Constitution and Guns

All our freedoms have logical limits

The best way to win any debate is to define the debate topic and establish the rules to be followed. The firearms industry and its lobbyist organization, the NRA, are working 24/7 to do just that. As they address the widespread concern over the private ownership of assault weapons with large capacity cartridge magazines and the ease with which dangerous persons (persons who could not pass a background check for legal purchase of any firearm) can acquire firearms, including those with high capacity cartridge magazines, through gun shows and private sales, they define proposed legislation or presidential executive orders as assaults on our Constitution.

This approach is both cynical and clever. They realize that we Americans see the Constitution as the sacred foundation of our nation, and will defend it from attacks. Convince the public that proposed limitations on the lethality of firearms and more stringent regulations on the private sales of weapons represent such attacks and, guaranteed, you’ve won the debate. Win this debate and any discussion of the proposals’ actual impact on public safety is moot. Additionally, they realize there is a loud and politically active right-wing faction in America today who will, with great glee, serve as surrogates in this debate. Their “one-two” punch is Wayne LaPierre, representing the NRA, an organization 74 percent funded by the arms industry, and folks like Alex Jones, representing the extreme right-wing gun advocates. They have declared the debate a “gloves off” battle with no limits of decency. If you doubt this, watch the NRA advertisement regarding school safety and the Secret Service protections provided for President Obama’s children. If this presentation doesn’t disgust you, likely my comments will.

Since the arms industry and the extreme gun advocates insist on defining the proposed actions as violations of the Second Amendment, it’s important to address that charge. First, anyone with even the most basic knowledge of constitutional law and American history realizes that none of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms are absolute; they all have limits. First Amendment guarantees of free speech are limited by laws addressing libel and slander, Fourth Amendment protections don’t prohibit “legal” searches and seizures, and Fifth Amendment protections allow self-incrimination under defined conditions.

Today’s proposals regarding gun control, gun safety and gun regulation do not suggest confiscation of the guns owned by Americans. No one wants to take away all your guns. The proposals, rather, suggest there need to be some limits on our Second Amendment rights; specifically, limits on the lethality of privately owned weapons, on the private sale of firearms (universal background checks) and an expanded data base system to help identify individuals who pose a threat to public safety. These proposals do not violate or seek to negate the Second Amendment. They do seek to impose some limits on those Second Amendment freedoms; just as scores of other laws impose limitations on our other constitutional freedoms. If the firearms industry and the NRA wish to make that the argument that there should be no limits on the lethality of privately owned arms, let them do so. If you believe citizens should be able to possess machine guns, rocket propelled grenade launchers, shoulder-fired SAM missiles, mortars, field artillery or even a tactical nuclear weapon, feel free to make that argument. If you feel gun show and private sales should be unregulated, feel very free to support that position.

However, let’s at least agree to discuss and debate the three main points at issue:

1) At what point on a scale of lethality should private ownership of firearms be limited? Should it exclude ownership of weapons with large capacity cartridge magazines and exclude ownership of such high capacity magazines themselves?

2) Should gun show and private sales of firearms require the same background checks now required of sales by licensed gun dealers?

3) Should the national background check system be both improved and expanded?

These are all legitimate issues for discussion and debate. None of them represent a challenge to the Second Amendment. They do represent serious efforts to address the tens of thousands of gun deaths each year in America and, obviously, focus on the seeming epidemic of mass killings. It would benefit all of us if we might have a civil, rational discussion of these issues. — Gary Crum