Laslo Boyd: Gun Stupidity

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An incident last weekend in New York City may lead to new language being added to wedding invitations.  Just to play it safe, wedding planners may want to add the initials “DBYG” to the more traditional “RSVP”.

During a wedding reception at the Waldorf Astoria, a guest was, according to news accounts, “playing” with his gun and managed to shoot four other guests at the event.  You might have thought that the admonition “Don’t Bring Your Gun” wouldn’t be necessary, but in this age of gun stupidity, you can’t be sure.

News stories appear all too often about parents failing to safeguard their weapons from small children with horrific results.  The ready availability of firearms has also resulted in deadly outcomes in cases of road rage, simple neighborhood disagreements, domestic disputes, and unfavorable personnel actions at work.

Those examples don’t even address guns in the hands of people with emotional or psychological problems, extremists with grievances against the government, and Second Amendment purists who claim that openly carrying guns into public spaces somehow enhances community safety.

I’m not going to pretend that I agree with the Supreme Court’s recent interpretation that there is a constitutionally protected individual right to gun ownership.  That decision flies in the face of a long history of case law, logic, and common sense.  Nevertheless, that’s where the country is today.   The challenge is to figure out a political remedy to our public health epidemic of gun violence within the boundaries of the Court’s ruling.

The dilemma is that many gun enthusiasts refuse to acknowledge that anything is wrong in a country where tens of thousands of citizens are killed each year with firearms.  The contrasting examples of effective gun laws in other countries—look at the dramatic results in Australia after that nation passed strict gun regulations—are dismissed as irrelevant.  So are the examples of declining gun deaths in states that have enacted tough gun laws.

Similarly, a series of mass murders by people with firearms has had no impact on the national debate.  Not even the massacre of 20 school children in Newtown, Connecticut stirred Congress to act.

In fact, gun supporters are pushing hard for fewer restrictions, for repeal of laws that have already been passed, and for the right to carry weapons openly wherever they want.   Texas recently passed a law that allows the carrying of guns on college campuses.  That will certainly encourage the open exchange of ideas and vigorous intellectual debate.

To call this a public health epidemic is to understate the issue.  What we are witnessing now is an outbreak of sheer madness.  Other than a few isolated incidents in which a storeowner foiled an attempted robbery, most of the evidence strongly supports the view that our communities are less safe as a result of all of the guns out there that are so readily available.

The direction we are going in is, in some respects, a return to the lawless “Wild West” of the 19th century.   The premise of those supporting unrestricted and unlimited access to fire arms is that each person is responsible for her or his own safety.  It is a complete abdication of the idea that we as a community have come together to form a “social contract” in which we give up a few individual prerogatives in exchange for a greater degree of safety and security for everyone.

Do we really want a society in which we have to make instantaneous decisions about whether the person in the department store carrying a gun is a “good” guy or a “bad” guy?    Will we have to reassure our children when we take them to that family restaurant that they shouldn’t worry about the group at the next table loaded down with weapons?

And let’s not kid ourselves about the racial element of this situation.  Those “Open Carry” advocates are fine with people who look like them having weapons in public, but they haven’t demonstrated the same enthusiasm for minorities walking around with guns.

Is there any possible common ground in this mess?  How about starting with an agreement that we should expect responsible handling of weapons?  No playing with guns at weddings.  No leaving them accessible to children.  No bullying people with a different point of view.  And real penalties for irresponsible use of guns.

Let’s take the right to own guns away from people with restraining orders, with documented emotional problems, with histories of violent encounters with others.  Let’s have serious background checks, waiting periods, and gun safety training.  Let’s enforce the laws currently on the books with respect to committing crimes with a gun.

All of these are but baby steps but at least they don’t take us in the wrong direction as we are going today in much of the country.   We are fortunate that in Maryland elected officials have had the courage to pass serious and reasonable restrictions about guns.  It may be quite a while before some of the rest of the country regains its senses, but we need to keep the effort alive so that we don’t revert to the Wild West that some in the country seem to want.  

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.