On Friday, December 21st, the NRA broke its silence after the Connecticut school shootings. At a press conference, the NRA’s vice-president suggested that future catastrophes could be avoided by the presence of an armed guard in each school. A bad guy with a gun is best stopped by a good guy with a gun. He went on to say that it’s better to have a good guy with a gun a minute away rather than a mile away.
Granted, some places would fare better with armed guards. The shooting of several soldiers by a psychiatrist at Fort Hood some years back could have been minimized had more military personnel there been allowed to carry guns.
Nevertheless, serious problems exist with the NRA’s logic. Had a good-guy gunman been a minute away at the Connecticut school, the assailant, Lanza, would still have killed numerous people with his semi-automatic. And schoolchildren are not protected in the event that the armed guard is the first person to be shot. The NRA would never agree that the desired goal is for no one to be shot with a gun.
Irrationality is, of course, nothing new to the gun debate. No area of legal debate in our history has been so unfettered by logic. The gun advocates demand unlimited access to weapons. They argue, in effect, that any gun restrictions would lead to the government taking weapons away from law-abiding citizens. This childish reasoning would not deserve our scrutiny were it not for the repeated deadly effect it has had on our nation.
Weapons should best be handled by law as motor vehicles are. A gun is as dangerous in the hands of a criminal, violent, unstable or incompetent person as a car is in the hands of a drunk. The law has been able to significantly decrease the incidence of drunk driving through a combination of tough laws and vigorous enforcement. It has been able to achieve this effect because the driving of a motor vehicle is considered to be a privilege.
The bearing of arms, by contrast, is considered a right. But in 2012, this right is not provided by natural law. It is rather provided by the second amendment to the federal constitution. In 1791, when the Bill of Rights was enacted, the right to bear arms was provided by natural law. The American nation was mainly rural, and most Americans were farmers and hunters. The right to bear arms was tied to one’s right to survival.
This is not the case today. Yet even if we deal with the possession of firearms as a constitutional right, the state has a compelling interest in ensuring public safety. It therefore has the lawful power to impose reasonable restrictions on gun possession. These restrictions include mandatory background checks and the ban on assault weapons.
Attached to rights are responsibilities. The gun-owning couch potato of 2012 is a far different creature than the farmer-hunter of 1789. He wants to assume none of the responsibilities that his predecessors bore so quietly. And these responsibilities include gun safety.
A respect for guns no longer goes hand-in-hand with gun use. Hunting accidents occur far too often. Dick Cheney shot his hunting friend in the face, showing that Cheney had no business with a gun. A few months back, an incident occurred in New York City outside the Empire State Building. A person was acting up, and the police responded by shooting persons who were nowhere near their target. Clearly these officers were not adequately trained in marksmanship.
As driving licenses are conditioned on driving tests, so should hunting licenses be conditioned on gun safety courses and marksmanship tests. Across the spectrum of gun possession, from the disturbed semi-automatic wielder to the inept sportsman, our policies need to be rethought and reworked. And the rule of reason should finally be instated.