I was just sitting down to contribute an article describing my impressions of the Community Conversation on the Second Amendment and gun control sponsored by this paper and the Dispute Resolution Center of the Tri-Cities in late June, when I heard the news of the shooting in a theater in Aurora, Colo.
My feelings on hearing of yet another case of senseless gun violence were a mix of shock, sadness and anger. I decided that rather than write about my feelings, I would ask myself what the 12 people in the Community Conversation would have to say, if faced with one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
Gun control proponents would call for stronger restrictions on gun ownership, including re-instituting the 1994 ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004. They would call for closing the loopholes on gun show sales and on private sales. And they would want restrictions on where guns could be carried.
Gun rights advocates would argue that there are already enough regulations. One person in the June discussions stated that there were more than 20,000 gun laws. (According to the Brookings Institute, the 20,000 figure is a fiction popularized by the National Rifle Association). Gun control proponents would point out that the sheer number of laws (probably around 300 major state and federal laws) tells us nothing about their stringency, breadth or effectiveness.
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Our gun rights advocates would parrot the NRA's palliative, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."
Gun control proponents would argue that the statement is pointless, in that it begs the question of what guns the public should be permitted to own and what measures must be enforced to ensure that the guns that are permitted don't get in the wrong hands.
But our gun rights advocates would bristle at the very thought of being "permitted" to own guns. They firmly believe that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed," and encouraged by recent Supreme Court rulings, they see very little -- if anything -- they'll accept as limiting that right.
Gun control proponents would argue that at the very least, private citizens should not own assault weapons; they are considered impractical for hunting (especially the .223 AR-15 used by the Colorado shooter), and are lethal in the hands of a deranged killer. This is where gun control proponents miss the point.
Gun rights advocates see themselves as the "well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state." They are extraordinarily protective of their gun rights and convinced that given the chance, our government would confiscate their guns.
Gun rights advocates faced with the Colorado incident would argue that if some theater patrons had been armed, they might have shot the gunman and saved lives. The thought of this firefight in the darkened confines of that theater, especially given the circumstances, would boggle the mind of most thoughtful people.
In the final analysis, no one's mind would have been changed had the Colorado shooting occurred before, rather than after our Community Conversation.
With respect to the Colorado shooting itself, both sides of the argument are wrong. Stricter gun laws would probably not have stopped the Colorado shooter.
But gun rights advocates are wrong to argue that because you can't stop the determined, suicidal individual from killing with a gun, you shouldn't do everything possible to prevent the spread of the most lethal of those guns in our society. That position is worse than pigheaded, it's criminal.
Finally, the vigilante ethos of a large segment of the gun community is one that any law-abiding person, especially anyone who argues we are "a Christian nation," must reject.
Richard Badalmente is a writer who lives in Kennewick.