A Right to Make Bombs.

Sarah Palin will speak at a Safari Club International convention in Reno, Nevada, later this month. The Safari Club is a hunting and gun-rights group, and despite what most conservatives want to believe about liberals, I don't have a problem at all with hunting. The number of soft-hearted liberals who protest hunting for hunting's sake is relatively small; it's a conservative straw man. I grew up in Arkansas; hunting is an important tradition, and the population growth of animals like deer is so out of control because of predator loss that we probably should expand hunting licenses. Also, venison is delicious.

But machine guns are useless for hunting unless you want to eat a deer full of holes, and many liberals aren't opposed to using guns for hunting. What liberals have always been concerned about is guns that are designed to and used to kill people, and lots of them. There's no reason for Jared Lee Loughner to have had an extended ammo clip, as he allegedly did. The only reason I can think of having an extended ammo clip is maximizing the damage one can do in a crowd. Many gun-rights advocates believe Loughner had an unquestionable, absolute right to that extended clip, but the interest of public safety sometimes outweighs the rights of individuals. I'd argue that this is the case with weapons intended to maximize damage -- machine guns, for instance.

Note that we already limit the kinds of arms a person can legitimately own; building and owning bombs is illegal, as is owning or developing chemical or biological weapons. Gun-rights advocates pretend the right to "bear arms" is absolute -- that there are no qualifications -- but in reality none of them would agree that an ordinary citizen has the right to a nuclear weapon. They don't like acknowledging that a line is ever drawn because it means that line can move.

Our laws are supposed to weigh societal needs against individual ones. Gun-rights advocates justify the proposed unlimited right to own guns by claiming one has a right to protect oneself and to arm oneself against an unjust government. The first idea works better in theory than it often does in fact: Thanks to Arizona's permissive gun laws, there were other people at the market with guns when Giffords was shot, but since none of those people were trained law-enforcement officials, they didn't take a shot. That's probably for the best: The scene unfolded chaotically, and targeting the right person would have been difficult and would likely have caused "collateral damage."

When it comes to the second claim: You can't really take up arms against the government as things stand. And if you're planning to attack government representatives like police or politicians, which is illegal, you're not going to run out and get a permit. 

-- Monica Potts

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