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The great gun control debate

Posted December 21, 2012 by Robb Zerr
Like many emotional issues, the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut has divided a nation that should instead be healing. While affirming his belief in the Second Amendment, President Obama promised to seek new legislation to control the spread of violence in the country through some level of #guncontrol.

Is this the right course? No one really knows for sure. Some will argue that it erodes and even threatens our right to bear arms, guaranteed in the Second Amendment; others maintain that we need to do something to curb the increasing violence against innocent men, women and children.

A poll of 1,219 Americans on Dec. 20 showed just how divided the nation is over the topic of gun control, even as we come to terms with the tragedy in Newtown and other communities across the country where lone gunmen have put us on edge, in fear for our safety, and even our lives. According to the poll, 49% of respondents said that it was more important to control gun ownership than it was to protect the rights of Americans to own guns. Another 42% said that the right to own guns is more important than the need to control them, and given the margin for error, 3 to 4%, it could be considered a split down the middle.

We can, of course, take some lessons from our founding fathers on the subject of guns and gun control. Thomas Jefferson once said, “The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it,” which is the crux of the argument against gun control.

Noah Webster chimed in on the topic as well. "Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States."

Attempts to control guns have been tried in the past. In 1994, the most drastic reforms in decades were adopted, outlawing the manufacture, transfer and possession of semi-automatic assault rifles, including AK-47s, Uzis and Colt AR-15s. The ban has since expired and attempts to renew these controls have gone nowhere to date.
Many pundits and gun rights advocates will argue that the most recent attacks weren’t due to guns but mental illness. Detractors reject these arguments, saying that Newtown-level attacks wouldn’t happen if semi-automatic weapons and large capacity clips had never been made available.

Both sides of the gun rights and gun control coin have their merits, but do more controls reduce the violence. As one anonymous author noted: “We have enough gun control. What we need is idiot control.”

Radio and television personality Larry Elder is vocal about the issue: “This battle for ‘common-sense’ gun control laws pits emotion and passion against logic and reason. All too often in such a contest, logic loses. So expect more meaningless, if not harmful, ‘gun control’ legislation. Good news – if you’re a crook.”

Ordinarily we’d add the wry insights of such comic geniuses Robin Williams and Chris Rock who have done bits about guns and gun control. But this isn’t the place or time for humor, even if it cuts to the quick with its raw and often harsh truths about who we are as a people and a society.

Only time will tell how it will all play out. We can certainly find logical cases for each side of the argument in the many quotes out there, from those of our founding fathers to our contemporaries. But it will be difficult to have an open dialogue until we have had time to heal as a nation.

And perhaps that’s the best advice at this moment in time, as we face the grim realities of horrendous and senseless loss. There is a time to talk, but right now, it is a time to grieve as a nation and hug those we love so much just a little more often and longer.


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