In a post Tuesday, I listed the mass shootings since January 2013 in which at least three people were killed. It's an agonizingly, depressingly long list, and I cited it as the prime reason we need meaningful gun control. The post received the usual blowback from gun owners, most of whom skipped over the scope of gun deaths in this country to look more myopically at last week's tragic events at Isla Vista (which I mentioned only in passing, seeing this problem as much broader than the most recent headlines).
But there also have been responses from people who share my disgust at the endless gun violence that pervades American culture. A few asked what should be done. My personal preference? It's a decidedly minority viewpoint, but I say, ban them, with a carve-out for hunting weapons.
For example: Hunters could own shotguns (and rifles where state laws allow them for hunting), but they would have to be registered and the owners would have to pass a gun safety course before they could get a hunting license (already a requirement in most, if not all, places). That license would be a prerequisite for registering a hunting weapon. Resale of a weapon should be monitored to preclude passing it along to unqualified people. Ammunition sales would be tracked much like we do sales of pseudoephinedrine (an ingredient in meth).
As for handguns, assault-style weapons, etc., let's have a flat-out ban. Beyond the histrionics of the gun lobby, there is no defensible reason for such weapons to be a part of our culture. They exist for one purpose: to kill. Yes, hobbyists also like to use guns for target shooting and other nonlethal purposes, but it's hard to say that desire for sport outweighs the atrocious level of gun-related deaths in this country.
Self-defense? Impossible to measure because of a lack of trustworthy data. Similarly, the scope of gun victims is unknown, in part because of gun-lobby interference in efforts to try to establish baseline reports (we know how many die but not how many are wounded). This national debate would be helped immensely if the Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were funded by Congress to collect the data.
But we do know that guns are often used by angry men to kill their wives and kids; the mentally ill to act out whatever pain they are suffering; violent criminals; the suicidal (who may kill themselves anyway by other means, but ready access to a gun makes it easier); or children who find guns kept by "properly trained" owners and accidentally shoot themselves or others. In fact, two-thirds of homicides in the U.S. involve guns, according to the CDC. And yes, we need to have stronger, better programs and laws to help the mentally ill, but in the end, it's their access to weapons that have caused so much mayhem at such a big scale. Mental illness is a factor in some of the violence, but guns are part of most of the killings.
As for the argument that the 2nd Amendment was written with an eye toward protecting America from the tyranny of King George, the Revolutionary War ended in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris. The Bill of Rights was adopted six years later in an atmosphere in which there was no standing federal army; the government relied on state militias, which were composed of soldiers who brought their own weapons with them. We haven't had an army like that in a long, long time. And the idea that a few well-armed patriots would be able to defeat the U.S. Army should the government turn despotic is, at best, a romantic infatuation.
Yes, the Supreme Court has upheld private gun ownership under the 2nd Amendment, but the Supreme Court has been wrong before (Fugitive Slave Law, the Dred Scott case, decisions allowing deed restrictions to bar home sales to African Americans, etc.). One can hope that the court will someday go further than its recognition that the 2nd Amendment is not an absolute right and determine that rampant gun ownership is a public safety threat. And that Congress will push legislation that recognizes that the heavy societal costs of gun ownership outweigh any 2nd Amendment pretense to the right to own guns. (By comparison, the 1st Amendment, near and dear to my heart, is not absolute: We have libel laws, which inherently limit free speech for the sake of the broader good, yet even journalists recognize them as a reasonable compromise.)