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Sunday, April 14, 2013

COMMON SENSE

We’re hearing an awful lot about “common sense” these days - especially related to the reduction of gun violence - by the introduction of  “common sense” restrictions on gun ownership and possession.  “Common sense” itself is a bit elusive in terms of definition.  It starts with the dictionary definitions which are none too sterling:  “sound, practical sense; normal intelligence.”  In order to be “sound,” common sense has to be reliable, secure, without defect as to truth, vigorous, hearty or thorough.  In order to be “practical”, common sense would need to be connected with ordinary activities; or pertain to practice or action; inclined toward or fitted for actual work or useful activity; in other words, applicable or useful.  ‘”Normal intelligence” is hardly a helpful term, since normal is very hard to determine.  Perhaps what we need to say is that common sense should relate to a common ground or norm that is somewhat pervasive within the culture or mind-set or standards of a community.  For the word “common” itself implies something shared; something belonging to or shared by a whole community; something widespread and general or universal or prevalent and popular.

It is clear right now that a lot of minds are concentrated on common sense gun violence reduction laws.  In fact, if commonality is a measure of common sense, we have within our grasp the makings of some provisions of law that would satisfy this need for some sound, practical, sensible legislation as regards gun violence control.  And, let it be clear that what we are talking about is not “gun control“; the common sense is that we are attempting to reduce gun violence, not the right to own a gun. 

That is so very important to understand.  It is fundamental to the debate we are having.  Our practical common sense tells us that we can allow eligible persons to own guns for all kinds of legitimate reasons, such as target shooting, skeet shooting, hunting, shooting competitions, even self-protection.  What we cannot allow is the unfettered access to certain guns and ammunition clips that are designed for combat forces and community protection forces.  Such semi-automatic weapons in the hands of known criminals or of persons with uncontrolled mental dysfunctions, or even in the hands of juveniles, are a threat to ordinary citizens, and we can no longer allow that to be a norm in our society.

Right there is a point that needs great emphasis.  What we are looking for here is not the ability to stop every act of violence with guns that can and will occur.  The people who argue that we should not have any restrictions on gun ownership because we cannot control what criminals will do, and only criminals will have guns, are missing the important point being made here.  We are not looking to change criminal behavior, although it makes sense to try to reduce it whenever we can.  No, what we are looking for is to establish a norm or standard in our society that certain dysfunctional people should not have access to weapons that can be used to harm other people.  We are trying to put into law, the common sense of the American people, so that this society will have on its books standards that make sense in the context of happiness, peace and tranquility.

Common sense includes the banning of assault weapons, and over-sized ammunition clips, whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself.  54-60% of people surveyed agree.  That is a norm we need to establish right now so that law reflects the standards of  the people, and not just so we can get rid of certain guns for sale, or that we can save citizens from being killed, although a new norm or standard can often lead to the changing of behaviors.  Let us establish the standard, and then see what outcomes we produce.

Common sense, and common experience, also indicates that certain things in our society need to be registered, so that they can be regulated in the interests of public safety and well-being.  Opposition to universal registration of gun ownership is a denial of all the practical reasons we have for registering certain items in our society;  cars and trucks, and other vehicles, for instance.  Why do we register them, and require them to be insured and inspected as a part of that process?  We do it because it makes sense to know if the vehicle is in the kind of poor shape that constitutes a hazard to others.  It makes sense to know who is driving such a lethal instrument weighing in at over 2,000 pounds in most cases.  It makes sense to know who has a condition that may limit their driving skill (eyesight).  It makes sense to know who may be approaching an age when a new driving test should be ordered.  It makes sense to know the license plate of all cars so that law enforcement officials can track, conduct surveillance, and apprehend people who have used a car to violate other people’s rights and the public’s safety and security. 

All that does not even begin to deal with the safety and public health issues that are addressed by the common sense requirements of inspection and insurance in order to register, and drive, a car.  A question one might ask here: does such registration stop all criminals from using cars to commit or abet their crimes?  Of course not.  But, such registration does enable law enforcement to stop lawbreakers before they commit crimes, and also enables law enforcement to find and arrest those who have committed crimes.  These requirements for cars set a certain norm or standard for society that leads to better protection, health and safety for the broader community.  

Then, we have to ask, what is the difference between universal car registration, and the registration of all gun owners?  The 2nd Amendment you say?  The Amendment that gives gun owners the right to own guns, is somehow different from the privilege of owning a car?  Yes, that’s so.  But, common sense says that we have the same reasons for registration in both cases: to prevent aberrant use of cars and guns; to deter ownership for those who violate laws, and who use guns or cars in the commission of crimes, or in other ways that endanger public safety.

It is merely common sense that we should register all guns, not as a deterrent to ownership, but as a precaution against dangerous and aberrant use.  After all, the second Amendment does not say that gun ownership shall be unregulated.  In fact, it says up-front that a “well-regulated” militia is necessary to a free state.  In my humble opinion, that means that the Founding Fathers were concerned with how the scattered soldiers, mostly returned to the individual states from which they came, were going to behave.  They put this provision in the Amendment to indicate that regulation of these former Revolutionary soldiers, and their guns, was a necessary function of government.  So regulation of some colonial gun-owners was written into our Constitution. 

It is the next phrase that the NRA grabs hold of for its unwavering opposition to any restrictions placed on gun ownership: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”  But here’s the major point: infringement is not regulation and regulation is not restriction.  If you regulate something, you put it in good order; adjust it, arrange it.  It’s a process of managing something.  If you infringe upon something, you encroach upon it or trespass upon it; that means you violate that right.  My opinion of what the common sense of the people is, at this moment, is that management is not infringement.  No legitimate gun owner would lose his/her guns as a result of the laws being proposed.  But certain people would not be allowed to buy certain guns and ammunition because of their particular limitations and/or dysfunctions.  Registration of guns is not an infringement on ownership of guns; it is merely a means to better management,  sorting out those who may use guns to kill innocent people.  So, in essence, this is not about restrictions on gun ownership or infringement on the right to keep and bear arms.  It is a common sense way to account for,  to “manage” who should own a gun and who shouldn’t own a gun, thus setting a norm or standard for society that speaks to regulation, not to infringement.

Which brings us to a final piece of common sense.  Over 90% of people polled have indicated that they favor universal background checks preceding the purchase of a gun.  The current legislation before the Senate has dropped such as applied to private sales, but kept it as applied to sales at gun shops and at gun shows.  It’s not perfect, but it’s something.

Once again, the NRA has taken a negative view, intending to track the votes of all congress persons, not only on the legislation itself, but on the procedural matters that lead up to a vote on the bill.  They have threatened to attempt to defeat those Congress persons who fail to vote against the procedures as well as the provisions of the law.  They are doing this basically because they believe that universal background checks will lead to universal gun registration which will then inevitably lead to the government being able to confiscate guns.  Amazing logic, but without real evidence to support it.  Perhaps they have forgotten that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is already in place as mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993.  That system is applicable to sales from federally licensed gun dealers.  Private sales of guns are not covered by the Act, nor are gun show sellers.  But the point here is that a system is in place for background checks, and it is not leading to anything like government confiscation of legally obtained guns. 

NRA devotees have largely argued that background checks will not prevent people like Adam Lanza from purchasing or obtaining a gun (as he did from his mother’s collection), nor will it deter criminals who will obtain a gun somehow if they so desire.  Oh, they are so right.  But unfortunately, they miss a major point.  Laws do not prevent the criminal mind or the deranged mind from finding a way to obtain a gun, or to commit robbery or larceny, or embezzlement, or murder, among other crimes. 

What the proposed legislation does is to make it more likely that people who should not have guns, will have a much harder time obtaining them.  If all elements for reduction of gun violence were in place -- assault weapons ban, no more high-capacity clips, universal registration, along with universal background checks -- our ability to reduce the numbers of wrong-headed persons getting guns would be increased.  As long as the NRA and cowardly Senators and Congressmen keep watering down the provisions that might work together to reduce violent people from getting guns easily, the more likely it is that incidents like we see every hour will begin to increase.  We can’t have a perfect system of preventing gun acquisition by the wrong people.  We can only expect, as with many laws, that we can begin to reduce the violence that is pervading every corner of our country, and killing our children.

And that again is what we want and need: Laws that set standards and norms for our society.  That is mainly what laws do, for laws themselves do not prevent or prosecute criminal behavior.  They set societal norms and standards against which criminal behavior is recognized and judged.  They give law enforcement certain standards and restrictions to enforce; and provide measurements by which criminal behavior is prosecuted and judged.  To say that these new laws will not prevent more Newton's or Auroras or other killings from occurring is to miss the point of these laws, or of laws in general.  Such arguments burden the law with requirements it cannot meet, and with provisions it cannot enforce. 

Common sense demands that we place into law the gun violence reform provisions about which so very many Americans agree because they see that we need different standards than we presently have regarding the killing of innocents with weapons of war.  Let us first set the standards that make sense, and then let us have responsible agencies and public servants address prevention, enforcement, prosecution and punishment.  Such is the responsibility of the Executive and Judicial branches of our government, not the Legislature.   The NRA leadership is leading us all astray in its ravenous quest to support the profit-making of gun manufacturers rather than the norms of a healthy and peaceful society.  They are the flies in the ointment; the obstacles to a more non-violent society, and the purveyors of profit rather than the guardians of all our rights, including the fundamental unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.