TRUCKEE, Calif. - Only an idiot or a masochist would wade into the gun control debate. Take your choice.
Second Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Despite what you have read about how the Second Amendment protects our rights to own any gun, at any time, in any place, the Amendment is not that clear.
The Second Amendment is susceptible to two contrary interpretations: Individuals have a right to own guns. Or, given the Preamble reference to a "well-regulated Militia," the 1791 Amendment meant the new U.S. government could not interfere with local or state militias. Recall that in Britain gun possession had been severally restricted.
Historically the second interpretation - militias only are protected - has been the law. It was not until the conservative United States Supreme Court in the 5-4 Opinion District of Columbia v. Heller did the Court definitively rule the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to have a gun. However, in Heller the Court left the door open to reasonable regulation of guns.
Do We Have a Gun Problem?
So with that background and legal framework, let's begin the (controversial) discussion. Do we have a gun problem? Do we have a violence problem?
Each year close to 3,000 children and youths 19 and younger are shot to death, nearly 2,000 the victims of homicide. Of the children killed by guns in 23 industrialized countries, nearly nine in 10 live in the United States. In 2011, there were 12,664 murders in the U.S., 8,583 were caused by firearms. Gun-related death rates in the U.S. are eight times higher than they are in countries economically and politically similar to us.
Do we need more gun laws?
The National Rifle Association sensibly took time to develop and then come forward with its well-reasoned proposal: more guns. Guns at schools. More concealed weapons permits. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," argues NRA top lobbyist Wayne LaPierre. I have to confess, LaPierre's hard-core, "the NRA will not budge an inch, we will fight any proposal to regulate guns, even assault weapons" approach put me over the edge.
The hysteria over any regulation of guns always amazes me. Just before the November election, I received a handful of e-mails alerting me to supposed new bills proposed by the Obama administration intending to take shotguns away from hunters. For the record, I am a hunter and own guns, but once in a while I think on my own. President Obama hasn't proposed any gun regulations, much to the disappointment of the left. Thank you NRA. The NRA's solution of "more guns" is one approach. Another extreme view is to outlaw all guns. Naw. So what's the answer?
Ban Assault Weapons
What if we addressed the obvious - a ban on assault weapons with clips holding dozens of cartridges?
Reenacting the sunsetted Assault Weapons Ban is low hanging fruit. While such a ban won't stop senseless mass killings, it's an obvious step in the right direction and it can't hurt. I don't buy the NRA's "first an assault weapons ban then our shotguns" pitch.
We can have better education and stronger laws about gun locks and storing guns in homes. We can mandate hunter/gun safety classes before first-time gun purchases. Like California, we should have mental health screening before gun purchases, which won't catch most shooters intent on slaughtering innocent victims, but it might screen a few.
There are dozens of possibilities. I know such evil doers can steal a gun, but at a minimum, modest measures should be adopted to slow down gun violence - put up hurdles to would-be shooters of innocent victims.
We should consider a common sense approach to slowing down deaths by guns. An "All of the Above" menu of efforts.
I am not sure what the answer is but it isn't guns at schools as proposed by the NRA (ostensibly because unarmed schools are perceived as safe places for deranged shooters). What's next, armed guards at museums, playgrounds, theaters, restaurants and the workplace?
The first step is a national conversation. And federal and state officials willing to stand up to the power of the NRA. This stream of consciousness column is to start a conversation. What do you think?
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. He was the Governor's appointee to the California Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. Jim's practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, foreclosures, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or at the firm's website www.portersimon.com.