Guns do kill. That's why they were invented. Their manufacture, distribution, ownership, and use clearly need to be regulated in any community that cares about the welfare of its members. Much the same is true of other potentially deadly products, such as explosives and poisons. I doubt there are very many people even in the National Rifle Association who would argue otherwise; none of us is bullet-proof, after all.
America is a large, heterogeneous nation. In some places, such as major cities, guns are far more dangerous than beneficial. In a densely populated urban neighborhood, stray bullets are more likely to kill or injure than in deep woods. I might not care if my neighbor's gun accidentally goes off if he lives a half mile down the road; but it is a different story if he has the apartment next to mine.
People don't go deer-hunting in city neighborhoods, nor are there many cougars or grizzly bears in fend off in such places.
In the city, guns are most useful to criminals. Few other residents want or need them, and the fewer guns there are, the less harm they can do. The mayor who took away the last gun from the streets of New York, Philadelphia, or Detroit would be acclaimed the hero of the century, were such a thing achievable.
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However, America is more than Chicago and New York; it's also West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, and Alabama. It is culturally diverse, and for better or worse, includes communities where gun culture runs deep, along with the myth that a ragtag militia of New England farmers, armed with the muskets they hung over their fireplaces, chased the British army from our shores in 1776. However much some of us may disagree with their values, we have to accept that these communities are part of our nation and, moreover, that they have as much right to live according to their values as we have to live by ours.
Three aspects of the current debate strike me as particularly unfortunate. The Second Amendment, stating that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed", should not be relevant. The Second Amendment is part of a constitution intended for a pre-industrial society, an eighteenth century relic that is of questionable value in the modern cities and suburbs where the bulk of our population lives.
The Supreme Court, in striking down the District of Columbia's ban on handguns, effectively asserted the values of rural gun culture over those of urban America, universally, in a one-size-fits-all manner, based on half a sentence of eighteenth century text taken out of context. The Court declared that the rights of the Kentucky farmer to his gun outweigh those of the inner city dweller to live in peace and safety, and that troubles me profoundly. In doing so, the Court makes a powerful argument for its own abolition, particularly in the wake of other recent misjudgments such as Bush vs. Gore and Citizens United. It's becoming clear that the modern Court is no longer the impartial arbiter its founders intended but just another partisan political tool.
Most troubling of all, though, is the timing of this debate. The massacre at Newtown, amplified by the palantir that is the corporate mass media, has shocked and infuriated the whole country. The heat of passion is the nemesis of rational discourse, and any law we pass now we will likely regret down the road. Have we forgotten the Patriot Act and Congress's authorization for the "war on terror", passed in the wake of September 11?
As champions of working Americans and the nation as a whole against the powerful special interests who seek to divide and rule us, we should be making common cause with working people in gun-loving communities. Republicans win in places like West Virginia, Oklahoma, or Kansas on cultural issues like guns, persuading people who should be on our side to vote for their own impoverishment. As long as we allow this to continue, we will never come close to our goal of breaking the power of Wall Street and its Republican friends and establishing real democracy and social justice in America.