Over the weekend, in the spirit of getting into the winter swing of things, I curled up with a cup of hot tea and a good read while the plows worked their way through the first major snowfall of the year.
The read to which I'm referring was Joe Tarr's fascinating story in last weeks edition of Isthmus about Wisconsin's gun laws and gun rights advocates, headlined "Locked and Loaded."
If you haven't yet taken a look, you really should. Go ahead, I'll wait....
Done? Good, let's continue.
Tarr does a remarkably decent job of telling a story without injecting much in the way of his own opinion about the main topic at hand. He approaches his main subject, gun rights advocate Auric Gold, very much in the way an anthropologist might a newly discovered and totally foreign tribe of people, though. That seems a little odd, given just how many gun owners live and work in Wisconsin, but not when you take into account how few of them are apparently willing to go on the record with their stories. So says Gold in a comment left on the article itself.
Frankly, I don't blame gun rights advocates for being apprehensive about participating in an article about concealed and open carry laws -- especially for Isthmus, a paper I don't think anyone would deny tends to hang a little to the left. But I think speaking to a reporter is a far more effective way to get your message out and make the general public less leery of you than, say, going out to dinner at Culver's with a few of your best gun-toting buddies.
I was glad, then, that Gold stepped up and spoke with Tarr for the piece. I was even gladder when it became apparent that Gold is, as far as I can tell, a pretty intelligent, rational guy. Not at all the stereotypical "gun nut." Because I certainly have my biases when it comes to gun ownership in this country, I recognize that exposure to a wider variety of people and opinions are crucial to better understanding. (I've also written about this all before and vacillated quite a bit over how I feel about the whole thing.)
There have been days, usually after news of a shooting, etc., when I just wanted to see an outright ban -- Everybody out of the pool! There have also been days when I leaned toward a more libertarian attitude toward weapons -- Swimming lessons for everyone!
Because, if I'm being honest here, I actually kind of like guns -- the physical thing, the act of firing one at a range, using them as props -- but I don't own a single one. Personally, I don't relish the idea of having one around the house, or the option of resorting to the use of a gun in a bad situation. I have chosen to remove the choice to use a gun from my life.
And that's your choice, Emily, so why impose it on others?
Gold makes the argument for responsible gun ownership that extends to legalized concealed carry. (Wisconsin is one of just three states that doesn't currently allow for it, but that could likely change with the recent shift in party control of the government). He has trained to become just such a responsible owner, spending years learning how to wield the weapon effectively and safely. Honestly, I wish there were more gun owners like him in the world.
But the simple fact of the matter is that there are a lot of untrained, cocky, and/or mentally unstable (whether certifiably or just prone to having a bad day) people out there. And of those folks, the ones who want a gun are the last people who should have one, and there really ought to be a better way of making sure that they never do. Figuring that out is, of course, where we run into all sorts of trouble.
Some folks say there should be no rules, no restrictions -- that the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees us the right to bear arms and thou shalt have no other law before it.
On the other end of the debate there are those who would prefer an outright ban. Both point to the actual language of good ol' 2A in defense of their stance -- it's always interesting when opposing sides quote the same thing to support themselves, isn't it?).
"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."
Proponents of stricter regulations and/or the outright ban note that the provision should relate only to those serving in some kind of military unit and not to regular citizens. They also point out that the amendment was written at a time when people needed guns for basic survival and were limited to flintlocks, not semi-automatics.
The other side of the debate is represented by a majority of Supreme Court justices as of 2008, when they ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the right was not connected strictly to military service and that individual rights to own guns were constitutionally protected. They went even further in a decision in June of this year holding that said guarantee extended to protect individuals from the "overreach" of state and local governments.
I think the first argument is correct, but ultimately shouldn't necessarily negate the ultimate conclusion of the latter. Confused yet? You're not alone.
So I propose this: Until such time as I make up my mind about the inherent good or evil of guns, the United States should eradicate the Second Amendment entirely.
WAIT, WHAT THE HELL DID SHE JUST SAY?!
Hold up, hear me out! In an ideal world, activists on all sides of this issue would work together to create a brand new Second Amendment, one based in the realities of the present and of modern technology, and able to better adapt to a changing world.
As it stands, the Second as written is a confusing and antiquated law that has been bent and twisted and reinterpreted so many times that even the top legal minds in the country can't quite agree on its intention. I do know that it specifically mentions "well-regulated militia," which, adjusted for inflation, would translate to the National Guard. Not everyone who wants to own a gun is a member, though, so I don't see them being content with that particular interpretation.
Since we're no longer talking about a citizenry that needs to be ready and armed in the case of Red Coats invading their farms and homesteads, we really need to update the language here.
We also need to be realistic about the fact that guns are dangerous, even sometimes when in the hands of responsible owners. The tired saying, "guns don't kill people; people kill people" completely fails to understand and respect the potential of a gun. It also fails to recognize the power of stupidity.
For instance, a stupid person -- blind with rage over some slight or another, desperate for money or drugs, or any number of other motivating factors -- can know almost nothing about the modern handgun they brandish and still kill a whole bunch of people in a very short span of time. A stupid person brandishing a musket can maybe kill one person before being taken out while trying to figure out how to get the ramrod down the muzzle of the gun to reload for their second shot.
I'm also pretty sure it would be really, really difficult for a child to pull their dad's musket out of the closet and accidentally shoot themselves with it. Unless they had exceptionally long arms.
So let's take the hodgepodge of gun regulations that now exist, poorly enforced, and create a clearer, more unified code. No guns for violent felons. No guns for mental patients. No RPGs or high-capacity automatics for anyone outside the military (let's be honest -- your militia's bold standoff with the U.S. military ain't gonna end well for you even if you do manage to get your hands on a few rocket launchers and M2s).
Everyone else? Your choice. Pass the background check to make sure you're none of the above and hey, we make people get licenses to drive cars, why not at least require a basic gun safety class before you can own something more serious than a pellet gun, too? At that point, concealed or open, it's up to you.
I'm just spit-balling here, though.
We're not likely to get guns out of the hands of criminals any time soon. I wish it was different, but that's the sad truth. However, I don't believe that truth means we should rely on any extreme -- ban or free-for-all -- for the solution.
I hope we can continue to encourage the kind of dialogue that's sort of happening in Tarr's article and (some) of the subsequent comments. I really and truly sympathize with individuals and their reasons from both sides of the debate. Guns tend to elicit extreme reactions, both pro and con, by their very nature. I've been guilty of that myself.
And yet I also see that, until we can all put away that polarity of feeling, we won't be able to make any real progress. And that doesn't serve any of us.