TIM WESSELMAN: Lack of respect is no reason for a shooting death

GUEST COMMENTARY: It is wrong to respond to perceived lack of respect with gunfire

An Albany Herald guest commentary recently raised the issue of guns and respect in a column that apparently responded to perceived threats to the right to bear arms in a country that has very near one gun for every man, woman and child.

The column by Charles Westbrook touched on recent high-profile killings in which gunmen were accused of fatally shooting persons who played loud music at a gas stop, threw popcorn in a movie theater, and vandalized a car.

Stopping short of excusing these shootings, the column offers a clear message: If a gun owner responds to disrespect with fatal gunfire, his victim is not posthumously “blameless.” Additionally, the column criticizes those who speak of these recent deaths as a reason to regulate guns.

Is this the country we live in? Can we really argue when a young person is shot and killed for loud music, vandalism or throwing popcorn that society should consider their disrespect?

I can accept, within reason, a person’s right to defend their life with deadly force. I am not alone in opposing a person’s right to defend their car’s paint finish, peace and quiet, or sense of propriety with a loaded gun.

The commentary’s concern for gun ownership laws is particularly hard to accept considering there is no serious threat to the right to bear arms in this country.

In the year following the mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, the nation’s states enacted 109 gun laws, two-thirds (70) of which loosened restrictions on gun owners, The New York Times reported in December. The Georgia House recently approved legislation (House Bill 875) — now headed to the state Senate — allowing gun owner with permits to carry guns in churches and bars.

At the same time, a continuing series of new public shootings has kept the weapons policy debate alive. However, public debate has often touched on only a minority of the deaths caused by guns.

The National Rifle Association and others sources report there are more than 300 million guns in America, and there are more than 317 million people in the country, according to the Census Bureau estimates.

Guns, owned by people, killed more than 30,000 people in this country in 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Census Bureau reports that firearms were used in 17,352 suicide deaths reported in 2007. These figures add to growing evidence that Americans killed by guns most often die at their own hands.

Much of Mr. Westbrook’s column focuses not on these deaths, but on unnamed gun control activists. ”They are also showing a shallow-minded approach for not focusing on what is actually causing these shootings,” he writes.

He then moves on to a version of the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” argument. Present law regulates people, not their guns. This makes sense. If a loaded gun accidentally fires when a child picks it up and points it at another child, the person who owns the unsecured loaded gun — not the gun, not the child — made the tragedy possible.

When confronted with other threats to human life — such as alcohol and tobacco — this country has saved lives with a combination of healthy debate and sensible legislation that holds individuals, not their cigarettes or beer, responsible for their behavior.

In stark contrast, this nation allows the loss of tens of thousands of lives each year as the price paid for the right to bear firearms. It does not have to be this way. The Second Amendment is strong. It can stand up to the demand that much more than a lack of respect is required to rationalize a loss of life.

Tim Wesselman has lived in Albany since 1995 and enjoys spending time with his family, the outdoors and freelance writing.