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January 24, 2011

Gun Politics Part One

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

How appropriate it is to have a discussion of the politics of gun control in the weeks following the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of six people who attended her Congress on the Corner event in Tucson, Arizona.


Gun politics are steeped in the most emotional, gut-wrenching and personal agonies possible. Just the mention of guns, and the right to own them, raises hackles and blood pressure. It’s constitutional and fundamental; and, at the core of the two arguments, gun control is also a key component of our two intellectually bankrupt partisan political parties.


We begin at the United States Constitution, more specifically; we begin with the Second Amendment to that historic document.


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.


The interpretation of the intent of the Founders fuels the political divide on the question of the right to purchase and possess firearms. The liberal view is that the Founders, fresh from a dangerous and risky break from British rule, and, with lingering mourning for brave freedom fighters lost in the War for Independence, felt compelled to define a right (to keep and bear arms) while specifically linking it to the reference that justified the right (the necessity to resist future attempts to limit freedom).


Conservative thinking holds that the Second Amendment was not intended purely a reference to the arbitrary control of the British monarchy, but as a hedge against any future tyrannical government intrusion into the freedom of the individual.


Enlightened progressives also argue that modern life brings with it a level of sophistication and convenience that obviates the need for every Tom, Dick, and Harry to own a gun. No need to shoot your dinner; no savages to fend off from the homestead; and the old standby argument: why keep a gun around that somebody in your own house might use on you!


For the rock-solid conservative, it’s about the purity of a right so beautifully simple to understand. The giants of the philosophy of freedom, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and company felt that Americans needed this express approval. No conditions, no limitations.


One of the more interesting dichotomies of guns rights arguments is the idea that urban versus rural living alters the rights granted under the Constitution. Liberal philosophy teaches that due to the densities of the modern city population, unrestricted gun ownership begets violence. The opposing viewpoint is that criminals don’t obey other laws, so why would we think they’d be the least concerned about the law related to firearms ownership?


Into this already complex ideological minefield we add the tragic Tucson shooting. Jared Loughner, an apparently deeply disturbed young man, exercised his right to own and bear arms the old-fashioned way. He went into a Sportsmen’s Warehouse and bought a Glock semi-automatic pistol, magazines, and ammunition. According to some news reports, he showed up at a local Walmart the morning of the shooting to buy more ammo, but a clerk turned him away for his odd behavior. We won’t know until the trial, as Walmart is choosing to avoid comment. Guess they don’t want another connection to a nut with a gun.


The horrors of a mass murder quickly transitioned into an opportunity for the two sides of the gun rights argument, not to mention self-advancing opportunist politicians, to get in front of a microphone or camera to make their tired arguments.


Calvin Constitutionalist: Here’s another example of the old adage: “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” If other people at that shopping center had been carrying, that nut wouldn’t have gotten off as many shots as he did. Besides, he didn’t need a gun; he could’ve used a knife or a rock, too. The problem isn’t with angry political rhetoric or gun rights, the problems are with a society that no longer holds people accountable for their personal behavior.


Paula Peacemaker: Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh spread so much hatred that someone with emotional problems is susceptible to that message. If we kept guns in the hands of the military and law enforcement, we wouldn’t have situations like this. If we can’t take guns away, then we ought to limit the number of rounds a magazine can hold. If a shooter has to keep reloading, that might give a chance for a good Samaritan to step in and stop them.


President Barack Obama seized the opportunity to use his intellect to attempt to heal the nation’s wounds, as effectively as Jared Loughner’s bullets ripped a path through the crowd in Tucson. President Obama reminded us of 9 year-old Christina Taylor-Green, the youngest victim of that fateful day. He challenged all of us to live up to her faith in our country and her expectations and hopes for the future.


The next day, conservative talk radio hosts criticized his talk as failing to live up to expectations. Whose?


Gun debates pit people’s most fundamental emotions and beliefs against their opponents. Are we safer with easier access to guns, or less safe when more people have them? Does the Second Amendment stand as granite wall to protect every citizen’s unrestricted rights to own and carry, or does the evolution of mankind suggest the laws should adapt and alter those rights as situations dictate? Is there a difference in lifestyle between a rural-dwelling citizen and a city resident that justifies a differing interpretation of constitutional rights?


Doesn’t really matter which side you line up on. The fact is that the two sides are as far apart as is possible. There are few political differences so divisive; abortion and gay rights come to mind.


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