Controversies arise, in a democracy, when legitimate rights and interests collide.
Consider the angst in Chicago, which has a history of gun violence matched by no other city in the country and which also values the freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution.
On the one hand, citizens are demanding their right to own guns, as the Second Amendment provides.
On the other hand, citizens are also demanding that the government ensure their safety from the threats, heartbreak and mayhem wrought by gun crimes.
Chicago, famous for gun violence dating back a century that peaked during the years of Prohibition, had enacted the toughest gun laws in the country. It was against the law to buy guns.
But doesn’t that fly in the face of the U.S. Constitution’s assurance that citizens may keep weapons for their own protection? Even if protection wasn’t the aim, aren’t almost all gun owners law-abiding citizens who have them for interests such as hunting, target shooting and collecting?
Yes, said a federal court judge this week, ruling that such a ban does violate the primary law of the land.
So Chicago must get back to basics and figure out how to protect its citizens while also protecting honest gun-owners’ right to bear arms.
A ban on ownership of firearms will not pass muster with the courts. Nor should it. No more hunting? No more gun collecting? No more target practice at a safely constructed range? When someone attacks a person or a loved one, must we all rely on our bare hands to save that life?
Composing a law that satisfies both interests will be difficult. The National Rifle Association is strident about protecting firearm rights. Yet, many Americans want some way to ensure that guns don’t wind up in the wrong hands.
As a starter, maybe sensible representatives on either side of the argument could agree to some compromises: Registration of firearms seems an effective and non-threatening first step. Anonymous purchases at gun shows and elsewhere ought to be illegal.
But the discussion must also include acknowledgement that owning a gun is one of the rights of our republic. From there, the details can be negotiated.
We don’t want to oversimplify the issue. It is anything but simple.
But it’s time for reasoned debate instead of the emotional rants that characterize this national discussion.
If we could take 13 colonies with all their colliding interests and turn them into one functioning nation, we should be able to figure out gun regulation we all can live with.