Sunday, April 7, 2013

Guns Don't Make Us Safer

I’m sure Doug Yanak is a hard-working, well meaning, patriotic American and a responsible gun owner, but in his op-ed in the March 17 Gazette-Mail titled “With Guns We’re Citizens; Without Guns, Subjects,” he has completely missed the target. I won’t blame him for the headline, which may have been penned by the newspaper, but many people in the U.S. and around the world are neither gun owners nor subjects of dictators or repressive regimes.

Yanak starts his piece by letting us know he has carried a gun for thirty years and never had to remove it from his holster (to defend himself or others, I presume). He is an NRA Firearm Instructor who teaches for concealed carry firearm certifications, so his interest in convincing others of the importance of owning and carrying weapons may go beyond his interest in the effects of public policy on reducing gun violence.

In arguing against new gun laws, he first takes aim at universal background checks. He says a grandfather would be a felon if he gives his grandson a firearm.  On the contrary, the proposed legislation makes exceptions for transfers between family members and in other circumstances such as for hunting or if someone is in imminent danger.  

Next, Yanak states, “…all veterans diagnosed with post traumatic stress” would be prevented from purchasing a firearm. He’s not entirely wrong, because even now, any citizen deemed mentally incompetent is denied the right to purchase a weapon legally. But not all veterans who are diagnosed with PTSD are or likely would be deemed mentally incompetent. While the law is making its way through Congress, this is an area that is getting a lot of attention from lawmakers who want to protect veteran’s rights. How to decide who is mentally unstable and should be denied ability to purchase a firearm is a difficult legislative task, but most Americans want the current laws improved for all of our protection.

Evil and lack of spirituality, Yanak blasts, are the problem, not guns; he says that people will murder with or without guns because we live in a “Godless society.” Yet in the U.S., with some of the least restrictive gun laws and where 83% say religion is very important in their lives, we have a homicide rate of 4.2 per 100,000, and in Great Britain, with highly restrictive gun laws and where only 23% say religion is very important, there is a homicide rate of 1.2. Apparently, murder can be reduced by reducing the easily availability of guns, even if people aren’t religious.

After this, Yanak abandons all attempt at logic and turns to fantasy. He picks up the NRA’s ultimate weapon for assaulting proposed gun laws, the claim that the ultimate goal of new laws to reduce gun violence is “to give the federal government that ability to come and confiscate the innocent owners’ firearms with no appeal.” And he goes on to make the argument that governments that “established gun control” end up rounding up and killing their citizens: Turkey the Armenians, Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Guatemala the Mayans, etc. However, Great Britain passed its first restrictions, banning handguns, in 1920. The Queen has yet to start rounding people up.

The “facts” he presents have been circulating in e-mails and on the Internet for a few years, and don’t prove anything except that dictatorial regimes tend to disarm their internal enemies. Sadly, there are probably many good West Virginians who believe as Mr. Yanak does that our government wants to take away their guns and strip their 2nd Amendment rights, and there are many right wing commentators and websites who want them to believe that, despite the fact that there is no legislation being discussed to take away any guns. Fear of Democrats in control of government has become a sales pitch for many Republican candidates and people who support them. 

But, to repeat, there is no legislation under consideration to ban handguns or rifles or shotguns and President Obama has stated publicly that is not his aim. There is discussion about ending the sale of high capacity magazines and certain weapons known as assault weapons that can shoot as fast as one can pull the trigger. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, claims he needs one in case all law and order breaks down and armed gangs rove the streets.

Just for the sake of argument, I have to wonder what limit, if any, people like Senator Graham and Mr. Yanak think there ought to be on personal arsenals in their neighborhoods. If, as Mr. Yanak fears, the government would start rounding people up for extermination, what weapons would we need to repel the full force of the U.S. Army? Rocket propelled grenades? Tanks? Perhaps a mine field around our homes? Should all these be protected by our Constitutional right to bear arms?

I think not. I prefer to believe in the old adage, the pen is mightier than the sword. The second amendment has held up for over 200 years; even after a Civil War, Confederate soldiers were allowed to keep their guns. Sensible laws can be written that allow Americans to have firearms for hunting and self-defense without allowing them to build up arsenals of military style weapons which might, in a fit of rage or temporary insanity, be used against the rest of us as was done at Columbine, Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown.