I have now had the time to read and digest a lot of the immediate responses to the horrific shootings in Aurora, Colorado.
Some people (President Obama, Mitt Romney) have sought to explain, unify or heal.
Some people (Louie Gohmert, Brian Ross) have sought to make political hay out of the events.
Yet others have urged everyone to reserve their words and judgments while so many details of this terrible story remain unknown, and while the wounds and bereavements are so raw.
But I have yet to hear anyone – supporters of gun rights, or the interpretation of the Second Amendment that permits them – utter a statement such as this:
“Guns are an integral part of American history and culture, and the right to bear arms freely is enshrined in our nation’s constitution. On occasions, people who legally and legitimately own weapons will tragically misuse them, either through mental illness or malicious thought, and turn those weapons on themselves or on others. The twelve people who died in Aurora, Colorado yesterday were irreplaceable and will be missed, but they also represent a part of the sad, heavy price that we pay to live in a free society that upholds the right of individuals to own and carry firearms.”
If you do support the right to bear arms, surely this is what you actually think? Massacres and individual shootings are awful, but taking away the right of 300 million Americans to defend themselves against aggressors or a potential future tyrannical government is more awful still? No?
If you support a policy that has potentially negative adverse effects (such as removing benefits or subsidies from certain groups – family farms, long-term unemployed, those on sick leave) you should have the courage to own the bad as well as the good and have the guts to explain why the human benefits outweigh the human costs. As a conservative-leaning voter living in the UK, I have to do this all the time at the moment in today’s supposed “age of austerity” and government spending cuts. Supporters of individual gun ownership should do the same. No more mealy-mouthed phrases about “guns not killing people, criminals killing people”. No. Own the consequences of your policy position. Wait until the dead from Aurora have been buried, and then prominently proclaim something to the effect of the paragraph that I wrote above.
Some people say that the aftermath of civilian massacres or other high-profile gun crimes is an inopportune time to discuss the laws controlling the ownership and use of firearms. I say that taking that view is the height of cowardly avoidance – when else to discuss gun laws, regardless of the position you hold, than when their consequences are being felt most deeply?
I’ll nail my colours to the mast right here and now: I believe that individuals should be allowed to own guns suitable for recreational hunting or self-defence. That means shotguns, handguns, pistols, revolvers, tasers and nothing much more. No grenades, no semi-automatic weapons, no armour-piercing bullets.
However, I also believe that the second amendment, properly interpreted, does not currently permit gun ownership at all – a “well regulated militia” no longer being “necessary to the security of a free state” in any sensible modern worldview. Therefore I believe that a constitutional amendment is both necessary and desirable in order to enshrine the right to own firearms for the strictly limited purposes that I have outlined above.
Yes, I recognise that this position probably puts me at odds with everyone – strict gun control advocates and gun rights supporters alike, for different reasons. But at least I have put on record what I think about gun ownership, and why (not just cheap soundbites about liberty, the constitution and so on).
Let’s see the NRA and other advocates for even looser restrictions on gun ownership do the same.