I just posted this as a comment elsewhere, but because this issue is so important, I decided to do this as a diary. Here, I attempt to identify a middle ground on the controversial issue of gun control.
What happened today at Virginia Tech was a horrible tragedy. As someone who makes his livelihood on a campus, I never expect and never want such a horror to occur in a setting that is meant to be calm and tranquil.
Anyway, regarding the gun ussue, this may be oversimplifying matters, but here goes.
Position 1. is a position which states that the right to bear arms is an absolute, unambiguous right, and which is wary of government taking away this right. This position doesn't see guns as a problem, or gun violence as an epidemic. It believes that most citizens use guns harmlessly and that we should simply punish those criminals who use guns to commit violence. Those who hold to this position don't seem to have much of an answer for how to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
Position 2. is one which interprets only the 2nd Amendment as granting "well organized militias," and not lone individuals, as having the right to bear arms. Unlike those holding to the first position, those with this position want to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands, and therefore believe in tighter gun control and better enforcement.
Position 1, which asserts, essentially, that everyone is basically on their own for their own protection, is a form of social darwinism, and is thus, to me, rather morally reprehensible. In taking this moral/philosophical position, it also denies certain realities, such as the fact that some conflicts can be de-escalated through proper, effective intervention.Realistically and politically, however, position 2. seems very unlikely to carry the day.
It seems to me, then, that a middle ground position, which recognizes the individual's right to bear arms for self defense, but which also sees a legitimate role for government to regulate licensing and distribution, should be pursued by all parties, who need to be able to give and take a bit more. It also seems to me that mental/emotional health should be a determining factor in deciding whether or not an individual should have this right.
This is just a quick outline of a position, I realize, and much more probably needs to be said on this. But it seems to me that seeking a middle ground will get us pass the impasse in which gun violence is now a routine fact of life. It need not and should not be so in a sane, civilized society. That is what we have, I hope.
UPDATE: The NY Times is reporting the following.
Leaders in both parties voiced their sympathies, their outrage and their prayers in the aftermath of the shootings at Virginia Tech. Advocates of gun control legislation said they are hoping for something more – a reopening of the legislative debate over regulating guns.
Many of them had expected that the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 would transform the politics of gun control; in May 2000, the Million Mom March rallied in the nation’s capital with a message of "enough is enough."
But after the 2000 election, in which Vice President Al Gore’s support for new gun regulations was widely thought to have hurt his candidacy, many Democrats showed little appetite for challenging the gun lobby.
Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said, "The politicians are afraid to address this issue." In September 2004, gun control advocates lost ground when a federal ban on the sale of 19 kinds of semiautomatic weapons was allowed to expire, after intense lobbying by the National Rifle Association.
"I think after today, what we’re doing and what we want the American people to do is start asking our elected officials: ‘What are we going to do about this?’ " Mr. Helmke said. The N.R.A. said its "thoughts and prayers are with the families,’’ but declined further comment.
And a comment from New Yorkers Against Gun Violence
Roger Hayes, chairman of the group’s board, said: "The Congress just called for a moment of silence. Indeed a moment of silence is appropriate for such a devastating tragedy with such pain for families and students. But we also want a moment of noise. We want Congress to look hard at the gun issue and the fact that our country has such a high homicide rate compared to other developed countries. We want them to act on sensible laws land and stop being afraid of the gun lobby."
UPDATE 2: According to Polling Report, anywhere from 78% to 54% of the public believes that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, and only between 2 and 12% think that they should be less strict. These poll results, from Gallup, haven't been updated for a few years, though. Other polling data shows that the public is not in favor of a handgun ban.