Another week, another psychotic shooting spree, this time in Orange, Calif., where among the four killed last Wednesday was a 9-year-old boy. It was sobering to learn that this murdered child, with whom I share a first name, died at the same age I was when the Columbine shooting happened in 1999.
Predictably, the killer used a semi-automatic handgun, a type of weapon the vast majority of civilians don’t need and which is far too easy to obtain in this country.
Yet even the most moderate and sensible calls for restrictions on firearm ownership continue to be met with the same tired objections. The people who moo along with these talking points, which ultimately trace back to the $62 billion gun industry and profit-protecting astroturf lobbies, all seem to be under the impression that their claims are unanswerable.
Are they, though? Let’s see whether it’s possible to handle them all in a single column.
“Our Constitution explicitly protects gun ownership.” Sort of. What it protects is the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of membership in a well-regulated militia.
The idea that this unequivocally means individuals have a right to keep arms to defend themselves as opposed to their country or state is tendentious and modern. In fact, it is no older than D.C. vs. Heller, which the Supreme Court decided in 2008. Before that, the high court had consistently held that the Second Amendment referred to membership in state militias.
If the Framers had intended to create an unlimited personal right to gun ownership at the federal level, they could have echoed the language of numerous state constitutions at the time or adopted proposals such as the one from New Hampshire ignored by James Madison, which read: “Congress shall never disarm any citizen unless such as are or have been in actual rebellion.”
Instead, the Constitution’s language reflected late-18th century fears of standing armies. We have had the latter since 1792, and something tells me we aren’t about to replace our boys in Afghanistan with self-trained citizen patrols.
Speaking of Afghanistan, did you know that you are more likely to die from gun violence in the United States than you are there or in Iraq or Yemen or Sudan? “America isn’t the only country with these problems” is an argument that doesn’t work the way its proponents think. Ditto the ubiquitous “Look at Mexico! Gun control doesn’t work.” Of course it doesn’t in a country that has a porous border with the United States and drug cartels whose rapaciousness is the result of another destructive American addiction.
A better point of comparison would be virtually anywhere in Asia or, better yet, Europe, where individual gun ownership for non-hunting purposes is basically nonexistent and the likelihood of being killed by a gun vastly lower. Gun control might not be appealing or easy, but it does, in fact, work by definition. Can’t have gun violence without guns.
“It’s impossible to draft targeted gun-control legislation” is yet another tired favorite of sophists who pretend that the law can’t distinguish between weapons of war designed to inflict terror with their very appearance and hunting rifles because of certain shared features. You might as well say that we can’t draw legal distinctions between a 401(k) and insider-trading schemes or between cocaine and Cocoa Puffs.
“Americans use guns for self defense!” is something we are told over and over again by people whose views owe more to Charles Bronson movies than statistics. In the real world from 2007 to 2011, for example, less than 1 percent of victims in violent crimes attempted to defend themselves with firearms. During the same period, only 0.12 percent of property-crime victims protected themselves with guns or even threatened to do so.
“Background checks are an invasion of our privacy” is also a ludicrous claim that has no basis in the modern world, where virtually every commercial transaction is recorded, analyzed and used to try to sell you more stuff. So is the argument that compared with, say, diabetes or even Alzheimer’s, guns don’t kill that many people. Would anyone not abolish these horrible diseases tomorrow if it were possible?
This might not exhaust all the possible arguments for unrestricted gun ownership. But the one I suspect most Second Amendment absolutists really want to make is familiar to all parents of toddlers: “I don’t want you to take my toys away!”
To which the answer in many cases is: too bad.
Matthew Walther is editor of The Lamp magazine.