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THE NEXT DISTRACTION
Politics and Passions - Winter 1995-96

Part 23
Gun Control: Sound Logic

The logic of gun control can best be understood by considering the analogy of the automobile. A car is a potentially lethal weapon. To drive a car, one must be trained, licensed, and have that license periodically renewed. And a car is designed solely as a means of transportation. Guns, on the other hand, are deliberately designed to kill people. It is not unreasonable to demand their regulation.

Guns are the second deadliest consumer product (after cars) on the market. By the end of the decade, firearms will likely supplant automobiles as the leading cause of product-related deaths throughout the United States. In 1990, American guns claimed an estimated 37,000 lives. There are no federal safety standards for the domestic manufacture of guns. There are no voluntary, industry-wide safety standards for the manufacture of guns.

Every two minutes, somebody somewhere in the United States is shot. Every 14 minutes, somebody dies from a gunshot wound. Each gun injury involving hospitalization costs $33,159. A license to sell a gun costs 83 cents per month.

A gun rolls off the assembly line in America every 10 seconds. America imports another gun every 11 seconds. There are 246,984 gun dealers in the United States, but only 240 inspectors to keep an eye on them.

There is a popular myth that handgun ownership makes people safer. In reality, the New England Journal of Medicine reports that a handgun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill the owner, a family member, or a friend than it is to kill an intruder. Over 75 percent of firearm deaths in a typical year involve handguns. The FBI Uniform Crime Statistics Report says that nationally, there were 38,317 firearm deaths in 1992, but fewer than 300 justifiable homicides.

Another myth is that gun control laws don t make a difference. In reality, strict handgun regulation saves lives. In Washington, D.C., a tougher gun law actually reduced homicides by 25 percent through the mid-1980s. Again, the New England Journal of Medicine reports that 47 lives were saved in Washington, D.C., in a typical year studied, because of that city's handgun ban.

Most other industrialized nations have virtual bans on handgun sales. In 1990, handguns were used in the homicides of 13 people in Sweden, 91 in Switzerland, 87 in Japan, 22 in Great Britain, and 68 in Canada, compared to 10,567 in the United States.

Is gun control constitutional? The Second Amendment refers to "the right of the people to keep and bear arms." Roger Tatarian, professor emeritus of journalism at California State University, Fresno, notes, however, that "things can change over time" with regards to the original intent of the founders.

The Third Amendment, for example, protects citizens against compulsory quartering of troops in private homes. Technology has also made obsolete the constitutional provision giving Congress the right to declare war. "No president who is warned that a hostile missile is en route...has time nowadays to ask Congress for a declaration of war before responding," states Tartarian. "He can commit the country to an all-out war simply by pressing a button."

Tartarian observes: "The Constitution certainly does not ban private ownership of weapons; that would have been unthinkable for a people still living in an often hostile natural environment and where many depended on hunting for a livelihood. But a tradition of owning arms is one thing and a constitutional guarantee is quite another. They ought not be confused

According to Tatarian: "The Second Amendment as it now exists evolved from a draft offered by James Madison on June 8, 1789. His intent very clearly was to tie the constitutional right to own arms to service in official militias regulated by state governments." Madison's original proposal reads:

"The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person."

The final version of the amendment which emerged from a House-Senate conference on September 25, 1789, also tied the constitutional right to bear arms to service in a militia, and stated that such militias are to be "well regulated":

"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."

Handgun control is constitutional. The courts have repeatedly ruled that the Second Amendment does not apply to individuals outside the context of "a well regulated militia." A handgun control ordinance was upheld by the U.S. Seventh Court of Appeals in 1982, which issued the following statement: "We conclude that the right to keep and bear handguns is not guaranteed by the Second Amendment."

The Supreme Court let the decision stand by refusing to hear the appeal of the handgun lobby. The Supreme Court ruled in United States vs. Cruikshank that the Second Amendment doesn't mean anything except "(the right to keep and bear arms) shall not be infringed by Congress."

This 1876 ruling established that states and localities are not prevented from enacting their own gun control laws--and they remain free to do so to this day. In 1980, the Supreme Court reconfirmed that "these legislative restrictions on the use of firearms do not trench upon any constitutionally protected liberties."

Guns should be regulated like other consumer products. Handguns and assault rifles should be banned, and ammunition should be taxed heavily.

Go on to: Part 24: Cartoon
Return to: The Next Distraction

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