What is Common Sense Gun Control?

img_0447I recently stumbled across this video in which some guys talk to people on the street who don’t own guns to illustrate how little they know about guns. The video was subsequently used to push the old “liberals are idiots” trope. While they make some valid points, the problem I have with the video is that it presents a caricature of “common sense gun control” and completely eliminates gun owners from the conversation by targeting people most likely to be fooled by the charade.

In one of my closets there is a .357 magnum revolver, and I’ve owned several other pistols, rifles, and shotguns in recent years. I know that “assault rifles” are weapons with a fully automatic mode, which are illegal to own unless they were made before 1986, and even then there are some very expensive hoops to jump through in order to legally own one. I support both responsible gun ownership and common sense gun control. But what do those things mean?

Let’s dispense with both the supposedly “liberal” ignorance and the misleading caricature pushed by the right wing, because neither of those things have anything to do with common sense. The ignorant liberals who think assault rifles are a major threat don’t know that the vast majority of firearm murders are committed with handguns and that assault rifles are already illegal. The ignorant conservatives who think liberals want to take away all guns don’t know that middle ground actually exists, or that the majority of gun owners occupy the middle ground and many of them are liberals. Like me. I also find it simultaneously amusing and frustrating that the liberal position on this issue (allowing the liberty of owning guns) is held by so many people who seem to have no idea what liberalism even is, given their assumption that liberals are all stupid freedom-destroying monsters.

In order to take a truly liberal approach to firearm regulation, we must find a balance between reducing collateral damage and protecting the rights of people to arm themselves. The right to life, after all, is even more important than the right to have guns. How do you protect both at the same time, and thus maximize the freedom of everybody, which is the whole point of liberalism?

Perhaps the second amendment can give us a clue: 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 first important part of this amendment is the well regulated Militia. A militia in this sense is an army raised from the civil population. It can also refer to the entire population of able-bodied citizens who are legally eligible to fight in the military. In the early days of America, many people were opposed to a standing military and our armies were comprised of ordinary citizens. The first half of the amendment obviously provides the reason for the second half…a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of the nation, therefore the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

The second important part is that it specifies “the right of the people”, not “the right of active militia members”. This makes perfect sense, given that a militia is formed by gathering able-bodied people from the general population. If you’re trying to form an army by gathering random citizens in the 18th century, it helps if they have their own guns.

But we don’t do our military that way anymore; we haven’t for a very long time because it didn’t work out very well. Despite the early opposition to a standing army, eventually America decided to have one anyway, rendering obsolete the reason given in the second amendment for protecting the right to own weapons. The amendment asserts a militia is necessary, yet we seem to be doing fine without it. In fact, modern militias tend to be comprised of extremists and terrorists who have perpetrated or planned to perpetrate violence against other American citizens.

This should raise the question of what it means to have a well regulated militia, aside from the issue of whether we even need them. If we maintain that the right to arm ourselves should still stand (and I think it should), then what we really need to talk about is the proper way to regulate citizen ownership of guns. And that’s what we mean by common sense gun control. We’re talking about the “well regulated” part of the second amendment. It’s no use having an armed populace if they’re ignorant and irresponsible.

A lot of right wing extremists that I’ve encountered have tried to invoke Switzerland as an example of loose gun regulations with low gun violence, but that’s just not true. The culture there is entirely different; until recently military training and service was mandatory for young men, and they had to keep their military-issued rifles at home. It was a militia system like we tried in the early days of America. However, ammunition and private gun ownership were and still are strictly controlled, with various permits and fees and caps on how many guns and how much ammo you can legally possess. Also, while their gun violence rate is pretty low compared to America, it’s still higher than most other comparable European countries, which makes sense; they have a higher number of guns per capita.

I know most “gun people” in America, including myself, are serious about educating themselves and keeping their guns stored safely. That’s why the majority of the population supports things like background checks for all gun purchases. I would also support mandatory training and licensing much like we do with driver’s licenses, but it would have to be handled at a local level with crystal clear rules, and accessible to everyone.

There are probably other ways to deal with the issue. The important thing is that most of us agree something needs to be done, and there are options that most of us can get behind, if we stop spreading misinformation and demonizing everyone who doesn’t fully agree with us.

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