When confronted with horrific violence like that in last week’s Aurora, Colo., massacre, there are two realities we can’t quite get around.
One is that the Second Amendment is not going away; gun-control advocates might not like it, but the right to keep and bear arms is part of the fabric of our country. The second is public safety demands that some people, such as convicted felons and the violently mentally ill, simply should not have guns.
Accepting those two realities in turn gives us a dual dilemma: 1. How do we keep guns away from those who shouldn’t have them without infringing on the rights of other gun owners, the vast majority of whom commit no crimes with them, let alone multiple murders? 2. How do we keep guns out of the hands of some mentally ill people without infringing on the rights of all them, the vast majority of whom do not commit crimes, let alone multiple murders?
People tend to be absolutist about these kind of issues. Those on the left would like to see more and more gun restrictions, period. Those on the left want more early warning signs of violent intent heeded, period.
But there should be room for discussion.
On the gun-control issue, for example, gun restrictions tend to be followed by the law-abiding – those who want to do evil with them will always find a way to get them. The result is that in the struggle between good and evil, the wrong side is disarmed. What if one of the victims in Aurora had carried a handgun and used it to stop the murderer early on in his spree?
But no right can ever be considered absolute. Does anyone believe the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to own ballistic missiles or atomic bombs? So there are limits. How much harm is done to our rights, really, by something like a background check?
On the mental-illness issue, suppose we get good at identifying the characteristics of a soon-to-be serial killer. What do we do with this person who fits a profile but has committed no crime? Lock him up because of what he might do? Follow him around 24 hours a day? Make him wear a “potential killer” badge?
This is a problem almost unique to America. Other nations have no compunctions about simply outlawing guns or casually throwing whoever they feel like behind bars. Here, we revere freedom, which means we must accept the fact not everyone will use it wisely. We can be vigilant, make rules, try to be safe. But we can’t really stop the deranged from acting out their madness without restrictions that harm us all.