“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” We hear this a lot from the right side of the political spectrum. “It’s too easy to get a gun and too easy to kill with it,” the left responds. The extreme view of gun owners is that any limitations on their right to own a gun will inevitably lead to government confiscation of all guns. The extreme view of gun control advocates is that, despite what the 2nd Amendment says, no private citizen should be allowed to own a gun, let alone carry one. Gun ownership is a “wicked problem” that does not have a solution that will make everyone happy.
There are indeed two sides to the issue of what to do about guns. But real progress will be made only when each side understands the other’s arguments. The debate we need must come from the political center, where all good policy originates. It’s not much different than international arms control: confidence-building measures go a long way toward reassuring both sides that their worst nightmares will fail to materialize. The government should have to guarantee that it is not going to take away Americans’ constitutional right to own guns… but citizens who want to own them should have to earn that right.
Good citizenship is demonstrated by those who balance rights with responsibilities. In addition to focusing on gun rights as described in the 2nd Amendment, we should also be concentrating on what the Constitution is telling us to do. In fact, the latter is arguably more important because it gives us a vision of what kind of country we want to be. In other words, the Constitution as a whole must be the context within which the gun rights debate plays out. Our responsibilities as citizens can be reconciled with preserving gun rights… but we cannot talk about one without talking about the other.
The preamble to the US Constitution charges all of us (“We the people”) with the following duties: 1) establish justice, 2) ensure domestic tranquility, 3) provide for the common defense, 4) promote the general welfare, and 5) secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. These milestones are the American route to a more perfect union. The rights articulated in the first ten amendments are not unlimited. They must be conditioned on whether or not they support the goals of the Constitution that I and my fellow veterans all swore to uphold.
That includes the right to bear arms.
There is a compromise out there somewhere. How can we make the country-at-large safer by regulating gun ownership in reasonable ways – without infringing on the law-abiding citizen’s right to own firearms? It is sometimes said that if you can’t solve a problem, expand the problem and look at it again. The expansion of this problem has a lot of dimensions: citizen safety, recreation, trust in government, education, training, money in politics, mental health and last but not least law enforcement. In addition to simply “fixing” the gun problem (however we end up defining it), we must fix the people. California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, no fan of guns, responded to the San Jose mass shooting (the nation’s 61st in just the month of May) by saying “What’s wrong with us?”
Now that I have finished writing The Jungle Rules Trilogy, I am thinking about putting this complex set of issues into a novel. That’s a lot harder than writing about good and evil. There is good and evil on both sides of this debate. If you care to comment, help me find the universal good.