Public Safety Demands Reasonable Gun-Control Laws
Abraham Lincoln loved the Constitution and gave his life for its preservation. When discussing it, he frequently pointed to the historic relevance of the Declaration of Independence in understanding the full meaning of the later-enacted Constitution and Bill of Rights.
He quoted Thomas Jefferson's immortal phrase "that all men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and reminded listeners that the Declaration, which preceded the Constitution by 15 years, was the philosophic lodestar of our new nation.
During the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates, he urged listeners to "return to the Declaration - that foundation whose waters spring close to the Revolution."
But ever since the once-moderate National Rifle Association was hijacked by a right wing cabal, it's made a mockery of Jefferson's soaring language and Lincoln's clear understanding of it.
Thanks in no small part to the NRA, citizens' rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are destroyed every day as more and more of the guns it promotes are used to murder fellow citizens.
The NRA grossly misinterprets the Second Amendment, claiming that Americans have virtually "unlimited" gun rights. They do not. They have only limited personal gun rights, which state, local and the federal governments have repeatedly qualified, and which limitations the Supreme Court has found constitutional.
More paramount than the parochial rights of gun owners are the broad fundamental rights of all Americans established by the Declaration: the rights to life, and with it liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Since the killing of my grandniece, Grace McDonnell, in Newtown, Conn., I've pondered the vexing issue of how can we protect citizens, particularly our vulnerable young, from needless gun carnage.
Citizens of other civilized nations must consider Americans mad. Imagine, in one recent year 5,285 children were killed by gunshots here, compared with 57 in Germany and absolutely none in Japan. A recent Harvard study reports firearm homicides rates are 42 times higher than other countries among 15- to 24-year-olds.
It's an American phenomenon; in neighboring Mexico, gun control is strict, as it is in Canada, and gun deaths are not rampant south or north of us.
As a former elected public safety official, I learned early on that law officers respect guns and want as few as possible in circulation. Every day, policemen and sheriffs' deputies risk being killed by a gun in the wrong hands. In Moore County it has happened repeatedly.
In the current gun control debate, organized police organizations strongly reject NRA arguments against gun controls. They are demanding mandatory background checks on all gun buyers and see no rational reason for weapons of mass destruction to be in nonmilitary hands.
What is critically needed is for more citizen organizations to demand sensible gun control legislation.
For example, why are Boy and Girl Scout organizations silent on this vital issue? (Grace McDonnell, a brand new Daisy, was just about to become a Brownie - as were several of her slain classmates in Sandy Hook School.) Don't Scouting organizations have an obligation to publicly condemn gun threats to their young charges?
By the same token, shouldn't parent-teacher organizations and teacher unions make their political weight felt in Washington and in 50 state capitals? Surely those most familiar with caring for those wounded and dying from gunshots, the doctors, nurses and hospital professionals, should also be heard from. The total memberships of those responsible organizations dwarf those of the NRA.
Most challenging is the mental health component of the problem. My son, a neurologist, tells me that New Jersey law requires him to report epileptics whose seizures make driving a car too great a public risk, yet psychiatrists with patients deemed potential threats to society have merely an "optional obligation" to report them.
With 20 times the gun murder rate of other nations, it's obviously time for meaningful legislation. Cosmetic laws with no real teeth in them won't suffice, nor will failure to strictly enforce current gun laws. Sens. Burr and Hagan and Rep. Ellmers appear to be NRA-intimidated and will remain so unless they hear from you, loud and clear.
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at paulandbj @nc.rr.com.
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