A good friend and I are somewhat at odds on the issue of guns. Let me say that I do not support an outright ban on gun ownership. I grew up in a family where guns were kept in the home, sometimes loaded. But no one of us was ever shot by accident. We were taught at a very early age to respect guns and to use them safely. I have owned a gun since I was in the eighth grade, and until 2017, I had five guns in my house, but not loaded. I sold four of them because I wasn’t using them, and I needed the money. I still have one — just in case.
But my friend buys into the NRA slogan: “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” In its extreme simplicity, this slogan is correct, and that is precisely the issue. The fundamental fact is that guns were invented and designed for a single purpose: to kill someone or something. Except for the gallows and the guillotine, I can’t think of anything else that has been invented for that purpose.
I do support stronger measures of gun control, specifically mandatory universal background checks and a reasonable waiting period before one can obtain a gun. The NRA preaches that this would lead eventually to confiscation of all personal guns by the government. I think that’s not a legitimate argument.
Americans are required to pass a driving test before we can get a driver’s license. We are required to have a doctor’s prescription in order to buy many drugs. We are required to present ID to register in order to vote. We are now required to pass through security checks before we can board a plane. Many school sports programs require physical examinations before a student can participate in them. I could cite more examples of how some of our rights are subject to legitimate scrutiny, for the common good.
The Second Amendment was included in our Constitution in the earliest days of the Republic. It was totally appropriate at that time, but it’s too convenient to overlook and ignore the phrase that stated its single purpose: to “maintain well-regulated” militias. Militias are not needed in 21st-century America, though there are those who would like to restore them. And it is specifically that mindset that maintains the virtually unrestricted purchase of guns.
A horrible price in human lives, many of them very young lives, has been exacted by the failure to enact and enforce reasonable safeguards to reduce it. None of this is news, and it can be conceded that absolute prevention of criminal acts with guns isn’t possible, any more than speed limits can prevent people from exceeding them. But wherever speed limits are the most strictly enforced, the highways and roads are somewhat safer for others.
Unregulated gun ownership and usage defy logic. Just as one with a life-threatening illness will spare no effort to find a cure, so the threat of gun violence ought to be regarded with equal urgency. If we continue to look the other way, more precious lives will remain at serious risk.
Hal Wheeler is a former Bangor city councilor.