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Tim Blagg

Within the Constitution

Gun controls and the 2nd Amendment

Gun control ... which side are you on?” read the Internet spam mail subject line.

I guess that pretty well sums up most of the so-called debate on guns in the United States following the horrendous massacre down in Newtown, Conn.

Which side?

Sorry, folks, but there are more than two.

This problem is a heckuva lot more complex than that.

And it’s not a zero-sum situation.

That means there should be no such thing as “winners” and “losers.”

Does the Second Amendment really mean that the average American should have the right to own a firearm?

Yes. I think so, and the Supreme Court (for once) and I are on the same side.

Is that right absolute?

No, regardless of what the daft group currently running the National Rifle Association these days believes.

It’s a guaranteed right, but it can be modified — carefully — for the greater good.

Take the First Amendment as an example. It guarantees free speech, which means you can stand up on a soapbox and criticize the government all day long ... and the cops won’t pack you off to some “re-education through work camp” like they do in China.

But you can’t stand up in a crowded movie theater and yell “fire” when there isn’t one. And this newspaper, although it’s protected by another part of the amendment, can’t casually and carelessly ruin somebody’s reputation without exposing itself to a libel suit.

The Second Amendment can also be subject to limitations — that’s clear.

For example, I don’t believe that every citizen has the right to own an automatic weapon. Machine guns are prohibited by the Firearms Act of 1934 and that’s good. The same law bans silencers and sawed off shotguns, all of which were being used by gangsters during Prohibition.

This law was rewritten in 1968, and also expanded to prohibit sales of handguns to felons, the mentally ill, domestic batterers and so forth.

I think, in the wake of these latest incidents, that it’s time to further extend the nation’s firearms laws by moving to eliminate the patchwork of state laws now in force across the country. The simplest way would be to take whatever is considered the best set of state laws and make them federal.

That would stop the current practice of simply driving to whatever state has the laxest laws, buying a batch of pistols, putting them in the trunk of your car and then driving back home to sell them to criminals at a handsome profit.

We also need to give the ATF, the official gun control agency, back its enforcement powers.

For one thing, the agency, which arguably should be taking the lead in getting illegal gun sales under control, hasn’t had a permanent director in nearly seven years. The guy who is filling that spot now lives in the Midwest, where he serves as U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota! The Senate has refused to confirm a permanent chief.

In addition, without much notice, gun nut lobbyists and congressmen have succeeded in gradually eroding much of the AFT’s ability to do its job. By adding riders to budget bills and so forth, they’ve:

■ Prohibited ATF from creating a federal registry of gun transactions;

■ Continually kept its budget from increasing;

■ Kept its staff ... including agents ... at 1993 numbers;

■ Prohibited agents from making more than one unannounced inspection per year of licensed gun dealers;

■ Reduced the crime of falsification of records by dealers to a misdemeanor;

■ Limited the ATF’s ability to share tracing information on firearms linked to crimes with local and state law enforcement agencies;

■ Mandated that records of background checks of gun purchasers be destroyed within 24 hours of approval, thereby making it almost impossible to crack down on interstate “mule” gun dealers.

It’s important to remember that there is no single change we can make to get a handle on our gun problem.

But we can, with careful thought, make a series of alterations to current laws that would help in the fight against gun violence.

It’s worth doing.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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