York and Los Angeles neighborhoods (and ten years before that researching street gangs) -- explains in his 2008 book Cracks in the Pavement that ghetto schools don't work mostly because students (and teachers!) don't expect anything decent awaiting for them in the labor market, so think it hopeless to make the effort.
>Islands in the Street: Gangs and American Urban Society
>Cracks in the Pavement: Social Change and Resilience in Poor Neighborhoods

(cut and pasted from elsewhere) Bear with me for a tiny thought experiment. Imagine both minimum and median wages were cut in half -- would that help McDonald's or Wal-Mart? If we believe Massachusetts' junior senator -- adjusted for every increasing productivity -- worse has already happened! "Elizabeth Warren: Minimum Wage Would be $22 An Hour If It Had Kept Up With Productivity"

It is curious that to catch up with doubling of productivity gains -- since 1968 when the minimum wage was $10.50/hr ($1.60 nominally) -- today's minimum wage would have to triple from $7.25/hr. In early 2007 the minimum wage would have had to almost quadruple -- from $5.75/hr (nominally $5.15/hr). Looking from that perspective my simple idea that doubling the minimum wage would add only 33% to fast food prices and 10% to retail prices while giving half the work force an average 50% raise -- win, win all around -- doesn't look so dumb.

(cut and pasted from elsewhere) If the federal minimum wage were raised to $15/hr Wal-Mart wages would go up 50%; Wal-Mart prices would go up only 5% (retail wages 10% of costs) -- fast food wages would go up 107%; fast food prices would go up 35% (fast food 33%). 10-33% is pretty much the range of labor costs -- clustering close to 10% I believe.

With half the labor force getting percentage wage increases that are multiples of their employers' percentage price increases their employers should do better than ever.

The only law that is going to stop the day-in-day out gun violence in our nation's (invisible?) inner cities is a labor law.

Responsible gun owners have nothing to fear from reasonable regulation of guns.

Gun nuts, however, insist they have an absolute right to the unregulated ownership of any number and type of guns and ammunition. They fear the government is out to get them and believe their home arsenal will protect them from. The result is that children die and the U.S. has a rate of gun deaths many times higher than most all other countries outside of the third world.

Gun legislation must not be held hostage to the paranoid fantasies of the gun nuts or NRA that stokes these delusions. The NRA and Wayne LaPierre used to be FOR gun control, now they get a good deal of their money from gun makers and they are against it. Go figure!

Where did we ever get the idea the 2nd is a 'civil right'? The constitution, as noble a document as it is, had, and has flaws. The 2nd is not a civil right for the simple reason its defenders can't tell us why it is.

While the 2nd IS derived from a similar English law, THAT law gave parliament the right to regulate firearms. There was no individual 'right' to own firearms.

Since the battle of Wabash River, there has never been a time when an 'armed citizenry' could expect to take on the US armed forces and win.

Civil rights are those that humans have merely by being human. The pernicious effect of the 2nd show that it is not a civil right at all.

The very tone of voice (or typography and phrasing, in written material) used by the gun extremists makes a good case for the suspicion that they, themselves, would be the ones flagged by a background check as mentally unstable. So maybe they are opposed to checks because they are the ones who would be barred from legally owning guns?

As for the paranoid "fight your own government if you think it is tyrannical" argument, the last time that any SMALLER group in this country had weapons and skills comparable to the very government established by the Constitution was in the 1860's, when STATE governments had direct command of most of the soldiers that would have been available to the United States Army, and most of the MILITARY weapons (including cannons, warships, etc) as well. It was not individuals or organizations that had the firepower to go up against the U.S. military, it was the STATES, and they rebelled by votes in the state LEGISLATURES. Does anybody REALLY want to try that again?

Despite the image portrayed by the movie Red Dawn in the 1980's (recently remade), even the best armed "resistance" fighters would have a hard time against a modern military. But in the case of our own elected officials trying to tyrannize us, wouldn't the troops, whose oath is not to a President but to the Constitution, recognize they were being given illegal orders? I expect they would take much LESS persuasion than Soviet troops against Gorbachev's crowds in 1990 to refuse the illegal orders.

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