Besides abortion, the right to bear arms may be the most polarizing issue in the United States.
The U.S. Supreme Court cleared up the question of whether a U.S. citizen has the constitutional right to keep a handgun in the home when it struck down the District of Columbia’s blanket prohibition of handgun possession in 2008. That ruling by the high court made it clear that the right to bear arms as spelled out in the Second Amendment is a right of the individual.
That, however, doesn’t mean that people have changed their minds on the subject, There are those who still believe that every American should be disarmed, just as there are those who believe everyone should be armed to the teeth with the latest technology if they want. Others of us fall into an area of varying degrees where we see the merits of finding ways to prevent mass killings such as the ones last year in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., along with the protection of the right to possession firearms for self-defense and sport.
The Newtown shootings were particularly disturbing because they involved the deaths of innocent children and heroic school personnel who tried to save them. The deaths have given Americans on all sides of the gun rights issue reason to take pause and consider the course in which America appears to be headed.
Obviously, what we would all like to see is a situation in which we have the best of all possible worlds — safe schools and streets and no infringement on constitutionally guaranteed rights.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama gave his take on what he said he can do by executive order and what he wants Congress to do to combat the problem. Some of his suggestions have merit, while others raise concerns. For instance, we agree that laws are needed to make the “straw purchase” of guns a punishable crime with serious consequences. In those cases, a criminal has someone with a clean background buy the weapon for him, with the middle-man purchaser’s only risk being fines from paperwork violations. Also, we can’t see a need for armor-piercing ammunition, and there should be better communication between various state and federal agencies on individuals who can’t pass background checks.
We also agree that mental health care and access to that care should be improved in our country. But one aspect that Obama broached is particularly concerning — the references to doctors and mental health professionals reporting “direct and credible threats of violence to authorities.” First, the doctor-patient relationship only works if the patient has faith that conversations with the doctor are confidential. Second, who will define “direct and credible?” The doctor? The government? Will doctors feel compelled to report patients just to protect their practice? The effect could well be one in which patients, afraid that they’ll be reported to “authorities,” don’t openly discuss their feelings and concerns with their doctor, which could prevent the physician from being able to fully help the patient with proper therapy or medication. Mental health care needs to be improved in America, not hindered by a fear that the patient’s communications with the doctor will get him or her added to a government watch list.
Meanwhile, calling for a renewed ban on assault-style weapons and ammunition clips that exceed 10 rounds are likely non-starters in the conversation. Most observers don’t believe there are enough votes in Congress to get those measures passed.
Obviously, Obama, who has no more elections to worry about, figures this is the opportune time to go for stronger gun control measures. In the end, he will likely get some of his program passed and is a near guarantee that there will be legal challenges to some of his executive actions. But he also has sparked what is known in legislative circles as an “unintended consequence.” In this case, it’s the long lines that are forming in stores that sell guns.
The facts are that guns are not going away in America, nor are those who support and oppose gun ownership rights. Whatever occurs in Washington, it should focus on two things — protecting the right of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms and keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals.