Shopping malls, college campuses, movie theaters and – tragically – elementary schools have now become landmarks for an important time in this country’s history. Never has a Constitutional freedom been revoked due to stress on a country, or public lobbying to the president, and now isn’t the time to start.
What happened in Newtown, Conn., was a massacre, a shame, a disaster and put the country at a collective loss for words. When the country did finally find words, an additional great sadness rested in the fact that they were the wrong ones.
Before the correct shooter had even been identified, people clamored for stricter gun laws, background checks and the complete reversal of the Second Amendment. The issue was misconstrued by people waiting for an opportunity to start their war on firearms, and Sandy Hook provided the perfect opportunity.
It is easy to sympathize with the movement to control access to, capabilities of and freedoms to own firearms. With mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters on television crying about those they lost, the easy answer is to simply ask why these weapons exist in the first place. The tougher question, the one that nobody seems to want to ask, is what limiting the freedoms of firearm owners will actually accomplish?
Making firearms illegal is an attempt to eliminate violence completely, protect every child and ensure the total safety of every American, right? Just like underage drinking, drugs, online piracy and making certain left-hand turns are illegal, and the law clearly prevents people from doing that on a daily basis as well, right? Ultimately, laws that limit people’s gun rights only hurt law-abiding citizens, and do nothing to deter potential killers.
The argument is often made that people have no need for magazines that hold excess amounts of ammunition and can be fired automatically. The simple answer is that these weapons are used for recreation and collection far more times than they are used in mass murders.
Regardless of whether the specific gun, magazine clip or ammunition was made illegal, someone who wanted to acquire the item would still find a way to access it. Where there is a will, there is a way. Any action taken to make something illegal will simply create a black market for the item. The inability to collect taxes on any item sold in an underground market becomes secondary to the larger issue.
Regulation would have an inverse effect on what those trying to pass these laws are attempting to accomplish. Restrictions on the legal purchase of these items means people have to do it illegally, removing the one power the government has – regulation.
Instead of such extremist action, the best way to prevent future massacres is to target the consensus points of the dialogue. For example, both sides of the debate seem to agree that people who are declared mentally unstable or are convicted felons should not have access to firearms. The best way to ensure that this is upheld is to allow firearms and all accessories to remain legal. This keeps preventive measures and checks in place, and also places those who try and circumvent the regulation in smaller company, thus making them easier to identify.
Preserving the rights of firearm owners will also improve the safety of the country. If firearms or accessories are made illegal, only those looking to commit murders will obtain one. The public is therefore left completely defenseless and unable to protect itself.
The Cato Institute released a report last year indicating that “tens of thousands of crimes are prevented each year by ordinary citizens with guns.” It is inexcusable and irresponsible to ask someone to live in a country in which people who want to cause harm are able to, albeit illegally, pursue weapons on a black market and kill people. Is someone who wants to exercise a constitutional right required to break the law so that they can walk the streets confident that they can defend themselves if the situation arises?
Ultimately the only solution for reducing violence and the access to firearms by people who shouldn’t have them is enforce current regulation with greater efficiency and increased education. Don’t allow people who are mentally unstable to purchase firearms and promote an informed society that adequately reports individuals who could pose threats to themselves or others.
Any stricter regulation is simply an infringement on people’s rights, and alleviates little concern that those who want to obtain firearms will be deterred by new laws. For Congress to give in to the demands of rash and emotional constituents would only be missing the mark.
This commentary is part of a Point-Counterpoint package. To see Zachary Scott’s commentary, “Gun regulation is about common sense,” click here.
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.