This column is a reponse to “Founding Firearms,” by Joshua Treviño.
My friend Josh Treviño’s piece on guns and Texans is a fascinating walk through history and of American ideals that attempts to defend his “absolutist” defense of the Second Amendment and oppose legislative attempts currently on the table to reduce gun violence. It’s too bad none of these petrified stories—all of which come down to “good thing that guy had a musket on him at the time”—speak to a very real problem, or present real solutions.
The public debate over gun violence, which was hardly high brow to start with, has never been more absurd. I’m not a big fan of the anti-gun crowd, because, as a gun owner, I’m not anti-gun. But, as a former NRA member, I’m absolutely horrified with the behavior of the NRA crowd these days. Since the Newtown massacre, my Facebook feed has been filled with alarmist updates suggesting that the very existence of the Second Amendment is at stake and Obama is going to take our guns away.
Repeat that drivel as many times as you want, but it’s simply not true. Nobody credible has proposed legislation to take anybody’s damn guns away, and contrary to Treviño’s claim, there is no longer any argument against the well-settled law of an individual’s right to bear arms that is taken seriously by anyone. This admittedly means, of course, that the actually existing legislative proposals are less likely to prevent any future Newtowns, since everybody will still be in possession of whatever weapons were used in the previous Newtowns.
But surely our national response to the senseless murder of 26 people—twenty of them children—won’t be to do absolutely nothing? Surely we can do better than that?
Almost certainly, Second Amendment advocates don’t really believe that the proposed (and seemingly dead on arrival) assault rifle ban would be the death of America as they know it, especially given that the U.S. had such a ban, complete with magazine capacity limits for handguns, from 1994 to 2004. I don’t remember the republic crashing down around us at the time, nor do I recall anybody’s ability to have fun shooting stuff and breaking things with wild abandon disappearing. Nor would expanding background checks to do away with the private sale loophole extinguish liberty and sink America into a godless morass. What it would do, however, is keep a lot of wackadoodles, including ones who would do our children harm, from easily getting their hands on guns.
No, what the NRA crowd is mostly doing these days, as somebody pointed out recently, is violating my Second Amendment right to well-regulate a militia. If there’s a good Constitutional reason for doing absolutely nothing in response to twenty dead children, it doesn’t rest in presumed violations of the Second Amendment. The fact is, there are many checks and limits on our Constitutional rights. You don’t, for example, get to yell “fire!” in a crowded theater or engage in polygamy, despite the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
The government’s ability to regulate who doesn’t get to own a gun is already well-established. It has been federal law since 1968 that felons, drug addicts, and stalkers are prohibited from gun ownership. Expanding background checks only serves as a more effective way to enforce those current restrictions. An assault rifle ban and magazine capacity limits didn’t shatter our Constitution in the slightest ten years ago. People need to have more faith in the durability of our Constitution.
Here’s what my life as a gun owner looks like, under today’s minimal gun laws: I hunt, though infrequently and badly. I own several shotguns and rifles for that purpose. I have another shotgun for personal defense. I own several handguns, both semi-automatics and revolvers, two of which I keep fully loaded. I often travel with a loaded 9 mm semi-automatic handgun.
And here’s what my life as a gun owner would look like if every proposal offered by the White House were to become law: I would hunt, and probably still not be very good at it. I would own the exact same shotguns and rifles for that purpose, and would still be able to purchase additional ones just like them. I would have a shotgun for personal defense, and would be able to buy more just like it. I would own the same handguns, and I’d be able to pick up a few more like them, and I would keep them loaded with the same ammunition. And I would still travel with a loaded 9 mm semi-automatic handgun.
It’s not really as complicated as Josh Trevino would have us believe. Sensible gun restrictions wouldn’t cause us to turn our backs on our glorious history, nor would they destroy the Bill of Rights. The modest legislative proposals currently under consideration are not the civil rights issue of our day. But they might help keep a lot of school children and their teachers safer.
I recognize that we Texans don’t like being told what to do—I don’t like being told what to do either. But in the unlikely event Congress musters up the cojones to pass the gun violence proposals currently under consideration, we Texans will likely discover that we’ll still be doing pretty much what we’ve always done, in the same way we’ve always done it.
Harold Cook is a public relations strategist and political advisor based in Austin. He blogs at http://www.lettersfromtexas.com.