In Newtown Debate, Put Everything on the Table

All rights – including the Second Amendment – come with caveats.


In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, the gun control advocates are calling for restrictions on firearms and some on the pro-gun side are citing the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.

So here’s the thing: Let’s go with the constitutional framers original intent and allow every American to own a musket.

But first, let’s stop pretending that the Bill of Rights grants rights – including gun ownership -- that are absolute. We have free speech, but you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. We have freedom of assembly but you’re not allowed to riot.

So when gun advocates say they have the right to bear arms, all but the most extreme will acknowledge that like all freedoms in the Bill of Rights, it comes with caveats. For a fascinating look at the history of gun control, read this story in Atlantic magazine. 

When we have the national discussion on how to stem the numbers of mass shootings, every serious solution should be part of the conversation, including possible firearms restrictions and changes in the mental health system.  

And the two questions we should ask ourselves about any potential action: Is there evidence it would succeed in stemming the killing? And, if it does, is it worth the loss of freedom?  

Here are some ideas that are worth discussing:

-- New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof pointed out that Canada requires a 28-day waiting period to purchase a handgun and requires that gun buyers have two people vouch for them.

-- Kristof and Will Oremus of Slate.com wrote about Australia’s restrictions on semi-automatic shotguns and rifles put in place after a gunman killed 35 people and injured 23 more at a resort in Tasmania. Since then Australia has seen a huge drop in gun-related suicides and homicides with “no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides,” according to Oremus.

“In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in the country,” Oremus said. “There hasn’t been a single one in Australia since.”

-- Writer Jane Smiley talks about the high cost of gun violence – some $4.7 billion for deaths and injuries – and suggests that we should treat gun ownership like car ownership.

“Every gun needs to be like every car -- you can't use it unless you have liability insurance,” she writes. “Attached to every gun, there must be a policy that the purchaser has to sign, acknowledging the dangers of his purchase and paying for them up front. I suggest the same for high volume clips.”

I don’t know whether any of these ideas would work in this country or whether they could pass constitutional muster. But if we don’t have serious, civil debates about such policies, we are acquiescing to the acts of madmen. 

As for the families of these little Newtown children, I pray they can find the strength to keep from sinking into a black hole of despair. As Bruce Springsteen sang after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks: “Tell me how do you live broken-hearted?”

There are no words. There are no words.

Chris Miller March 21, 2013 at 11:26 AM
H-smith. If i recall correctly there are people on the watch list that should not have been on that list one reason being that he had the same name as a real terrorist. In some cases that did not stop the searchers to go about molesting people. As to purchasing a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle and 500 rounds, a rifle check is done on the person who purchases the gun. A from must be filled out and phoned into the instant check devised by the FBI. You do not get the gun if you come up with a record and if you are wanted the police will be on the way.
Chris Miller March 21, 2013 at 11:31 AM
Nazaretti Gee would you like to provide some facts to those words. Here we are in the middle of the worst economy we have ever seen. On top of the the crime rate is up with bad guys going so far as to invade you home while you are still in it. I know, you are going to put a pile of rocks in you house to protect you and your family. You are the reason no one pays attention to things like gun bans. just ask Senator Feinstein
Chris Miller March 21, 2013 at 11:45 AM
Nazaretti Ok let's start with getting drugs like ritlind out of our schools and out of our boys who are jsut to busy. We use to have a good mental health system but we decided we could put mentally ill people, many of them homeless, on the street so we tore down the mental health facility. As to many "semi-automatic guns with no legitimate purposes" the AR is used to kill predators like coyotes. They are in are area and are devastating our deer herd. There are those who have League shooting for AR's no different then any other gun league. And keep this in mind that the vast majority of these guns are owned by veterans of our wars where the AR 15 was a real favorite. On top of that it is not your business what I own just as it is not my business what you own. Then let's add to that the militarization of our police forces across the nation that goes back to the 1960's and is gettng worse with each passing day. Read the Express-Times and see how many stories are in there daily about the problems with some police.
Chris Miller March 21, 2013 at 11:58 AM
Ms. Peterson Our problems are not tied to any inanimatel object. We are a nation that makes laws but I would ask you what good are the laws if we have no morals. We are engaging in a discussion on people being killed by other people who used a gun to kill someone. There is no discussion on people who have killed others with a knife, poison or automobile. Most importanly there is no discussion here on the used of a scaple to kill an unborn child or a needle to assist an older person in hospis along the way to their demise. How about a blog issue on that. We could start with abortion. I think there is going to be some serious changes in our actions. I am going to keep an eye on Allentown's School District when they put into place uniforms for the students. and they will have a lower budget. I am also watching another trend--working women appear to be returning home to be with their children.
Chris Miller March 21, 2013 at 12:04 PM
athyniah With all due respect you do not know anyting pertain to guns. If you are threatened you need to make sure that the bad guy does not survive so he can kill you


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