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Silent Voices if Newtown Change the Debate

NRAThe rapid-response defense of assault weapons began almost before the gunshots faded into a national nightmare. In Newtown, Connecticut, 20 children and 7 adults lay dead by a gunman’s hand, and immediately the old rhetoric machine began cranking out a defense of the killer’s weapon. It happened the same way it does every time there are mass killings with high-powered weaponry, with one major exception: this time, the other side pushed back.

There have been voices calling for stricter gun laws after each such event as well, but those voices have never even glimpsed the kind of volume achieved by the pro-gun lobby. That is, not until Newtown. This time was different. This time, parents all over the country looked at the grief-stricken faces of those people who had lost their babies and decided enough was enough.

The frustrating thing for those who have been advocating stricter controls all along is that it had to take the slaughter of six and seven year olds to get us to this point. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and twenty-plus other mass shootings in 30 years…each of them horrifying and tragic, yet none could get us to have this discussion. It took the deaths of 20 precious angels to get us to face the politically difficult task of limiting a constitutional freedom. However long it took and whatever the cost, the uncompromising gun advocates on the far right can be assured of one thing: we are not turning back now.

The choice of victims may have changed the national discussion, but the facts remain the same, and the fact is that there is not one argument the gun lobby puts up that cannot easily be defeated. To illustrate, let us examine the most common arguments and address each individually.

Gun ownership is a constitutional right.

Yes, it is. However, so is freedom of speech. Can you yell “fire” in a crowded theater? Sure; but if there is no fire you’d better hope no one gets hurt in the panic, because you could be held responsible. We have laws against libel and slander. We have laws to protect privacy that restrict what people can say under certain conditions. We even have rules of etiquette that limit our freedom of speech. There is nothing unusual about rights coming with limitations.

Note that the constitution states we are allowed to bear arms for the purpose of establishing a “well-armed militia”. Gun advocates point out that a “well-armed” militia would not use hunting rifles, therefore our freedom to possess guns is not limited to hunting rifles. This ignores the fact that, at the time the constitution was written, the militias did in fact use hunting rifles. If we are not going to consider the constitution a living document but instead follow it dogmatically, the only weapons Americans should be allowed to possess would be muskets.

We are allowed to have guns in case we have to take on a tyrannical government.

It is safe to assume that the founding fathers never envisioned weapons that could kill hundreds of people in minutes. The protections against a tyrannical government were included in a time when most of the country was rural. Local governments were in a position to take advantage of citizens without it becoming widely known. In today’s totally connected society, oppression’s biggest enemy is publicity. If it’s the federal government you fear, no amount of weapons you could compile would allow you to defeat the resources at their disposal. Ballots can bring down an American government, but bullets never will.

Most gun owners are responsible people who have never hurt anyone.

That statement is 100% true. In fact, the overwhelming majority of gun owners have probably never hurt anyone. Now let’s be honest with ourselves: most of us will admit that, at one time or another, we have driven a car after we’ve had a few drinks. By virtue of the number of people who have done it, then, we can state that the overwhelming majority of people who admit to drinking and driving have never hurt anyone. Yet, still, we have laws that limit your freedom to consume alcohol if you’re going to be driving. Sometimes it just makes sense to limit the freedoms of the whole because of the actions of a few.

If someone wants to kill people, they’ll find a way to do with or without assault weapons.

Again, a true statement; but assault weapons make it easier to kill and increase the body count dramatically. It’s odd that the majority of people who offer this excuse for not attempting common-sense gun legislation are the same people who oppose condoms being handed out in schools. This is basically a re-packaged version of “they’re going to do what they want anyway, so we might as well help them out”. We can include “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” here, too. Yes, people kill people. And people with assault weapons kill a lot of people in a very short time.

Even if you took away all the guns, murder would occur. People would use knives, sticks, rocks, or even their bare hands.

This argument is similar to the previous one. The premise is basically that we can’t stop all murders, so let’s just not do anything. With this argument, simply putting it in those terms is enough to discredit it.

Guns are needed for home and personal defense.

A hunting rifle or revolver is perfectly sufficient for personal defense, but the available data shows that this claim is actually false, anyway. If you have a gun in your home, you are statistically more likely to be killed with your own gun than to kill or wound an attacker.

If more people were armed, there would be less people killed by gun violence.

This is the easiest one to shoot down, no pun intended. A Reuters study recently showed that the United States is the most armed society in the world. It also leads the world in per capita gun deaths. So, at least here in the U.S., more guns equal more deaths. Add to this the fact that the gun lobby fails to offer even one credible example of a gunman attempting a mass shooting being shot by a citizen with a concealed carry permit and this becomes the weakest of all arguments.

The National Rifle Association recently offered its sage advice on the matter. The solution, according to CEO Wayne LaPierre, is armed guards and/or administrators (including teachers) in every school in America. This plan was quickly trumpeted by the pro-gun crowd as the way forward, ignoring the fact that the cost involved with implementing such an effort would be tremendous. This is underscored by the fact that most of those endorsing the NRA proposal are the same people who constantly harp on the deficit and government spending.

Yes, change is difficult and sometimes slow to come. But in the long run, Americans usually choose to do the right thing. There is no longer any question what the right thing is when it comes to assault weapons. Those calling for common-sense gun legislation have always had the winning argument; they just couldn’t get their message heard over the noise of the National Rifle Association and its minions in congress. Finally, when their voices were joined by the 20 tiny, silent voices of Newtown, America heard.


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