In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, the gun control advocates are calling for restrictions on firearms and some on the pro-gun side are citing the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
So here’s the thing: Let’s go with the constitutional framers original intent and allow every American to own a musket.
But first, let’s stop pretending that the Bill of Rights grants rights – including gun ownership -- that are absolute. We have free speech, but you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. We have freedom of assembly but you’re not allowed to riot.
So when gun advocates say they have the right to bear arms, all but the most extreme will acknowledge that like all freedoms in the Bill of Rights, it comes with caveats. For a fascinating look at the history of gun control, read this story in Atlantic magazine.
When we have the national discussion on how to stem the numbers of mass shootings, every serious solution should be part of the conversation, including possible firearms restrictions and changes in the mental health system.
And the two questions we should ask ourselves about any potential action: Is there evidence it would succeed in stemming the killing? And, if it does, is it worth the loss of freedom?
Here are some ideas that are worth discussing:
-- New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof pointed out that Canada requires a 28-day waiting period to purchase a handgun and requires that gun buyers have two people vouch for them.
-- Kristof and Will Oremus of Slate.com wrote about Australia’s restrictions on semi-automatic shotguns and rifles put in place after a gunman killed 35 people and injured 23 more at a resort in Tasmania. Since then Australia has seen a huge drop in gun-related suicides and homicides with “no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides,” according to Oremus.
“In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in the country,” Oremus said. “There hasn’t been a single one in Australia since.”
-- Writer Jane Smiley talks about the high cost of gun violence – some $4.7 billion for deaths and injuries – and suggests that we should treat gun ownership like car ownership.
“Every gun needs to be like every car -- you can't use it unless you have liability insurance,” she writes. “Attached to every gun, there must be a policy that the purchaser has to sign, acknowledging the dangers of his purchase and paying for them up front. I suggest the same for high volume clips.”
I don’t know whether any of these ideas would work in this country or whether they could pass constitutional muster. But if we don’t have serious, civil debates about such policies, we are acquiescing to the acts of madmen.
As for the families of these little Newtown children, I pray they can find the strength to keep from sinking into a black hole of despair. As Bruce Springsteen sang after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks: “Tell me how do you live broken-hearted?”
There are no words. There are no words.