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March 5, 2013

2nd Amendment needs rewritten for 21st century

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The Daily Star

---- — Over the years, I have written mostly about peace and the way our world leaders infringe upon it with war, personal freedom and the way our government tries to steal some away, and the environment, which is under constant assault by corporations.

One topic I have not written about is gun control, and there is a good reason for that. (I can imagine the groans coming from the pro-gun people, who figure I will be advocating the predictable position of the liberal extremist they take me for.) No, I usually avoid the subject because I believe both sides are right.

As a consistently strong advocate for personal freedom, I believe that hardly anything should be banned, and I think our lives are subject to way too many regulations. Each state is different, but over the decades it seems like New York has been at the forefront in regulating its citizens.

New York was quick to accept President Ronald Reagan’s bribe for raising the drinking age to 21; it early on passed a law requiring drivers and passengers to wear seat belts; and it was the same with drivers talking on phones and texting.

I’ve always been one of those people who believe that if it doesn’t hurt anybody, then why should it be illegal? Of course, we all know that the debates about what hurts other people are one thing, and that preventing people from possibly hurting themselves is where governments have strayed all too often. (It took a few tickets for not wearing a seat belt for me to give in and buckle up.)

States have always required people to pay to register motor vehicles and mandated that they pay to have safety inspections each year. Hunters and fishermen have to pay for licenses if they want to into the woods to hunt or go down to a nearby stream to fish. But these kinds of regulations rarely attract public outcries.

The government’s attempts to regulate guns and gun ownership, however, always have been met with staunch opposition from many sportsmen and gun owners, who hold fast to that section of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that states “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’’

For decades and more, we’ve heard all the arguments about how that phrase should be interpreted and how far government should go in its attempts to regulate the ownership and use of guns.

Back in the 1960s, a popular statement with the counterculture was that if guns were banned, then only the military, cops and criminals would have guns. That warning is still used today by some who fear that government might go too far in restricting gun ownership.

In the last few decades, the calls for or against gun control restrictions seem to follow horrible crimes involving guns, especially the use of assault rifles that can kill many people quickly. And, now, after the Newtown massacre of school children and educators in December, the drive for more gun control at the federal level is afoot.

New York state, however, always quick to regulate, did not wait for Washington to act, and passed its own law in January. The state already had an assault weapons ban, but it had not been updated since 1994 to prohibit new types of semi-automatic weapons on the market.

The new law broadens the definition of banned assault weapons and makes magazines containing more than seven bullets unlawful. It also boosts penalties for illegal gun possession, trims public access to gun permit information and allows mental health professionals to report concerns about gun-owning patients they believe might be at risk of harming themselves or others. It also requires owners of formerly legal semi-automatic guns to register them.

At a rally in Albany last week, opponents of the new law demonstrated for a repeal, and they were joined by many lawmakers who pledged to help. “We will not comply,” the crowd chanted. Protesters generally believe the new law is unconstitutional, violating their right to bear arms.

They are partially right. The new law does infringe upon, but does not violate, their right to bear arms. Just as I fear for our Fourth Amendment rights as the government comes up with more ways to get away with surveillance and possible detention of its citizens, I can understand the concerns of gun owners.

But those lingering questions remain: Why does anybody need or want an assault rifle? What’s so bad about having to register certain kinds of weapons? Is there some other way to cut down on the mass shootings that are occurring more and more often?

Obviously, the Second Amendment needs to be rewritten for the 21st century. Short of that, I’ll continue to be both for and against more gun control.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.