The Gun Control Debate: A Closing Statement

by Jonathan Wallace

I really enjoyed debating John Trentes. I think our dialog has illustrated that people at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum can discuss ideas without flaming each other. I certainly learned some new things during the discussion, and I hope I provoked some thought in others.

Most of the people who wrote me were courteous, even though they greatly disagreed with me. Many of my correspondents educated me on matters such as an "avoiding violence" component of concealed-carry license training, and many committed Second Amendment advocates privately acknowledged that there is an ethical component in gun ownership.

I received relatively few flames; one notable exception was the fellow who wrote:

"You and people like you endanger the safety of not only my life, but my children as well. Perhaps, sir - you have not had the opportunity to stay in a country where this right no longer exists. Well, I have - and when you get a chance to be in a Communist hell-hole, let me know if you are still anxious to promote their agenda. Wake up man - what in hell is wrong with you?"

Rhetoric like this sounds like a gun control advocate's stereotype of an NRA member. I know better, despite the media's portrait, from having conducted this dialog with John and having heard from other NRA members, even board members, in email.

Though I have learned a lot in this debate, it hasn't changed my underlying views very much (did you expect it would?) Here's a summary:

  1. Constitutional law involves correlating the Constititution, history, legislation, judicial interpretation, and other writings. The Supreme Court gets the final word on Constitutional issues. Federal circuit courts have said that the Second Amendment creates a right only of the states against the federal government, and does not guarantee an individual's right to bear arms as against the state or federal government. The Supreme Court has never taken up any of these cases, so this IS the operative interpretation of the Second Amendment until the Court says something different.

  2. Given that almost any kind of gun control law is today considered Constitutionally permissible (short of ones that infringe some other provision, like the Commerce Clause), gun control may be seen as a matter of local choice. I argued that communities that want guns should find better ways to cooperate with communities that don't. When people claim that gun control has failed in places like New York City or Washington DC, they don't note that the guns used in crimes there are typically purchased in Southern communities with less regulation. Guns used in crimes in Philadelphia are typically purchased in-state, because Pa. has looser regulations than neighboring states. I argued that we might look at guns as an environmental issue--enjoy and keep them in your community but don't let them get downstream to other communities that don't want them.

  3. There is an ethical component in gun ownership, like the ownership of any other tool. People want to use the tools they own; gun owners have a responsibility to consider carefully what they want a gun for and how they will use it, and to consider the impact of the presence of their tools in the community and in the stream of commerce.

In a June 14 page 1 article, The New York Times analyzed the recent trend of school killings by adolescents. Most of the recent incidents which attracted so much media attention occurred in rural communities with widespread gun ownership. I believe these events call for more introspection by Second Amendment advocates on the ethical implications of gun ownership; all too often, similar incidents of the past in urban surroundings have been simplistically dismissed as incidents that could only happen in a dysfunctional city, or even blamed on gun control laws. Here is a particularly poignant excerpt:

The parents of Kipland Kinkel, the boy accused of the Springfield [Or.] shootings, were not gun enthusiasts, but their son was....The parents agonized over the boy's gun obsession, finally giving in and buying him a weapon. The father and son took courses in marksmanship and safety, and the guns were kept under lock and key.

But given Kip Kinkel's moods and temper, the parents had debated whether to get him a single-loading bolt action weapon or something with more rapid-fire capability. They settled on the more powerful gun, a .22-caliber semiautomatic Ruger rifle....It was that rifle that Kip used to fire off 50 rounds at Thurston High School.

He also killed his parents with it.

Granted that the media is often inaccurate, and that there may be much more to this story. But it evades all of the usual cliches: there was parental involvement, the father and son went for training together, the guns were kept locked up. Rather than blaming these kinds of incidents solely on Hollywood, the parents, Northern politicians, gun control laws, etc. I would like to see gun advocates incorporate them in their world view. A former boss of mine once wrote in a memo about something which the firm had botched: "I take 100% of the responsibility; how much do you take?" I think there is responsibility enough to go around.