Everybody's an idiot. This debate may be unique amongst all political arguments for its overwhelming bi-partisan stupidity, delusion and magical thinking. Sure, the health care debate was incredibly annoying, but at least one side was thoughtful, compassionate, pragmatic and mostly honest. It was the other side of the debate, with it's lies and paranoia and shrieking about everything from Socialism to Death Panels that provided the ignorance and stupidity that fueled most of the misery. But now, in a post Sandy Hook political environment that opens the window to some kind of common sense action to reduce the horrific toll of gun violence and the associated terror, no one on either side seems capable of focusing on the basic truths and realities - instead, they all keep shrieking slogans and lies at each other without either thinking about the problem or listening to calm, logical voices.
On the fragility of the 2nd Amendment:
Of course, the leading madness and delusion comes from the Right, primarily due to their recent tendency to take the most extreme, absolutist position on every issue and refuse to consider anything less. In this ideologically paranoid worldview, there are only two choices - Freedom and Tyranny. Or in this case, unfettered access to all firearms by all Americans, with no limitations on the right to own, carry or use guns; or a blanket government ban on firearms, complete with criminalization and confiscation. Now all absolutist and binary positions are stupid, because they prevent thoughtful common sense from entering into the discussion. It's very easy to see a path to a set of regulations that would reduce the availability of guns in our communities while remaining broadly compatible with the Constitutional Guarantee. For a group of people so focused on a constitutional provision, they seem to believe it is terribly weak. In their fevered paranoia, they repeatedly make the claim that "the government" or "the President" is going to ban or confiscate their guns. But they never seem to think through exactly how this might happen - which would bring them to quickly conclude it cannot. The government cannot ban guns unless legislators could pass a bill through both houses, the President signed it and the Supreme Court found it to be constitutional. Since this is a constitutional guarantee we're talking about, that obviously could not happen. If the President ordered civilian firearms to be confiscated, that order would be illegal and would not be carried out, and the President would very likely be impeached. The fact of the second amendment and it's broad interpretation by the courts stands as the protector of gun ownership rights, and as a very real practical limitation on those would seek to restrict those rights. So it is within the terms of the US Constitution that we should all be able to agree on effective regulation. That we can't is the result of greed, paranoia and delusion.
Nobody NEEDS an AR-15:
Meanwhile, over on the left we're having a pointless argument about banning some particular rifles, not because we have a particular problem with them - they're used in less than 1% of the shootings in America - but, we are informed, nobody needs an assault rifle. I hear an important argument framed in such a dishonest and meaningless manner and it makes my head hurt. The statement is true, of course, but then, you can't debate rights and regulations based on need. What do people need? Some food, a place to sleep, a pair of trousers. We don't need golf, or a front lawn, or a ski boat, or carpeting or a flat screen teevee or running shoes or diamond rings or Cadillac Escalades or cigarettes or chocolate chip cookies. What's need got to do with anything? Why does anyone think they can frame ANY issue (beyond perhaps health care) in terms of need? Nobody claimed to need an AR-15, so taking the position nobody does need one gets us not one tiny step closer to solving any real world problem.
Let's just ban semi automatic firearms:
You see an awfully lot of ink and pixels wasted with this idiocy. Even setting aside that fact that it's both politically and constitutionally impossible - sometimes you have to discuss solutions that can't be implemented in the current political environment - it's also legislatively and practically impossible. What does "semi automatic" mean? At it's core, one could take the position that it refers to a gun that fires repeatedly with no user interaction but the pull of the trigger. But that also includes revolvers and double barreled rifles and shotguns. And even within the intended universe of self-loading rifles and handguns, there are a huge number of different mechanical implementations. You couldn't write a law that would cover them. But, just for fun, let's say you did. Apparently, the assumption is that the gun makers, with thousands of brilliant designers and engineers would simply shrug their shoulders and run up the white flag. As they would tell you on the rifle range, Maggies Drawers - clean miss. They would design new actions that were compliant with the law. And if you updated the law, they would design further changes. It simply isn't a battle you can win if you start with a constitutional guarantee that has been broadly upheld by the Supreme Court.
The Limits of Legislation:
Between the constitutional guarantee (which can't be changed) and the legislative environment (which can) there are, tragically, very tight limits to what can be done about gun violence in America today. I've spoken at length about the practical problems with type bans and magazine capacity limitations, but it's important to recognize that in spite of their virtually non-existent impact on firearms crimes in the US, it's unlikely that even these mostly symbolic actions will be enacted by Congress. So a realistic approach would take three simultaneous directions. First, work to keep effective, common sense gun regulations in the public dialog. This should include product liability and insurance mandates, along with reassurances that the Second amendment guarantee of the right to gun ownership isn't going away in our lifetimes. Second, we should encourage and support the Executive to take whatever actions they can take through commerce and import regulations. Anything that can begin to reduce the nightly body count that doesn't depend on courageous congressional action should be done - but the President has to believe it is good politics, not just good policy. Third, we need to do a better job of electing congresspeople who will stand up to the gun lobby and work to reduce the levels of gun violence, not simply to increase the profits of the gun industry.