January 2, 2013

Editorial: People, guns can co-exist


---- — In 1791, when the fledgling U.S. Congress was debating elements of what turned out to be the Bill of Rights, a lot of things were different from how they are now.

Here’s one: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

That was the precise wording of the Second Amendment to the Constitution as passed by the Congress and sent to states to ratify. Then, of course, a well-regulated militia was crucial to keeping order in the new republic. There was little in the way of law enforcement, without which chaos would rule. If citizens didn’t keep order on their own or as a group, there would be no order. And if those citizens didn’t retain the right to bear arms, they could hardly be counted on to keep order.

Times are different now. We don’t have well-regulated militias because we don’t need them. In fact, the argument could be made that attempts to install militias have incited more chaos than order.

But that’s not to say that bearing arms is not a legitimate right. The justification for them as mentioned by the founding fathers may have evaporated, but the right remains important to too many people to take it away.

Every time the wrong person gets hold of the wrong weapon, calls erupt for the repeal of the Second Amendment, or at least a tempering of it. Then, the pro-gun side of the argument holds up the constitution as its claim to a virtual divine blessing.

In return, the anti-gun faction points to what it deeply believes is the fallacy in citing an obsolete document based on the need for local militias.

Here’s what needs to happen:

The pro-gun side needs to admit that its reliance on the words in the Second Amendment have been weakened by time. A well-regulated militia is no longer a factor in America, so basing the right to gun ownership on it is passe and impotent.

The anti-gun side needs to admit, however, that the right to gun ownership has a legitimate value for millions of Americans and must be preserved. The right to own and use guns for pleasure should not be denied. People who fear and hate guns should give unprejudiced consideration to the people for whom that kind of recreation is an important part of their lives.

The naysayers must also acknowledge the minuscule number of accidents or assaults compared with the number of honest, respectful owners.

Next, the pro-gun side should acknowledge importance of routing illegal or too-casual use of guns and agree to measures to curb it. Ban automatic weapons and make qualification for any gun ownership rigorous and easily traceable. Make it simple to account for all guns sold.

Only then will guns and people be able to peacefully co-exist.