My Turn: Gun control is truly in our best interest

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

People who oppose gun regulation (“Gun Owners ask for Civil Discourse,” Recorder, 4-9-18) are not in favor of school shootings. Many are the same people we are proud of when they are serving in our police or military forces, putting out fires, or building things. They want to be able to help. They are the same people I want around when, say, my car turns over. Or even if a bad guy starts shooting.

I just disagree with them about what keeps the most people the most safe — whether from bad guys with guns or a tyrannical government. The three main arguments of anti-regulators are: A.) good guys, B.) slippery-slope, and C.) Second Amendment. The arguments just don’t play out.

The first argument is that good guys (and women) will be able to limit fatalities by returning fire. Of the three arguments, this is the most compelling. But the real question is not whether good guy/gals can kill the crazies, but how to save the most lives. As has been too often demonstrated, the more people who have guns, the more bad people will have guns.

The lunatics, moreover, always have the advantage. Though crazy, they aren’t stupid. They increasingly prepare for return fire, whether by wearing armor or, like the Las Vegas shooter, choosing position. They get to choose the time, place and weapons. Just what will civilians have to carry to be ready to shoot back? Why not level the field (of fire) by restricting the most lethal weapons?

Which leads into the argument that any regulation is the slope to a gun ban. This is obviously untrue. Fully automatic weapons have been regulated for a long time without any domino effect. Allowing assault-style weapons actually weakens the good-person-shooting-back idea because of the mismatch of firepower. Or are we to trade holstered pistols for long rifles? How far are we prepared to escalate? Vulcan Gatlings? RPGs?

Willingness to give up at least some kinds of guns to make them harder for killers to get is simply more effective at saving lives. Over and over again, we hear that the assault-style guns used in killings were purchased legally. Making such sales illegal may mean that some people will still get illegal ones, but fewer will do so. Australia has shown this. Massachusetts’ regulations are stricter than other states and we have fewer gun deaths. And as the fire power/rate of assailants is lowered, it actually gives good guys/gals a better chance of making a difference.

Which leaves the Second Amendment argument. I used to agree the amendment was about maintaining the ability for citizens to check the government, to be able to overthrow it. The Founders, after all, had just overthrown their former government. But on closer look, I was wrong.

The amendment is about national defense (thus the “well-regulated militia” and the “being necessary to the security of a free state” part). I know, the Supreme Court has ruled that the right to bear arms extends to individuals, but that doesn’t mean citizens have the right to overthrow the government by force. After all, why go to all the trouble of writing and ratifying a Constitution if, like the assignments in Mission Impossible, it could self-destruct soon after being read?

The Founders were not intending that their new government be vulnerable to any faction with a gripe. The new government had no qualms about utterly crushing both the Shays’ and Whiskey Rebellions. Right from the start, then, the right to bear arms was not a right to overthrow the government. The Civil War kind of made that point.

And if the Second Amendment is not about a right to maintain the firepower necessary to overthrow the government, it can have some constraints, as it already does. I can’t just go buy a Howitzer and we are all safer for it.

If the idea of those opposed to gun regulation is truly that guns defend against tyranny, armed rebellion against an elected government is less likely to prevent dictatorship than to lead to one. Anti-regulators like to point to Cuba or the Soviet Union as examples of dictatorships that banned gun ownership. Both those states, though, were also created by armed rebellion. Just as a side note, let’s remember that the people today’s anti-tyrannists would have to kill would be our police and soldiers — the people we say we support.

So, I hope we can focus again on shared goals. To save students, or churchgoers or concertgoers, or moviegoers or softball playing politicians, or people gathered in a community center — ourselves. Armed civilians shooting back may work once in a while, but not as well as limiting the availability of lethality. Some restraints make us civilized, not subjugated.

David Gilbert Keith lives in Deerfield.