Like all Americans I was stunned by the unspeakable tragedy that occurred in the Aurora movie theater last week.
Like most Americans I was horrified by the carnage that one man -- sane or insane -- inflicted on innocent people with legal and easily obtainable assault weapons firing hundreds, perhaps thousands, rounds of ammunition.
Like many Americans I was once again sickened by the gun violence in our country.
But unlike some Americans who almost as predictable as the massacres themselves offer only two extreme solutions -- arm every American or ban every gun -- I am left once again only with questions.
I don't expect answers to my questions. There may never be simple answers to be had. But I believe that having a rational, national conversation on this complex issue, rather than a political, emotional or ideological one, may help us to find some common ground when the two sides, the two parties -- the American people -- decide that enough is enough.
I understand that one of the principal weapons used by the shooter in the Aurora massacre was an AR-15 assault rifle, a semi-automatic weapon with a high capacity magazine that holds up to 100 rounds, and where its trigger is capable of firing 50 to 60 rounds per minute.
Why does an ordinary citizen need to own and brandish such a weapon?
I tend to agree that guns don't kill people, but that people do. However, wouldn't people kill a lot fewer people if those guns were the kind that are reasonably used by people for home protection, self-defense or for hunting and sports purposes and not those high-capacity, high-velocity, "military" weapons that can more "efficiently" murder, maim and injure dozens of innocent people in a matter of minutes, using ammunition expressly designed to increase the killing and destructive power?
It is possible that if one or more people in the Aurora theater had been in possession of firearms, they might have prevented or reduced the carnage. But it is also reasonable to consider the possibility that it could have added to the mayhem. Are we really prepared to go back to the old Wild West days? Would it not be better if the Aurora killer had, in the first place, not been able to so effectively arm himself or if he had been detected earlier?
I agree that the Second Amendment clearly states, "[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." But shouldn't a 21st century nation that already has a powerful, professional national military force -- in addition to well organized and well regulated State National Guards -- and in view of the awesome and lethal firepower so readily available to the public, not have the obligation to examine and define once and for all what and who a "well regulated militia" is, what its purpose is, and draw a reasonable line on the arms that can be kept and borne by the "non-militia" members of our society?
Additionally, do the American people truly believe that the day will come when our brave soldiers who have been dying by the thousands for us will "become the jackbooted thugs that you'll need to pump a few hundred rounds a minute into?" as Andy Richter asks. That the day will come when our government turns "its armed forces from being the neighbors and friends and family members that it is now into the mindless killing drones that you're so sure are just around history's corner?" as the actor-writer adds.
I also agree that criminals will always be able to obtain their guns, even if such sales are strictly controlled. But how many Auroras or Columbines or Virginia Techs might have been prevented -- or at least not have been so horrific -- if those planning and preparing for such massacres would have found it a little more difficult to "shop for" their assault weapons and huge quantities of lethal ammunition?
Finally, I agree that we live in a free society, but would it be at all possible -- without infringing on our basic rights, freedom and liberties -- to have better and more consistent background checks (criminal, past violence, mental health, etc.) for potential purchasers of deadly assault weapons?
I admit that even with the most stringent checks, some will still slip through the cracks and that such checks will pose inconveniences to our hunters and other legitimate users of firearms, but if one or two future Auroras are prevented, wouldn't those inconveniences be worth it?
But back to the Second Amendment.
There are four -- count them, four -- Amendments to the Constitution to ensure that the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, sex, age, previous condition of servitude or by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
Wouldn't It be wonderful if those who spend a considerable amount of effort and resources to ensure that the rights represented by the Second Amendment are not denied or abridged, would devote a fraction of such efforts to make sure that the rights enshrined in these "other" four sacred Amendments are equally protected -- rather than looking for ways to make the right of suffrage more limited and more cumbersome to exercise?
It is unquestionable that the Second Amendment gives the people the right to own and use guns but it is also indisputable that exercising that Amendment must never take away the rights of others to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
These questions and appeals for a reasoned conversation have been posed and made before and will be posed, debated and, sadly, ridiculed the next time the innocent are mowed down.
In a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece, James Taranto pooh-poohs the concerns expressed by so many -- from the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the President of the United States -- who have dared to raise questions or asked for a reasonable debate about our gun laws:
When people find it necessary to demand a "debate" or complain about the absence of same, it usually means they're frustrated because there is a debate and their side is losing.
Tragically, the "side" that is losing and will continue to lose is represented by the untold number of innocent men, women and children who will continue to die while we continue to claim that such a debate is a slippery slope, that it is a leftist assault on the Constitution, just a prelude to a total ban on private ownership of firearms and while we continue to attach similar disingenuous labels and accusations to the debate and the debaters, respectively.