Freedom and fear

Gun absolutists want the rest of us to live in fear

If you’ve been reading our letters in recent weeks, you’ve seen that since the killings in Newtown, Conn., many of them have been about guns and gun control. Newspapers all over the country have been getting such letters.

What they show is that there’s a deep schism in this country when it comes to guns. On one side are those gun owners who believe the Second Amendment gives them the absolute right to own just about any weapon they desire, including military-style rifles and handguns designed to shoot bazillions of bullets a minute, without restriction. Some go so far as to suggest that the guns’ purpose is to do ultimate battle with a tyrannical U.S. government—a bizarre and vaguely seditious notion.

On the other side are the rest of us, who live in fear that some deranged person will get his hands on one or more of those weapons and go on a killing spree at our kids’ school or the local multiplex. Fear is afoot—just ask the folks who were evacuated from Tinseltown last weekend, as Ken Smith reports on page 11.

The National Rifle Association’s answer to the problem is—big surprise!—more weapons. Everybody should pack heat, the group says. If the bad guys know you’re armed, they’ll leave you alone. (The NRA, by the way, gets most of its money from gun manufacturers.)

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not pack heat. I don’t own a gun and don’t want one. I’ve got dogs to guard my house. (They’re more bark than bite, but a burglar wouldn’t know that.)

I wish gun owners understood that the rest of us don’t want to prohibit guns. We just want to feel safe, and we’d like their help with that.

Kurt Eichenwald makes an interesting argument in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. The Second Amendment is a “grammarian’s nightmare” and an “incomprehensible mess,” he writes, and it’s impossible to understand in absolute terms what the framers had in mind. What we do know is that they couldn’t possibly have envisioned the destructive power of modern weaponry.

Eichenwald argues that the amendment should be repealed and replaced with a provision that’s clearly understandable, along these lines: “The people retain the right to keep and bear arms, subject to reasonable restrictions deemed necessary by the Congress and the president to secure the lives and well being of others.”

In the meantime, the restriction he most wants us to consider is requiring all gun owners to purchase liability insurance, as car owners must do. Insurance companies know how to assess risk, he argues, and would ask such questions as: Where are you going to store that semi-automatic rifle? Who else will have access to it? Have you been trained? Do you have a license? Do you have a history of psychiatric problems?

There are plenty of other ideas worthy of debate, Eichenwald says. The question is: Will gun owners join in the discussion, or will they continue to insist that the price of their absolute freedom is that the rest of us must live in fear, knowing that those guns will kill some of us?