Column: This isn’t a ‘well-regulated militia’
I fully realize that bringing up the subject of gun control is like rushing in where angels fear to tread, but in view of the incidents being reported in the news every day, the subject deserves a rational and dispassionate vetting.
Opponents of any attempt at gun control love to quote a portion of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “… the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” while conveniently ignoring the introductory clause, “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state …” The massive number of gun owners in the U.S. hardly constitutes a “well-regulated militia,“ especially considering the wanton use of their guns by tens of thousands of them.
Many gun owners claim they need guns to defend themselves against a government they do not trust. What chance do they think they would have against the military might of the U.S. armed forces? History has shown that previous attempts have been quickly suppressed. Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts in 1786-87 against “excessive” state legal charges; the Whiskey Insurrection in western Pennsylvania in 1794 over a tax on distilled spirits; Coxey’s Army in Washington, D.C., in 1894 protesting high unemployment; and the World War I Veterans’ Bonus March on Washington in 1932 were all dispersed by state militias and federal forces.
Let’s examine the uses for which different classes of firearms are intended. Rifles and shotguns are designed for sport activities, like hunting and target shooting. Semi-automatic guns are designed for rapid-fire discharge of multiple bullets for little other use than mass killing. Handguns are dual-purpose, being used both harmlessly for target shooting, and as lethal weapons currently resulting in 9,000 deaths annually in the U.S.
In the 12 years from 2000-2011, handguns were used in more than two-thirds of the 141,000 homicides by firearms, and in 90 percent of the 5.9 million non-fatal injuries. Handguns are the weapon of choice for settling arguments, getting even and domestic disputes (in which the female is usually the victim).
Among the developed countries of the world except for Brazil, Mexico, Russia and Chile, the U.S. has the highest rates of both gun homicides per 100,000 people annually (2.83) and gun ownership per 100 people (89). Americans are 20 times as likely to die from gun violence as the citizens of many other developed countries.
Gun advocates choose to ignore the fact that experience has shown that a community that allows easy access to handguns invites trouble. By the 1880s, leaders in the cow towns in the West realized that more guns did not produce greater safety, but instead resulted in higher death rates. They recognized that gun control was necessary and settled for nothing less than a complete ban. No-carry notices were posted requiring everyone entering town to leave their handguns with the sheriff, retrieving them only on leaving town. The result was a handgun death rate 20 times lower than in the mining camps, which did not impose such regulations.
The ready availability of handguns in the U.S. has put law enforcement officers in an almost untenable position. Any time they attempt to intercede or make an arrest, they must assume they may be facing someone with a handgun, in which case whoever shoots first lives to tell about it. If it is the law officer, he will be accused of using excessive force. Put yourself in their place, and think what you would do. And the Waco, Texas, biker melee shows what can happen when large groups are heavily armed with handguns.
Gun violence in the U.S. costs $229 billion per year, including medical treatment for the victims, lost wages and the financial impact on victims and their families, and the cost of trying and imprisoning offenders.
In view of this high cost and the humanitarian toll on the victims and their families, shouldn’t we recognize that more guns is not the answer, but will only make things worse, and that gun-control legislation outlawing multiple-round firearms, including handguns, is the only realistic way to achieve a major reduction in those costs?
The National Rifle Association tells us over and over that it isn’t guns that kill people — it’s people that kill people — and we could solve the problem by keeping guns out of the hands of irresponsible or mentally unstable people. Obviously this is easier said than done, and is just another reason for banning handguns altogether.
Hal Sundin’s “As I See It” column appears on the first Thursday of the month.
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