I hesitate to even mention the issue of firearms, because it provokes such strong, divisive and entrenched responses on either side of the issue. But I think we've reached the point where we've got to have some sort of conversation -- "conversation" in the sense that each side actually listens to what other people are saying, something that rarely happens on this particular issue.
I certainly think there's a place for responsible gun ownership. I don't begrudge anyone who feels threatened the right to carry protection or to hunt for sport. I do not necessarily think, as some gun rights commenters have proposed, that this would be a safer place if every citizen were armed. Some commenters have as good as stated that any law-abiding citizen who isn't armed is freeloading on the security provided by those who are.
Let's look at the common argument: "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."
At first glance, that's a reasonable statement. But it makes a couple of assumptions. First off, it assumes that there are only two kinds of people: responsible, upstanding citizens, who use weapons only in defense, and career criminals, who have access to an underground network of weaponry at all times. That's a gross oversimplification. One of the reasons for things like waiting periods is that even a good, normally law-abiding person can do something stupid, acting out of anger or despair. It is indisputably true that "guns don't kill people, people kill people" -- but a gun can magnify the consequences of our worst impulses, offering them deceptively-easy resolution and turning a fleeting thought into an armed robbery, a homicide or a suicide before conscience and common sense have had a chance to be heard.
Also, if we're going to assume that outlaws will always have access to guns, let's ask where those guns are coming from. If they haven't been obtained by legal means, then chances are they were stolen -- presumably, from legal gun owners, retailers or wholesalers. Increasing the flow of guns to law abiding citizens, as some have suggested, may have the unwanted side effect of giving the criminals even more guns than they have now.
The weapon you carry for protection, and the weapon you carry for hunting, are not the same as the weapon that allows you to go in and shoot dozens of people at a school or movie theater.
Too many gun owners -- prodded and provoked by gun manufacturers and affiliated organizations, which have a vested interest in selling as many firearms as possible -- have adopted the mindset that any form of regulation is the first step on a slippery slope towards taking away all weapons and must therefore be resisted at all costs.
No existing form of regulation is, and no proposed form of regulation would be, 100 percent effective. There will always be guns in the hands of the wrong people, and perhaps guns wrongly denied to some who deserve them. But that doesn't mean that we can't have a discussion about what sorts of regulations are reasonable and appropriate.
I'm not sure I trust either side's statistics. Those in favor of gun control will trot out a story about some other country that regulates firearms and has an extremely low crime rate, and that may be valid or it may be the result of other cultural factors having nothing to do with guns whatsoever. America can't and shouldn't adopt any law, gun control or otherwise, just because country X has adopted it.
I know some of the statistics that the anti-gun-control group trumpets -- about how often a crime is supposedly foiled by a private citizen carrying a handgun -- seem improbably high. I wish I could see reliable statistics, from an unbiased source, comparing the number of instances in which firearms are used heroically by private citizens with the number of negative outcomes -- accidents, suicides, crimes of passion, that sort of thing.
This is an extremely important issue, and one that deserves lots of vigorous debate -- and we haven't even gotten into the nature, intent and application of the Second Amendment. I don't expect anyone to back down from deeply-felt positions, but what I do hope is that we can find a way to talk to each other without the type of name-calling and rancor, on both sides, that the gun control issue seems to bring out.
As we've seen this month, the stakes are incredibly high.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.