Cars and guns

To the Editor:

Since their invention more than a hundred years ago, criminals have found that cars are very helpful in their endeavors, and because of that, cars have been widely used in crimes. In response, cars have become heavily regulated. The location of every licensed car in the country can be traced and its owner identified. An unlicensed car being driven is immediately recognized anywhere in the country. If you use a car in a crime, it will be found.

From the start, cars also have been dangerous, with thousands dying in gruesome carnage. By controlling how cars are made to make them safer, that carnage has been dramatically reduced.

It would be absurd to suggest that guns are somehow more important to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the modern world than cars. It would also be absurd to suggest that the government is infringing on the right of the people to keep and use cars. The U.S. Department of Transportation says there are more than 250 million licensed motor vehicles in the U.S. If we do anything in this country, it’s keep and use cars.

One of the great complaints of modern U.S. society is that every aspect of life in our country is regulated by the government. But it is easily forgotten that the regulation that we all love to complain about is also one of the great benefits of our lives. There are thousands who have not been killed by less safe cars. Finding the right balance is where we make a better society.

Unfortunately, the National Rifle Association and its millions of supporters are doing their best to hide that latter fact and inflate the former. With emotionally charged claims that any mention of guns in the context of regulation is an attempt by the government to further subjugate the citizens, the NRA has created a religion of guns whose devotees are incapable of considering the issue with any skepticism.

The NRA suggests that the epidemic of death by gunshot can best be solved with more widespread use of guns. Good people with guns will protect us from bad people with guns. Unfortunately, the NRA has nothing to offer on how we identify the “good people” (other than by their membership in the NRA).

Another favorite tactic is to suggest that by requiring universal background checks, or by banning the private ownership of certain kinds of guns, the government would be violating the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

The Second Amendment guarantees “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” and that amendment, like the entire Constitution, is only as strong as our collective understanding of what it means.

If it means that no arms can be banned, then the government is in violation of that amendment when it bans the private ownership of nuclear arms, chemical weapons, howitzers, Sherman tanks and surface-to-air missiles. If you believe that’s what the amendment says, you should be out in the streets demanding its removal, or at home building a bomb shelter.

The more obvious and sane interpretation is that the second amendment means the government cannot ban the private ownership of all weapons. And the fact that those arms which would threaten our existence are not in private hands is evidence that the more obvious and sane interpretation is the operative one. Let’s not change that.

Requiring strict licensing to make all guns traceable, requiring universal background checks and banning the private ownership of guns designed solely for the slaughter of humans would in no way violate the Constitution. But it would cut into the profits of gun and ammunition makers. And it would make it more difficult for people to use guns in crimes.

By using inflammatory rhetoric to convince its followers that it is “protecting” the second amendment by promulgating an interpretation that is neither reasonable nor founded on any historical or factual basis, the NRA has made that amendment weaker. The strength of the second amendment will completely disappear when its meaning has no universal understanding. I suggest that if you are a member of the NRA, you would do well to tell your organization to stop diluting that important protection.

People still use cars when they commit crimes. But the regulation of them makes it easier to catch them. People still die in car crashes, but many fewer than before regulation. Regulation of guns won’t stop people from being killed by guns. But it will certainly help reduce the carnage.

Every time I have to stand in line at the DMV, I feel like I’m wasting my time jumping through hoops. But I certainly don’t think we should stop licensing cars and drivers. If the reason to oppose regulations of guns is the inconvenience of putting up with another layer of government regulation when you want to buy a hunting rifle or a gun for target practice, try balancing that against the anguish of the parent whose child didn’t come home from school.

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