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Monday, October 05, 2015

Rights, Restrictions and and Gun Control

With all the news over the past few days of  shootings and the ensuing Second Amendment arguments that invariably follow such tragedies claiming that gun control legislation is an attempt to seize  guns owned by law-abiding citizens and to take away Second Amendment rights, I got to wondering. . .
The Privileges and Immunities Clause, Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1 of the US Constitution  guarantees the right of free movement between the states. Most people nowadays drive or ride in motor vehicles. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in 2008, Americans owned 137,079,843 passenger cars, or a little less than one car for every two people.  But in order to legally drive a motor vehicle a person here in Alabama, as in other states, must obtain a license which includes taking a test to insure that he/she  has the skills necessary, is  physically and mentally fit to drive, and is aware of  the laws related to operating a motor vehicle.  Furthermore, this license has to be renewed periodically.  Additionally, all vehicles must be registered, which has another set of requirements, and the vehicles must carry insurance.
And yet there is no great hue and cry that these restrictions and controls infringe on a citizen’s right of free movement. Nor is there an outpouring of outrage  that such   requirements are an attempt to take vehicles away from people. Because  people know that it just isn’t true, and the auto industry evidently has no powerful, fear-mongering organization  equivalent to the NRA to convince them otherwise. 
Guns  and hunting have been  around a long time in this country, as has the National Rifle Association, but  for  most of that time, people didn’t see the need to hunt defenseless animals with semi-automatic, military-style weapons using armor- piercing ammunition, and I’d be willing to bet that most responsible gun owners still don’t. It seems to me this whole Second Amendment   uproar is a result of manipulation and lobbying  by the NRA to increase their membership and increase gun sales during a period when fewer people own guns and a small percentage of gun owners actually hunt.  For over a hundred years the NRA focused on hunting, conservation and marksmanship. One of its programs  taught Boy Scouts how to shoot safely and still provides Rifle Instructor Certification for those who wish to become a Boy Scouts of America Rifle Merit Badge Counselor. That certification requires training and testing. Ironically, the organization that believes everyone who wants to own a gun should be allowed to  regardless of  their fitness or ability and that opposes sensible regulation and registration for gun owners requires candidates for   instructor positions to:"achieve a score of 90 percent or higher in a written examination and have a minimum passing score of 80 out of a possible 100 points in firearms handling, shooting competence, and firearms safety evaluation."  The NRA states that "Only those candidates who achieve satisfactory scores in the pre-course qualification, and who meet other specified requirements for NRA instructors, are eligible for certification."  So obviously the NRA sees some value in testing and certification for certain gun owners and users.  Somewhere along the  way,  radicals took over the NRA and it became more political,  until today it is one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the country, spending millions to influence legislators and legislation.  In 2014 the NRA spent $3.6  million on lobbying against gun control legislation, which is quite a hefty sum, but  is  considerably less than they spent in 2010.  Forbes magazine reported that in 2010 the NRA reported that it had 781 full time employees, 125,000 volunteers and generated revenues of $227.8 million, but that still wasn’t enough to cover expenses. In total, they spent $243.5 million, leaving a $15 million shortfall. That year, $10 million went to the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. The NRA’s 129th convention, held in Charlotte, N.C.  in 2000, became an all out political attack on Democratic presidential candidate, Al Gore, with speeches  claiming that Gore would  take away everyone’s guns.  The convention concluded with Charlton Heston, then president of the NRA, making  his famous speech in  which, in true movie star style, he brandished a musket in the air, challenging Gore, stating, “ especially for you, Mr. Gore: From my cold, dead hands!"
Today, there are  too many “cold dead hands”, too many dead children, too many troubled youth who see guns as the way to end their problems and too many paranoid people who have been stirred up into a frenzy by fear-mongering entities like the NRA who spread  misinformation, and hatred.  Yes, the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right of free citizens to bear arms.  That is not in dispute. But that right, like all the others granted in the Bill of Rights, is not absolute.   Rights carry with them limitations and restrictions.  Even the very conservative Supreme Court majority, in their 2008 ruling in the District of Columbia v. Heller case, note that, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by
felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of fire-arms in sensitive places
such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
 Why is that so hard for some people to understand? How many more mass shootings at schools and workplaces, how many instances of children shooting each other will it take before people say, "ENOUGH!"?