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January 10, 2012

Americans should respect right to bear arms


Daily Star

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Early one morning a while back, I answered a phone call from Wayne LaPierre, head of the NRA, warning that the sky is falling _ no worse: that the U.S. is participating in a U.N. treaty effort to deal with the irresponsible international transfers of small arms.

This is a hot-wire single issue. The NRA sees guns as the last defense against tyranny and criminals. It also "sees" such a treaty as a plot to bring the U.S. down from the pinnacle of its freedom.

The alarmists claim that such a ratified treaty will inevitably force governments to: Burden gun licensing with more and more red tape; confiscate and destroy all unauthorized civilian firearms; ban the trade, sale and private possession of all fully automatic weapons; and create an international gun registry, thus setting the stage for taking all guns away. None of this is accurate.

I do not support the NRA because it presents a strident, rigid and narrow message that is more emotional than rational, akin to the focus of "drys" demanding prohibition, or of the "pro-lifers" single-minded rejection of any pregnancy termination.

The U.S. has joined 152 other countries to support the Small Arms Trade Treaty Resolution with dates for a U.N. conference set in 2012. The U.N. effort is to cope with international organized crime, which diverts small arms from the legal channels into illegal ones, controlled by warlords, drug traffickers and criminal cartels.

Nowhere is gun ownership banned, nor is there any jurisdiction over national laws or policy. According to the U.N. Department of Disarmament Affairs, "Gun control advocates and pro-gun organizations alike have participated in the U.N. meetings ... with equal opportunity to present their views."

Personally, I like guns. I have a few, including one (pistol) requiring a license for a concealed weapon. They have craftsmanship and mechanical precision, are fun to shoot at targets or in hunting. We can all imagine boldly confronting an intruder, even shooting at one. But more easily, I can imagine killing some delinquent kid, whose life was more that his errant behavior.

But most people mature out of the powerlessness and resentment that made them feel hopeless and angry in their youth. Yes, there are some really evil people, who do not reform, and crazy people, too, who should never have guns, and who easily get them for all the wrong reasons.

We are not doing much in our society to heal such potential wounds or avert their consequences. Some simply say the heck with 'em, lock 'em up, execute them, thus showing how contagious social conflict is _ not a good climate to have guns freely available.

No wonder our founders wanted "well-regulated militias." I'm sure they did not favor vengeful mobs, vigilante justice or shoot 'em up Western towns. We are a society of law and order, which is the mainstay of our strength and success.

Guns serve as "equalizers" in an inequitable society. But power must be equalized by democratic process, proper law enforcement and judicial process. We are a civilized country where cops don't stand on every corner with submachine guns.

In emergencies, a civilian carrying a gun just might add to the danger, and if many guns were at the scene, one can imagine a chaotic circular firing squad as easily as a swift resolution.

Beyond that, it is all too common for guns to hurt or kill family members by accident, or owners by suicide, or spouses by temporary insanity. Guns all too easily enable a hair-trigger impulse to become a damning tragedy. With guns we have become our own worst danger, not the wild animals of earlier times.

Automobiles give us more everyday freedom than guns ever could do. We use our cars under strict regulation, requiring operator fitness and licensing, registration, ensuring financial responsibility, and observing rules of the road.

Cars are more useful and dear to us than guns, and it seems it would be a small sacrifice to register guns, to control their appropriateness for use, license owners and make them responsible for their actions with guns. Some people could be declared unfit, as drunk drivers are.

Gun ownership is not a human right. It is a civil right and must be embedded in the orderliness of society. The serious power of a weapon is very susceptible to fickle misuse, endangering the rights of others.

Guns too easily enable some people to take the law into their own hands, an impulse not unfamiliar, even when watching the news these days.

William Masters can be reached at wmasters@thedailystar.com. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.