Saturday, July 21, 2012
After Colorado: The Question of Gun Control
In the wake of the latest tragedy, this time in Aurora, Colorado, the inevitable debate regarding gun control has already arisen. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is perhaps the most notable person to call out for action. It is a legitimate debate. In my view, the whole scandal we know as Operation Fast and Furious came about as a result of the current administration's desire to limit the sale and ownership of guns in America. But given the long history of gun violence in America, is the answer to try and eliminate guns altogether in this country in order to create a safer society? Since I am no stranger to guns, I think it is an opportune time to weigh in with my own perspective.
I spent a total of 27 years in law enforcement as a military policeman, US Customs agent, and DEA agent. I first learned to fire a weapon when I was 8 years old and attending military school. All that experience has not left me today as what some might term as a "gun nut" or a fan of guns. What I will say is that I have an enormous respect for guns simply because I have seen first-hand what they can do. In my career, I was involved in three shooting incidents, one of which was a full-blown shoot-out, in which three of my colleagues were wounded and the shooter killed, and another of which was an accidental discharge, in which a fellow DEA accidentally dropped his gun. It went off and he was killed. Suffice to say, I don't consider guns as toys.
The issue we must grapple with is whether law-abiding citizens should be allowed to possess firearms. There is debate about the actual meaning of the Second Amendment, but I would rather focus on the issue of the citizen's right to protect himself, his home, his family, and his possessions especially in a violent society as ours. Regardless of the historical reasons as to why there are so many guns in our country, the simple fact is that there are millions of weapons out there in the wrong hands. The inescapable fact is that if we outlawed weapons tomorrow, only the law-abiding citizens would comply and turn in their guns. The criminals would not. They would have to be seized as part of legal police actions. The result of such a policy is that the innocent citizens would be left defenseless. Only the police could rescue us from a life-threatening assault. In Aurora, the police arrived on the scene in 90 seconds.
It was too late. They could not save 71 people from being shot, 12 of whom died.
Imagine, however, if someone in that theater had been armed. Imagine back in 1969 if someone in the home of Sharon Tate had been armed when the Manson family came through the door. The one statistic that nobody ever talks about when they tell you how many people have been killed by guns is how many have been saved by guns because someone at the scene of a violent assault had been armed and took action before the police could get there.
Of course, there is a down side to that. It means that we will have tragedies in the home during a domestic dispute when one party becomes so enraged that reason goes out the window. It means that an occasional child will pick up a gun out of curiosity and be killed with it. It means that some drunk in a bar fight will reach for a weapon. It also means that the occasional James Holmes, who had no criminal record, will fall through the cracks and be allowed to purchase a weapon. In the end, it is a trade-off. Either we leave ourselves defenseless before the violent criminals who prey on us, or we suffer the occasional tragedies that come with legitimate gun ownership. If we lived in a so-called "civilized" country where nobody had guns and we didn't have to fear violent crime in the first place, such as those European countries that used to be that way, I could see the sense of having tight gun laws. With the society we have in America, I feel strongly that the innocent law-abiding citizens must be able to protect themselves at the moment of threat before law enforcement can reasonably be expected to arrive.
That brings me back to the question of what is legitimate or reasonable ownership of weapons for the average citizen. I support the idea of background/criminal record checks. I also think we need to question who needs weapons like AR-15s, AK-47s, Uzis, and the like for self-protection or hunting. Is it reasonable for anyone to walk in off the streets in Arizona, pluck down a bag full of cash and walk off with multiple semi-automatic rifles? C'mon. You don't need weapons like those to hunt deer. As for protecting your home, unless your name is Tony Montana or Davy Crockett, they are not reasonable.
Until we become the civilized society we proclaim ourselves to be, I have to support the right of law-abiding people to be armed for self-defense. Yet, it seems to me that handguns are sufficient to keep in the home or even carry if you have a concealed-carry permit. For that, I am willing to accept the trade-off I mentioned above knowing there will be tragedies.
"But", you say, "Doesn't that take us back to the old Wild West?" Of course, it does. But I ask you: When did we ever leave it?