Monday, January 14, 2013

Guns: Rights and Responsibilities

Here at, the editorial board takes a strong position in favor of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Here's some food for thought.

The People are the Militia

We believe that the greater body of the people forms the militia, and that the Second Amendment, as properly understood, would provide for every able-bodied male to keep and bear a standard military or military-style rifle. Able-bodied, of course means qualified in body and mind.

A militia arm does not have to be (and probably should not be) a fully automatic weapon. We are fine with NFA laws as they are, with provisions for Class III owners and dealers. A standard militia rifle should be capable of basic drilling and marksmanship practice. It could be a bolt-action 1903 Springfield, an M1 Garand or M1 Carbine, an M1A or an AR15 - rifles that were issued to the US military at various times. It could be something comparable, such as a Ruger Mini-14 or it could even be a surplus SKS, FN or MAS rifle.

Prohibition is Extreme

"Assault Weapons" Ban Merely Cosmetic

We oppose any bans or prohibitions of any gun or accessory that is currently legal. The hysteria from pundits and politicians about evil "assault weapons:" is deafening - yet to those familiar with firearms, completely laughable. Don't fall for the intentional confusion over automatic versus semi-automatic - machine guns (fully automatic weapons) have been heavily restricted or banned since 1934. You need a special license to have one as well as permission from your local chief law enforcement officer. The last amnesty was in 1968, and new machine guns were completely outlawed in 1986 (unless you are a manufacturer who sells to government or law enforcement). Semi-autos, or self-loaders, are guns that fire one shot per pull of this trigger and kick out one empty shell after each shot. This technology has been available since the 1890s, and is used in rifles, pistols and shotguns. It is the latter that politicians such as Dianne Feinstein and Charles Schumer seek to prohibit.

Confiscating these guns from the law-abiding does nothing. Any gun can be used in an assault. Any gunman can slaughter a room full of unarmed people with just about any firearm. Limiting magazines means a perpetrator planning an attack will just use a couple more magazines or bring more guns (or purchase old magazines on the black market, or 3D-print a new one). Conventional hunting guns can do a hell of a lot of damage without reloading - take for instance a 10-bore goose gun. "Assault rifles" aren't even used in crimes very often - according the the FBI Uniform Crime Report, rifles of any kind, of which the "fancy" ones are a small subset, are used in less than 3% of homicides. More people are killed with baseball bats or fists and feet than rifles of any kind.

Now, we personally think the likes of 100-round drums and AK pistols (yes, there are AK-pattern guns in pistol form, with no stock and a short barrel) are extremely ridiculous, not to mention useless. This position is more from an aesthetic standpoint than a legal one. They shouldn't be prohibited, of course, but why is there demand for them? If you can't hit the side of a barn with 10, 20 or even 30 shots, you need to give up shooting. And what the hell can you hit with an AK pistol - firing intermediate-sized rifle cartridges - except targets at point blank range? Any fool that thinks there is a tactical advantage with such a thing - other than intimidation - is just that, a fool. This not a militia weapon.

Some Restrictions Necessary

It is prudent and necessary to keep arms of all kinds out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. Have you ever seen a copy of Bu$ted! magazine or seen your local county's parade of mugshots? Holy bejeezus! How do we prevent any of those people from getting guns? I will say this though, after years of frequenting gun shops and gun shows, those kinds of people are virtually completely absent from that scene. The few that do show up get turned away.

We already try to do keep guns out of the wrong hands with background checks at the retail point of sale. In Florida, we have both background checks and waiting periods for purchasing firearms. It's a good system, but there is more that can be done and done better. We do feel that since criminal justice issues are best legislated on the state level, it is the state that should take steps to ensure the wrong people do not acquire guns. It might even be a good idea to have private sales at shows go through background checks. Mental health databases should be made more reliable. Straw purchases can be prosecuted.

Florida CCW a Good System, but Needs Improvement

Florida's concealed carry permit system has been a positive force in education, safety and providing for personal self-defense. Although in my experience, the classes have declined in thoroughness and active participation of the students, more and more people (Florida has close to a million active permit holders) are being educated about lethal use of force under the law as well as some safety precautions when handling firearms. These aspects of the classes could be beefed up somewhat, and the live firing component is really not sufficient.

What to Do?

So what about the criminals and maniacs who do get their hands on weapons? Surely, the Founders would think it contrary to good judgement and social peace to let a known brigand, thief or footpad to keep arms, much less a moron, idiot, or other person of unsound mind. How do we go after straw purchasers, who knowingly transfer guns to felons etc.? How do we go about educating people on gun safety and safe storage - and how do we get the parents, guardians, or co-habitants of criminals and the mentally ill from having any access to any weapons?  These questions and others will occupy this debate going forward, not arguing over what cosmetic features a gun has.