by JS O’Brien
The US Supreme Court has decided to rule on the constitutionality of a law that prohibits Washington, DC residents from owning handguns.Â Naturally, the mainstream media and blogosphere have been quick to revive all the old arguments for and against gun control, rehash the history of the Second Amendment and the meanings of words like “militia” and “well regulated,” and pit rabid proponents for both sides against each other for our amusement.
Entertainment aside, the gun control advocates are not likely to get what they want from the Supreme Court this time, and there’s great doubt they ever will.Â It’s not just a Second Amendment issue; it’s a protection issue.Â The US has one of the highest homicide rates in the industrialized world, and it’s not because so many people own guns.Â The Swiss have very widespread gun ownership as a function of their universal, military service, and the homicide rate there is among the lowest in the world.Â Like it or not,Â the US suffers fromÂ person-on-person violence to an alarming degree compared to its industrialized peers, and US residents would be foolish to unilaterally disarm in such a society.Â
This does not mean, however, that gun control advocates can’t get what they want.Â They just have to change tactics.Â Unfortunately, they won’t change tactics until they actually figure out what they want.
One of the most crippling mental mistakes for any activist or other political movement is confusing desired outcomes with the tactics they think will achieve those outcomes.Â What gun control advocates really want is a decrease, and preferably a sharp decrease, in gun-related deaths in the US.Â The reason they advocate gun control is because they think it will produce that end result.Â And it probably would.Â Surely, if most private citizens didn’t own guns, accidental shootings would decrease, domestic violence incidents would be more likely to end in beatings and woundings than outright murder, and hunting accidents (should hunting rifles and shotguns also be banned) would be useful for teaching youngÂ surgeons how to remove arrows instead of how to replace a human brain blown apart by a .30 caliber round.Â Having said all that, gun control would also make it much more difficult for citizens to deal with violent criminals armed with guns and, while it doesn’t happen often, perfectly innocent, private citizens sometimes do need to protect themselves from these people.
It is this need for protection that is bound to doom gun control tactics in many parts of the nation, regardless of the Supreme Court’s findings on Second Amendment rights.Â Should the Supremes find that the Second Amendment doesn’t protect handguns, it will mean only that some parts of the country will be free to ban or heavily regulate handgun ownership.Â It will not strike down existing state and local laws allowing gun purchases.Â Fear of armed criminals will continue to drive gun manufacturing and sales throughout much of the nation.
There is another, better way.Â Instead of trying to restrict the sale and possession of guns, impose substantial criminal and civil penalties on those who use them negligently.Â Conservatives are fond of promoting a culture of “personal responsibility,” so why not apply that to the use of guns?Â After all, an automobile is not designed to be a weapon, but when someone driving an automobile makes a mistake and kills or maims someone, he or she is usually held accountable for it, often with a charge of manslaughter.Â A gun, on the other hand, is designed to kill and maim.Â Surely, gun owners have a personal responsibility not to make a mistake and, if they do, should be punished.
Toward that end, I propose this grass-roots legislation, state-by-state, as aÂ starting point for a movement to promote gun responsibility:
- Killing a person with a gun, who was no threat to you or others, even if a well-intentioned effort at self-defense, results in a 15- to 20-year prison sentence, in a maximum security facility, with no chance of parole.Â The only exception to this is when the killer can demonstrate that any reasonable person, acting cool headedly, actively seeking out information, and with no other reasonable alternatives, could not have come to any other decision but that the victim must be killed.Â Wounding or maiming, only, would reduce the sentence.Â (Note that this wording would include criminal liability for such things as hunting accidents, but would allow one to kill an intruder into one’s household as long as it doesn’t later turn out that the intruder was innocent, such as a family member coming home from college unannounced.)
- Killing, maiming, or wounding a person who was no threat to you or others carries a minimum payment of $1 million, plus attorney fees and court costs, in any successful civil suit.
- Anyone who owns a gun and allows it to fall in the hands of another who uses it to kill, maim, or wound, will go to a maximum security prison for no less thanÂ Â fiveÂ years, unless said weapon was secured in a manner that would defeat all but the most determined attack on the mechanism by which it was secured.Â If a child is killed, or if a child does the killing, the sentence is doubled.
Laws of this sort would most likely get gun control advocates what they want, while allowing the unlimited purchase of firearms by practically anyone.Â Most potential owners would think very, very carefully about the utility of owning a gun before buying one, and either decide not to own a gun, or to be very careful with it.Â Those who are still careless would risk going to prison for a very long time, which will serve as a lesson to others.
Doubtless, it will not be easy to get such legislation passed.Â There are those who believe that simply being frightened is enough justification to blow someone away, as in the case of Yoshi Hattori.Â Having said that, opponents can be defeated because the personal responsibility argument represents the moral high ground.Â I canÂ remember aÂ time when it was common to partially excuse someone who caused a fatal accident on the grounds that “he was drunk,” as if being drunk was a mitigating, instead of an aggravating, factor.Â Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) did a bang up job of convincing the American public that driving drunk was personally irresponsible, and that anyone who drives drunk or, worse, harms someone else by driving drunk, deserves a stiff penalty.Â How much higher is the moral ground demanding personal responsibility when the product in question, a gun, is an intentionally lethal machine?
Laws focusing on penalties for failing to live up to gun owners’ personal responsibillities to others will make gun control a reality.Â It will just be voluntary gun control, as those considering owning guns weigh the potential consequences against the (in most cases) questionable benefits.