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Can We Talk About Guns?

Timothy Egan at the NY Times opined yesterday about the instant attack that rains down on anyone who dares ask whether more control of certain types of weapons is a good idea for the US. As he puts it, "The gun gag rules." He details the immediate hostile response to sportscaster Bob Costas when he speculated that Kassandra Perkins and/or her murderer, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, might be alive if guns were not so readily available. We tolerate a staggering level of gun violence in the US. According to the CDC' 2009 data, something like 104,000 people get shot every year, and more than 31,000 killed. (That figure includes nearly 19,000 suicides.) In my city of Oakland, CA, more than 2000 people were shot in 2011. There was an increase of 17% in reported incidents of gun violence from 2010, and that was up from the prior year. Part of what OPD used to do more of before harsh staffing cuts was to get guns off the streets.OK, let me draw some distinctions. First, most of the guns used in street violence aren't legal--however, a PBS Frontline report links street guns to various kinds of shenanigans in the under-regulated legal gun market, with straw purchases leading the list. How we deal with legal guns affects the availability of illegal guns. Even states with tough gun laws like CA are easily flooded with available weaponry from nearby states. Second, there's a place for guns in the world. For example, a rifle or shotgun is, I think, a reasonable tool on a farm. But on the street in Oakland?Third, let's not ignore other aspects of violence. Kassandra Perkins was a victim of domestic abuse--but having a gun handy made that a deadly situation. Here's some data posted at the New Yorker by Amy Davidson:

According to the Justice Departments National Institute of Justice, The data are clear: More incidents of murder-suicide occur with guns than with any other weapon. In 591 murder-suicides, 92 percent were committed with a gun. States with less restrictive gun control laws have as much as eight times the rate of murder-suicides as those with the most restrictive gun control laws. Another study found that the mere presence of a gun in the house increased the chance that domestic violence would escalate to murder six fold.

But finally, this is, I think a cultural issue. The US is not the most homicidal nation on earth, (as of 2011, El Salvador leads that sad list, followed by iraq and Jamaica,) but we lead the pack among wealthy nations. Shouldn't this be an issue the churches lead on? Some, indeed, are stepping up, especially those in cities decimated by gun violence. The Catholic Church's leadership HAS spoken against private ownership of guns and for better gun regulation, including the USCCB as recently as 2000. Perhaps now is a good time for a reminder that the flood of guns onto our streets and in our homes is a hazard to all of us. Our cultural tolerance of ubiquitous guns is killing us. If nothing else, perhaps one memorial we might offer for the memory of Kassandra Perkins is to begin to talk about guns in our culture, and what we can do to change things.

About the Author

Lisa Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).



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I'm glad the question is raised here, though I have no solution. It may well be that gun laws are ineffective means of controlling the appalling rates of gun violence in our country. Effective or ineffective, most politicians seem scared to take them on. I imagine that Ann Olivier, Crystal Watson, and some others are correct in locating the central problem less in the control of firearms and more in the violence of so much of our popular culture. But I think that many people -- and our organs of opinion, and so forth -- are even more fearful of taking such violence on, afraid that even to raise the question will label them as Pecksniffian (to say nothing of first amendment concerns).

Fox's O'Reilly told Bob Costas that he, O'Reilly, would have liked to have his own gun if he was attending the Aurora Co massacre so he could have taken down the shooter.A Catholic college grad, who thinks he's too big [in more ways then one] to duck behind a seat.

The common refrain is that guns are for 'protection'. If we could just kill that myth with the truth: guns are for killing, we might just go a long way to reducing the violence. The fact is that a gun in the home is much more likely to kill someone you know than an unknown malefactor.

Clergy in Flint, Michigan, which is beset with gang and gun violence and murders, have not let the grass grow under their feet in addressing these problems in the pulpit, with rallies, with awareness efforts, with neighborhood watches, and with very few resources. Pastor Robert McCathern is typical of many clergy trying to lead these grass roots efforts: are especially grim in Flint as financial straits in the city have cut police and other emergency services to frighteningly low levels.

Lisa --Thank you for asking this question. Yes, the churches need to be more involved. In New Orleans Abp. Aymond has ordered that we pray a special prayer at the end of Sunday Masses for peace in the city. It is now a regular part of Mass. This will help, no doubt. But more needs to be done, and some is being done, especially among the most disadvantaged. I think that gun control, while necessary, just treats a symptom, not a cause, and we need to recognize that crime is not a problem only of the very poor. I'm middle class, and in my lifetime, beginning in the 60s, I've known seven people who have been murdered and all of the victims were middle class. They include a lawyers, a hair-dresser, a restaurant manager, two businessmen, and two professors. Apparently only one was killed by a poor kid off the street. I'll grant you that that is more than most people have known. But it convinces me that it's the whole culture -- including us, the middle class -- that is violence prone. It's not just youth in the slums who lack opportunity for decent employment. So we desperately need to ask why we're violence prone.Years ago a psychologist friend who was an expert in children-and-violence told me that ALL of the psychological studies had shown that the more people see of violence, even if the violence is just pretend, the more they are inclined to be violent themselves. Is this a matter of becoming sensitized to it? Or of becoming addicted to it? Does it really make very much difference why? The amount of violence on TV and in movies is undoubtedly a major cause for the use of guns by ordinary people.What to do? Obviously, reduce the amount of violence in the media. I don't know how to do it except to make violent acts which don't further a plot to be illegal.Yes, this would entail great First Amendment issues. But we also have an even more important constitutional right, the right to life. Yes, this is also an artistic issue, and art is notoriously subjective. But it really isn't *entirely* subjective. We know that some art, by showing violence rather than saying that the violence happened, does much more than further a plot -- it indirectly increases real violence in the community. (We've suspected that at least since the Greeks.) I'm convinced if the literature professors and critics put their minds to it they could figure out ways to measure unnecessary violence in the media.Yes, there are other reasons for the violence, sociological ones. The causes include poor education, few job opportunities, the demise of the two-parent family, etc. We also know something about what to do about those causes. I say that the churches need to help motivate us to actually spend the money necessary to solve the problem of poor education. But what to do about the demise of the family, who knows?At any rate, I say treat the causes not just the effects.

Some of the role-playing computer and video games are pretty violent as well .... The 10 Most Violent Video Games of All Time.

Those minority groups least able to protect themselves have but a single tool to use to level the playing field: Firearms. Women, elderly, the poor, and disabled persons have an absolute need to have access to inexpensive firearms and training. To suggest that the good citizens of Oakland have no need to own/possess firearms is to turn away from the principles upon which this nation was founded: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..."LIFE. If we have a right to life, then we certainly have the right to defend our lives. Indeed, the civil right of self defense is THE most fundamental of all civil rights. If we are not able to keep ourselves alive, the rest of our civil rights are certainly meaningless. Recent US Supreme Court decisions have affirmed the the civil rights to Keep and Bear arms for self defense ARE fundamental individual civil rights. Civil rights that we are all created with and that the 2nd Amendment was put in place to protect from government intrusion. These are the facts and they are in support of the very foundation upon which our nation was founded. Now, we have the author of this article trying to tell us that the minority groups who most desperately need to be able to defend their lives shouldn't be able to exercise their fundamental individual civil rights? Why on earth would someone in 2012 actively suggest the oppression of civil rights of minority groups?

Why do gun grabbers project their lack of self control onto the good and decent law abiding firearms owners? It's pretty simple. If you don't want a gun, don't buy one. If you don't want anyone but the gov't and the criminals to have guns, move to any number of countries that deprive their citizens or subjects of the natural right to self defense.

Yes, we can talk about guns. But only if it is an intelligent informed discussion, not one based on nothing but ignorance and emotion. Unfortunately the latter is the discussion the author here wants to have. Twice now, in 2002 and in 2006, reputable national scientific organizations with an anti-gun bias, the CDC and the National Academy of Sciences, have done extensive reviews of the peer-reviewed literature on the effects of gun control laws. In both cases what these groups found, and reported, is that, out of the hundreds of such studies, there is not even one single legitimately conducted study in the literature that has ever found any reduction in violent crime from any gun control law or set of laws. Not even one, ever. And, according to the lowest estimate by the CDC, guns are used by citizens 200,000 times a year to defend themselves, more than 10 times as often as they are to kill illegally. Anyone who looks at that figure and doesn't understand that guns are not the cause of violence in the US, or still insists that gun control and the limitation of Second Amendment rights should be any part of our discussion, just isn't qualified to be a part of an intelligent informed discussion on the subject. And if you're too confused by academic studies of the question, you can simply look at the situation as it has existed in the US for the last 20 or so years. During that time we have seen a tremendous decrease in gun control. 20 years ago, the number of states that had any statutory allowance for private citizens to carry concealed handguns in public for self-defense was only a tiny fraction. And most of those only really allowed it on paper, while in reality denying their license or permit to all but the wealthy and politically connected (as described in their own city quite well just earlier this year by none other than the notoriously anti-gun New York Times). Today, every state except one, Illinois (which has one of the highest violent crime rates and murder rates, with Chicago barely behind DC for the #1 position), allows some form of licensure for carrying a concealed handgun in public for self-defense, and the vast majority of them either are 'shall-issue', meaning that by law they must issue a license to any applicant who meets the basic requirements, or they don't require any license at all. And what has been the result? Blood in the streets, as predicted by all the hand-wringing anti-gun zealots? No (except in Chicago, where murders are on the rise). Instead the rest of the entire country, especially many of those states that have most reduced their gun control laws, has experienced a dramatic decrease in all forms of violent crime, even the artificial category of gun crime (as if any victim really cared whether they were shot rather than stabbed or beaten to death). The vast majority of these states and cities are experiencing rates of such crimes lower than they have since the 1950s. Now, while there is all kinds of quibbling about whether the decrease in gun control has caused this decrease, one thing is blatantly obvious - it has not in any way prevented it. So while we'll probably never all agree that guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens saves innocent lives overall and reduces violent crime, we can definitively say that these guns play no role in causing violent crime, otherwise our violent crime rate would be climbing over the last 20 years, as it did in countries like England that increased their gun (and even knife) control laws.

Has USCCB issued anything on this since 2000? they seeem to have opinuiions on everythng else -- especially "dangers" of contraception and gay marriage.

NRA members and fellow travelers, please calm down.Nobody is calling for churches to preach against responsible and legal gun ownership. In local areas here, where gang violence, crime, and poverty is high, churches are focusing on the social and economic factors that beget these problems. They're trying to instill a spirit of community.There is no movement among pastors to grab guns from those who are lawfully packing heat for their own protection. I would, however, say that those with CCW permits have been remarkably unable to stop drive-by shootings or the deaths of those who are inadvertently in the line of fire. My old Auntie, who lived in Detroit off Vernor Avenue in the house where she was born, said her dog was more protection than her pistol. Someone tried to break in one night (she was in her mid 80s), and she drew her pistol out of her purse but was so scared she promptly dropped it in the dark. Barney, a well-trained slobbery mastiff, ran to the door growling and barking loud and scared the intruder away.

Nobody needs an AK 4y for self defense. They should be outlawed.Here's a bibliography from the Washington Post on various aspects of the gun problem. Probably more than you care to know.

Oops -- should be: AK 47

@ Ann Olivier: Would you care to expand on why you believe that a law abiding citizen should not have access to a semi-automatic centerfire rifle for purposes of self defense? Additionally, one of the core functions of the 2nd Amendment was to ensure that citizens had the means by which to defend and/or restore their nation. The term 'Arms' at that time included everything from knives to cannons. As matter of fact, our nation's first warships were privately owned merchant vessels armed with citizen-owned cannons. Lastly, your statement "... nobody needs an AK 4(7) for self defense..." is completely indefensible. We all know that a coptic Christian in Cairo Egypt NEEDS an AK 47 for self defense, as just 1 example.

The ONLY thing additional gun laws/restrictions does is stop the good person, the one who afraid of losing his job, his family, his freedom, from having the means to defend himself. Do you REALLY think gun laws will stop a criminal from finding ways to commit malice? Even if guns were to magically vanish as you wish, would you gleefully allow one or two ex-cons "on the streets of Oakland" access to your family using only some knives, a baseball bat, or even their bare fists? Guns are the great equalizer, and handguns are built for SELF-DEFENSE, a basic human right and the purpose of the 2nd Amendment. The actions of a few who abuse a right do not preclude the law-abiding from exercising theirs.

@Choprzrul Exactly. Another example closer to home were shop owners during the LA Riots who defended their storefronts (and in actuality their lives) with AK-47s after Chief Daryl Gates withdrew the LAPD from their areas. Saying, "You don't need so-and-so," for self-defense is intellectually dishonest and purports a clairvoyance that certain future events will not occur.

Ann, in lieu of allowing you or anyone else to decide what I "need" for self defense, I'll just go with what I want and deem appropriate.

leung --Try to check your hysteria. Nobody here has said all weapons must be outlawed. . You have exaggerated humongously. And if you can't tell the difference between the firepower of a shotgun and an AK 47, you are in deep trouble and are exactly the sort of person who will shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a weapon.

The Second Amendment (as amended) is a religious belief to many Americans. I say 'as amended' because they, and their political brethren conveniently ignore the first phrase, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..." I've owned and use guns, and am a Vietnam veteran, but I see no rational reason that guns should be so readily available and be unregistered. I also see no rationale in today's society for gun owners who are not trained and licensed. Just today it was reported that some fellow shot and killed his son, accidentally, outside a gun dealer -- with an 'unloaded' handgun. This sort of thing happens way too often to ignore the need for some of that 'well regulation.'

Nicholas C. --I retain a hope that the people who know the literary arts the best can figure out how to measure unnecessary and therefore unacceptable violence in artworks.Would you like ot give it a try? How do *you know* that a movie or TV program is too violent for the common good?

When I was in the Peace Corps, the most common question I got in-country was, "Are you CIA?" We were told in training to expect that one, but the second most common question initially caught me by surprise, "Can we see your gun?" The perception among the local populace was that all adult Americans carry guns, or have almost instantaneous access to them, pretty much 24/7. I'd get looks of disbelief when I'd reply, "don't own one, have never handled one." Their mistaken belief stemmed from the flood of trashy, low-budget, violent B movies that Hollywood ships directly to the Third World for quick and easy profit. I don't pretend to know the answer to reducing the glut of guns in American society, though a strictly-enforced ban on assault weapons and more stringent background checks would be good first steps. I don't know if anyone else heard the NPR report earlier this week about Camden, New Jersey. Camden's been in a downward spiral for decades as a well-functioning city, and while the prevalence of illegal guns on the streets is but one of its many problems, the report was both sobering and very depressing.

"there is not even one single legitimately conducted study in the literature that has ever found any reduction in violent crime from any gun control law or set of laws. "sounds awfully like the way authorities talked about nuke plants in Japan, just as taboo a topic as guns in the US, until last year...

"guns are used by citizens 200,000 times a year to defend themselves, more than 10 times as often as they are to kill illegally." 20,000 gun murders a year in the USA plus a number of killings in selfdefense (thousands more no doubt). Clearly not a civilized country.

I have always wondered if guns were not so readily available, if the people who use them to commit acts of violence would be brave enough to try to do their deeds with knives or other close contact weapons. I think that the willingness to commit the violence is more than directly related to the "apartness" that a gun brings from the perpetrator and the victim(s).You couldn't have movie house massacres if those committing it had to do it one on one.

"Choprzrul 12/08/2012 - 1:24 pm@ Ann Olivier: Would you care to expand on why you believe that a law abiding citizen should not have access to a semi-automatic centerfire rifle for purposes of self defense? "Heck, I think everyone should carry nothing but military grade weapons, including bazookas.It's the Amuriken way, don't you know?

My goodness: did the NRA recommend this posting to all of the gun nuts around?

Oakland has 2 particular problems: one is a police force with a history of mismanagement and problems that has almost gotten it put under the control of a federal judge. The jury is still out as to whether that will happen or not. The second one is that the good citizens thereof recently voted down a reasonably small parcel tax that would have allowed the OPD to get its staffing back up to recommended levels. So, they are continue to reap what they have sown. Rest assured: it was the good white folk in the hills who did not want the extra taxes because the main problems are in the areas where "those folks" reside, mostly in poverty and rampant drug sales (hint ... lots of sales to the white folks).

@jbruns: Quoting directly from McDonald v. Chicago US Supreme Court decision: "JUSTICE ALITO delivered the opinion of the Court...concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment right, recognized in Heller, to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense."In Heller, SCOTUS ruled that the 2nd Amendment IS NOT about the militia, it IS about fundamental individual civil rights. In McDonald, they ruled that the 2nd Amendment is incorporated against the individual states via the 14th Amendment. Thus-Gun Rights ARE Civil RightsTaking that with the fact that 100 million Americans are gun owners ( that's less than 1/3 of the population ), and you end up with a minority group wishing to exercise their civil rights. Then you have people like the author of this article and jbruns voicing their desire to further oppress the civil rights of a minority group. Sad.

@Joseph O., conflating the findings of two of our most respected scientific bodies, who are actually anti-gun (all but one member of the NAS review board had made their anti-gun feelings public before even being appointed), that there is no research that has ever been been able to demonstrate any positive effects on violent crime from any gun control law is very different than a pro-energy body covering up the flaws in a nuclear power plant. The lack of "discussion", is, as I pointed out, due to ignorant innuendo such as that you've made here. Rather than looking at our best empirical data on the subject and drawing rational conclusions for intelligent discussion, you choose instead to insinuate fraud with no evidence. There's nothing taboo remotely implied here. Just the opposite; the facts are being lined up and laid out for all to see. You just prefer to ignore them because they conflict with your political agenda. As for 200,000 self-defense shootings and 20,000 gun murders equating to a non-civilized society, first, it's not 20,000. I said that 200,000 was MORE than 10 times. Second, the majority of those are gang members shooting each other over drugs (according to the FBI), not criminals killing innocent victims, so the "uncivil" aspect is a small well-defined subgroup, not the society as a whole. Third, it sounds like you would prefer that those proportions were reversed, as they are in countries like England where private citizens are prohibited from carrying or using ANY weapon for self defense, and with a violent crime rate significantly higher than ours, even when ours was at its highest (strictest gun/knife laws in the world and highest violent crime rate in Europe). Yeah, that sounds so much more civilized.

@Ann Olivier - you are in deep trouble and are exactly the sort of person who shouldnt be posting on gun rights because you are so obviously clueless on the subject.@jbruns - "conveniently ignore the first phrase" Stop with the lies. It's settled law. Get over it. "Ive owned and use guns, and am a Vietnam veteran." You are also, at the very least, misinformed regarding the Bill of Rights.@william collier - Our civil rights aren't subject to the opinions held by third world peasants. Additionally, a strictly-enforced ban on assault weapons was enacted under President Pervert and it had zero effect on violent crime.@Jim McCrea - do you suffer from a lack of impulse control? 99.9% of law abiding gun owners don't. Did the Brady Bunch recommend this posting to all of the criminal enabling nuts around? Oakland's two great problems that you came up with are mismanagement of the part of LE and too low taxes? LOL

@John and @choprzul. Misinformed about the Bill of Rights? Hardly. Split decisions by the Supreme Court have been wrong in the past, and we are free to hold the opinion that they were wrong in this case. Furthermore, even the SCOTUS majority found that States had the right to regulate firearms. I don't think either of you can find in anything I said that I wished to ban all firearms for all citizens. I don't. But I do think they may be well regulated, even for the purpose of self defense. Many, if not all, Constitutional rights are subject to some limitations and regulations. The Second Amendment should be no exception. For example, I didn't see the Supreme Court deciding that citizens should be allowed into their sessions with weapons, did they? So, obviously, regulation is already accepted practice.

Commendations to jbruns, who recognizes that the 2nd Amendment begins with an ablative absolute construction that gives important direction to those seeking to understand what the amendment's drafters intended. As Choprzrul points out, the Supreme Court's Catholic majority chose not to follow that direction, instead recognizing a new right: self defense in the home by means of handgun(s). Meanwhile, as David Pasinski's unanswered question suggests, the bishops, not otherwise shy about raising religious concerns in discussions of US Constitutional Law, have said remarkably little about guns. Whatever the 2nd Amendment's ambiguities, what Jesus said about self defense is relatively clear. Consider the Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon on the Plain, etc.With respect to armed self-defense, Matt 26:50-52 could not be clearer. On this topic our culture, including our political elites and our bishops, are in need of further "evangelizing."

He details the immediate hostile response to sportscaster Bob Costas when he speculated that Kassandra Perkins and/or her murderer, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, might be alive if guns were not so readily available.

I am all for gun control but tying it to the Belcher case was a poor excuse for it. Better case was the Colorado massacre in the theatre where access to guns and firearms was clearly a factor. But even there, untreated mental illness was another component.In that case, his action was not completely unpredictable. The psychiatrist had warned the university.Ditto for Belcher, there was concern from the NFL team and others regarding his behaviour. He has a concussion and had been drinking and using drugs.So accessibility of firearms is a contributing factor and gun laws will help. Use and abuse of drugs and alcohol was also, in this instance, a huge contributing factor. Limiting firearms would at the very least help reduce the lethality associated with people exploding. But the fact remains that drugs, alcohol and an entire dysfunctional ethos is part of the NFL and while these men are athletes, I would not say many are shining examples of healthy lifestyles.

Guns and the immediate deaths they cause are not the biggest problem. Automobiles cause more immediate deaths and, through the production of greenhouse gases, can continue to kill for centuries to come. I can give up my guns without a burp if this country were doing something to avoid climate apocalypse. Otherwise, it's a waste of political capital.

IMHO we can't talk about guns (to answer the original question). We will begin to be able to talk about guns when one of the people who took time away from gun sites -- advising newbies that if they bring down a squirrel with an AK-47 there won't be much left to cook -- to abuse the usual contributors at this site ..., not until one of those folks has this happen to him:He is sitting at a table in the bar when a gunman, armed to the teeth, starts shooting up the place. Our hero turns over his table and reaches for his own gun. Unfortunately, the table leg catches in the hem on his pants, and he can't get his weapon out of his pocket. The gunman sprays his part of the room and our hero notices the table is not stopping the bullets. He rolls to his right, freeing up his pistol, which goes off, shooting a hole in his pants. Suddenly he is deafened by a fusillade fired by another armed self-defender, which attracts the gunman's attention to his side of the room. He rolls further to his right to a spot behind the end of the bar, pulls himself up on one knee and draws a bead on the gunman. He fires just as a police officer, responding to the shots, steps in the way and wounds the officer. His fellow cops put down heavy fire on our self-defending citizen, hitting him in several places, while the gunman makes his escape.Several months later, after the police investigation ends and our citizen's wounds have healed enough for him to get out of traction, he starts to rally fellow NRA members to set up a sensible gun law caucus within the organization. If and when that happens, we will be able to talk about guns.Of course, he will be called clueless, a third world peasant, ignorant about the Constitution and suffering from lack of impulse control. But, hey, that can happen to anybody.

@JBurns, yes, split decisions have been wrong before. But both Heller and McDonald are completely consistent with every single federal court case dealing with, or even mentioning, guns and the 2nd Amendment, up to the middle of the 20th Century. Up until then every single court consistently viewed the 2nd Amendment as protecting an individual right that is an inherent civil right of all people, and one which was subject to only the most minor of regulations. It was only in the middle of the 20th Century that a handful (never all, and never the Supreme Court) of lower federal courts started trying to reinterpret the 2nd Amendment to mean anything else, as a reaction to a Supreme Court decision that they realized would, if interpreted literally, would ban virtually all regulation of most guns. In other words, the Supreme Court ruled that such regulation was unconstitutional, and a few lower courts freaked out and tried to invent from nothing some kind of convoluted alternative interpretation. None of these re-interpretations were consistent with each other. Many lower courts and the Supreme Court itself never adopted any of these alternative "collective right" or "militia right" interpretations, and Hugo Black, who was part of the majority in the last decision of the Supreme Court dealing with the 2nd Amendment directly before Heller said of the scope of the protection of the 2nd Amendment later, when discussing that decision, "its [the 2nd Amendment's] prohibition is absolute", meaning that the government is absolutely prohibited from banning the ownership or carrying of firearms in common use for lawful purposes. So, given that every writing on the subject of the 2nd Amendment right by the Founding Fathers who wrote it and passed it, and every judicial and legislative discussion of it for the subsequent 150 years of the Constitution's history, unanimously agree that it protects an individual right to own and carry firearms in public, with only the most minimal of regulations allowed, I'd say that if you disagree with any decision that holds the same, you actually do NOT understand the Bill of Rights, or at least Amendment 2 of it.

@Tom Blackburn, so, how would you define "sensible gun laws"? First, what gun law, short of banning a person from having a gun in their home for self defense (in which case your "hero" just dies at the hand of the criminal attacker), or prohibiting police from carrying them, would in any way have led to a different outcome in your ridiculous hypothetical scenario? As every country that has tried has seen, even making guns illegal doesn't stop criminals from getting and using them. Even in the two industrialized countries with the strictest gun control laws, such as England and Japan (both of which are small island nations with a far greater ability to keep them out and with far fewer civil-rights protections to hamper police in intercepting them), criminals who want guns. So your "hero" would have been shot by either the criminal or the police either way, and probably would have died had it been by the criminal. But even if we don't limit ourselves to your scenario, what is a "sensible" gun law? I would submit that any law which limits the constitutional and human rights of citizens, without giving any positive benefit to society, is not "sensible" in any way. And, as I pointed out in an earlier post, even the most respected scientific research bodies in the country have admitted that, out of hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, not one single legitimately conducted study of the question has found any reduction in violent crime from any gun control law, ever. So, in what sense is enacting a law that has no social benefit, but increases the risk to law-abiding citizens, in any way "sensible"? And there is a significant cost to these laws. First, just as the drug laws, they make criminals out of people for doing nothing but reasonably possessing and using some thing. This ruins people's lives unnecessarily and places a criminal justice burden on society. Second, enforcement is economically costly. Canada and several US states, for example, have recently done away with their gun registries (one of the laws most anti-gun people think is most "sensible"). Why? Because despite the millions of dollars a year that administering such registration systems cost, not one single criminal prosecution has ever been achieved through the use of a gun registry. None. Canada, for example, was promised by the politicians who pushed for it that their registry would significantly increase such convictions and cost only $2 million a year to run. From the very beginning the cost turned out to actually be almost $70 million a year, and no useful information leading to a prosecution ever came from it out of the 21 years they had it. And yet, somehow we're told that such a system (which HAS been used effectively to confiscate and destroy legally owned guns in England and Australia - despite the exact same claim as made here, that it would never be used this way), is "sensible". There is one example of a sensible law that has been shown (by the CDC, one of the groups that found no support for gun control laws in reducing violent crime) to have a positive effect. These are laws aimed at reducing the chance that children will access firearms in the home and cause harm to themselves of others. What they found is that the two types of laws meant to do this both work. One are the so-called "safe storage" laws that require guns be stored in an unloaded and locked state. The other simply harshly punishes any adult if they should have known their gun was easily accessible to children and a child in fact gets it and causes harm. Anti-gun people want us to believe that the first type of law is superior, because they believe that since it imposes a prior restriction on gun owners it prevents a child from getting a gun, while the second law only punishes the gun owner after the fact. However, what the CDC found was that both laws work equally well in reducing the incidence of children accessing guns. On the other hand, the two laws have very different effects on the ability to use a gun in self-defense. The first prevents it entirely, while the second allows the owner to tailor their method of keeping a gun in the house to be both safe and ready to use. Fortunately the Supreme Court, in Heller, has ruled that the first type of law is also unconstitutional.The problem is that the anti-gun definition of "sensible gun law" is either based on complete ignorance of what is sensible when it comes to gun laws, or is just double-speak for laws that push their anti-gun agenda. And as for your little scenario, if such a victim (virtually none of whom exist, because this is a fantasy scenario oft dreamt up by anti-gunners, but one which virtually never occurs in real-life) ever did try to argue for what you call "sensible gun laws", he'd be out-voted by the 200,000-2,000,000 (depending on which official US government estimate you choose) people in the US who effectively use a gun each year to protect themselves from criminal attacks without suffering such a convoluted series of consequences.

If the penalties for selling guns illegally were very stiff and the judges imposed them, (assuming, of course, there was money to support the police who track down the sellers) I bet there would be many, many fewer guns on the street. Say 10-20 years sentences, no possibility of pardon.There's a saying that a conservative is a liberal who was mugged. Well, I was mugged, and the consequences for my health were severe. The mugger threw me down so violently on the concrete in my driveway that it impaired my kidney function. At first my doctors were afraid I was dying. (But turns out I'm not dying-- injured kidneys can repair, and mine have repaired some.) I was and still am pretty damn mad at those guys. (There were three of them.) Did I go out and buy a gun? No. Evidence is evidence. A gun might be use by me to protect myself successfully but it is more likely that it would be misused somehow. (You want to play Russian roulette, go ahead, take chances, but it's a particularly stupid game.)On the other hand, surely there should be strict laws, enforced ones, about who may not have guns, and those who have them must first learn how to use them.

A sensible gun law is any law that fosters and creates a WELL ORDERED MILITIA. What we have now is far from well ordered ... or ordered at all!John Paschke: after reading your comments, I suggest that YOU are the one suffering from a lack of impusle control. You belligerence is duly noted and quite in line with what I assume is an NRA membership.

Oh, yes, John: do enlighten us as to what Oakland's problems are if they isn't heavily influenced by the 2 situations I outlined above. You live there, right?

"The problem is that the anti-gun definition of sensible gun law is either based on complete ignorance of what is sensible when it comes to gun laws, or is just double-speak for laws that push their anti-gun agenda."@rod -- That's why I say that it will take someone who drank the Kool Aid and had second thoughts to start minds collectively working in the right direction. I wouldn't expect an anti-gun nut to write a sensible law, and I wouldn't expect a gun nut to understand the concept if he saw it. Somewhere among your 200,000 to 2,000,000 Americans there must be some people who can talk and think at the same time. The lead should be taken by someone who knows something about guns. That's all I said.This is all I'll add: If you want to think like a European intellectual who will walk into a brick wall if his philosophy tells him the wall is not there, go ahead. But you will be no help.

Tom B. =Who are those European intellectuals who would walk into a brick wall? I've never even heard of one.

Ann, Oh, mostly Jacques Derrida. I coined the brick wall metaphor -- yes, it's a metaphor -- after wrestling with Derrida and coming to the decision that my ignorance is invincible or his prose is impenetrable, or maybe both. It was his proclivity for putting opposites together and making them one thing that gave me the idea of the vaporous adobe and the adobe vapor, and that led to the brick wall. Derrida has acolytes, boy does he have them!So I made it plural, and now I apply it to anybody who sticks to one single principle and uses it to trump common sense. (We used to call them cranks.)

Gun laws, like immigration laws, can't work if they are not enforced. And the gun lobby buys powerful influence in Congress and State legislatures to ensure that laws are a)weak; and b) are not aggressively enforced. It is intuitively obvious to anyone who cares to think openly about it that our society would be safer and our liberty just as secure if we had fewer guns on urban streets and fewer guns readily available to unstable individuals who use them to carry out their violent plans and fantasies.Sensible gun laws would keep guns out of the hands of people who do not or cannot assume law abiding responsibility for them. Firearm and owner registration would be a sensible gun law, so would laws limiting the size of magazines and the functionality of certain guns, for example fully automatic weapons. Hand guns, readily concealable, present special threats to our security, in the hands of criminals, certainly, but also in the hands of non-criminals who lack the ability to use and carry them responsibly. Why are so many handguns used accidentally to kill and wound family members?There is nothing so special about guns. Yes, they are specifically mentioned in the Constitution, but so are other rights that we have developed sensible rules around. Frankly, a lot of gun owners are dupes of the NRA, which uses them for political clout, but whose real interest is in protecting gun dealers and manufacturers who want to use the Constitution as a shield in order to maximize their profits -- public interest be damned.

Jbruns -I agree, except that guns seem to be extremely important to men who doubt their own masculinity. I think that Freud got this right. So maybe if we somehow lessened the culture's obsession with sex, the self-doubters wouldn't feel so impelled to buy firepower.

My previous posting read; "guns are used by citizens 200,000 times a year to defend themselves, more than 10 times as often as they are to kill illegally. 20,000 gun murders a year in the USA plus a number of killings in selfdefense (thousands more no doubt). Clearly not a civilized country."I got this reply: "As for 200,000 self-defense shootings and 20,000 gun murders equating to a non-civilized society, first, its not 20,000. I said that 200,000 was MORE than 10 times".I guess maths is not my forte. I suppose 19,000 would be a fair estimate then?

"any law which limits the constitutional and human rights of citizens, without giving any positive benefit to society, is not sensible in any way.... Out of hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, not one single legitimately conducted study of the question has found any reduction in violent crime from any gun control law, ever. "Remember Michael Moore in Canada? Or Japan? Of course "gun control laws" are only band-aid for a country as riddled with gun murders as the USA. Far more radical conversion is required if the US is ever to become a peaceful country like Japan today.

Has anyone else here ever seen such an extraordinary response to such a posting? It's now leaked beyond the civilized confines of Commonweal, bringing some messages into my ordinary e-mail having to do with The Captain's Journal, a blog of sorts of which I'd been blissfully ignorant until now.Does this mean that the NRA is out trawling sites as recherch as dot.Commonweal to smoke out gun control heretics, and make the world safe for AK-47s? On the other hand, perhaps some of those joining this conversation will subscribe to, and (what's more) read Commonweal, and that's all to the good. Perhaps this would help bring about the "radical conversion" that Joseph O'Leary rightly calls for.

@Tom Blackburn: Why do you feel the need to make up a scenario? There are many, many case studies of shooting incidents that actually happened.

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What is so terribly sad is that Americans have become an extremely fearful people. Gone is the optimism of my childhood and adolescence. Oh, ;the wisdom of Roosevelt shdn hd said "We have nothing to fear but fear itself"!I really hate to think of Americanas as being so chicken they have to literally live with guns. What caused the people to change like this?

And just today, another school shooting in which something like 27 died, 18 of them kids. At least one shooter dead. We are a gun-soaked culture. Indeed, not every effort at weapons control makes sense--what is needed (as I mentioned in the original post,) in part is a cultural shift in which we no longer look to guns to solve our problems or (as seems to be the case for the disturbed but well-armed who go on shooting sprees,) to express ourselves. But in the meantime, anything we can do to limit access to the more lethal weapons (regulating sales in a realistic way, e.g., instead of the "wink and nod" that allow so many shadow sales now,) might make incidents like this less deadly. And to those who demand data AND insist that more guns would make us safer, you can't have it both ways. Privately owned guns have been shown to make us less safe, not more safe. So--more guns or more safety? There's a link to some numbers in the original post. And I find labeling the CDC "anti-gun" an absurdity. In fact-based reality, folks like those at the CDC do the math and generate their recommendations therefrom. We can all have our own opinions, but we can't all have our own facts. Why isn't gun control and the cultural shifts I have described a life issue?

It's now been 7 days since Lisa Fullam posted her original piece on guns, calling forth the wrath of the NRA's people. How many of those days have been without a public shooting, either attempted or actually carried out? None, I think, but there may have been one. The original report of today's shooting in Connecticut talked of three people taken to the hospital; but now the Washington Post reports the appalling figures cited above. It also says that the President has expressed his "enormous sympathy" for those with losses. Frankly, I think he should drop everything and make a trip to Connecticut, not just to express sympathy but to talk some home truths about such massacres, actual and attempted.

After what happened in Connecticut today, Josh Marshall, editor of TPM, wrote this:Dont mistake me: Im not making the argument that gun control wouldnt be effective or the standard arguments that the guns were bought legally or by people with no history mental illness, whatever. Id be ready to support pretty much all the things that normally go under the heading of gun control. But Im hearing a lot of people saying we need to talk about guns, [need to] restart that conversation. And I agree, at least in the abstract. But what exactly are we talking about? And how we propose to get from here to there? How do we make our country less of a moral embarrassment?I dont want to hear about these tragedies being rooted in evil or the human heart. We know the human heart is a substandard product. The brain frequently malfunctions. Its offensive to put this forward as part of a discussion about policy as opposed to theodicy and meditation. We know that the vast, vast proportion of gun owners use them legally and safely. We also know that gun deaths are rare in many other countries quite similar to the USA for the simple reason they dont have so many friggin guns all over the place. This is obvious. And guns just make it easy to kill a lot of people really quickly. Freely available body armor helps too. Im not trying to stop the discussion. I want to start it. But Im looking for some guidance on how it can be about more than words. There's more at

Thanks for that post from Lexington, in the Economist. The most telling figure: 39 homicides by guns in the UK, 12,000 in the US, which has six times the population. 6x39=234, which should be our quota, by UK standards. Why is our figure 51.28 times higher than that quota? The lack of gun control may explain much of it, but it can't explain all of it. What else is going on, and why are we afraid to look for it?The news reports that Pres. Obama is traveling to Newtown, CT tomorrow (Sunday). Good for him. Maybe he can shock some people into waking up, and maybe he can shock our elected representatives into courage.

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