The gun massacre that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut was peculiarly an American catastrophe, happening in an almost ideal American town, to 20 children (and six adults). There have been seven such incidents since the beginning of the year. Our national sorrow and outrage is quite justified. At the same time, although our hearts are still in Newtown, our heads must be on what we can do to prevent another mass murder in the United States.
It is a fact that the number of guns we Americans own per capita is the greatest in the world and almost twice that of our nearest competitor (Serbia). These numbers are as of 2007, but it is certain that our per capita rate has grown since then. Indeed, I have seen one estimate that suggests that our present rate is 16 times that of the country with the second highest rate. I have seen another that suggests that we now have almost one privately owned gun for every American, although it is obvious that guns are not evenly distributed in our population. At the same time, our death rate from firearms (murder, suicide, accidental discharge, etc.) is the eleventh highest in the world. None of the major countries in the world precede us.
The United States has been blessed (?) with the Second Amendment, which prohibits the federal government from infringing the right of the people to keep and bear arms. It is historically clear that the purpose of the Second Amendment, adopted in 1789, was to prevent the disarming of state militias and replacement of them with a federal standing army. Within a few years, Americans had come to understand that a standing army was required in order to protect the country and that state militias could never be used to overthrow the national government. Only votes could do that. It is crazy to assert that people are armed to defend themselves against the federal government.
It is true that guns don’t kill, people do. But people without guns are unlikely to kill people except by accident. Yes, autos can be fatal, but cars are functionally useful in our society. Guns are not. Yes, banning all guns would interfere with people who enjoy target practice or hunting, but that seems a small price to pay for stopping this wave of mayhem. Let hunters hunt with arrows. I very much doubt that there would be mass killings by deranged people armed with them.
One of the falsehoods perpetrated by the gun lobby is that guns are good because they can be used for defense. But, of course, the defense they are talking about is defense against other people using guns. Another is that there are already laws on the books that would handle the problem if they were properly enforced. Nonsense. That statement is true only to the minor extent that it might help somewhat, but there is no chance that enforcement of existing laws would solve the problem. If you can buy an AK-47 legally, end of story.
There is no comparison to the “war on drugs,” which has failed and wasted billions of dollars and millions of live. That is the equivalent of Prohibition, not gun control. That problem might be solved by legalizing drugs and making them so cheap that pushers will be driven out of business. Then campaigns could be run urging people not to use dangerous drugs, much the way campaigns were run against smoking.
The solution to the gun problem is relatively simple. The federal government should ban the purchase or possession of all military-type weapons including, but not limited to, automatic rifles and automatic handguns. Deferring to our hunting heritage, single shot, small-gauge rifles should be permitted as should single shot pistols that could be used, but not carried, at home as protection. Federal and state officers should be permitted--indeed, encouraged--to enforce this ban. There should be a brief waiting period to allow law-abiding people to surrender weapons, and perhaps be reimbursed in part for their cost.
None of this would run afoul of the Supreme Court’s recent Second Amendment decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. In that case, the majority decision, written by arch-conservative Justice Scalia, specifically recognized that military weaponry in civil hands are not protected by the amendment.
In homage to Newtown, the bill might be named The Newtown Anti-Gun Bill.