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Mark Osler Headshot

Guns and Kittens

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Could it be that we are more threatened by kittens and puppies than we are by guns? Perhaps we are. My own community, like many others, has restrictions on pets that don't apply to firearms. We track pets through licensing, but are loath to do the same with guns. We have legal tools to address cat hoarders that do not apply to gun hoarders. We round up and destroy stray animals that have left their owners, but do little about guns that pass out of the hands of legal purchasers via private sales. What is wrong with this picture?

I was intrigued a few weeks ago by a report that a group called the "Arizona Citizen's Defense League" was protesting a program where Tucson police destroyed guns turned in to them by residents. The Defense League feels strongly that rather than being destroyed, these guns should be redistributed within the community.

My first thought was that the Defense League almost seemed to be treating guns like kittens -- their attitude was that these abandoned guns should be given to a good home. My second thought, a jolt, was the realization that we do treat kittens and guns in very similar ways; after all, in many communities stray cats are rounded up and destroyed like those Arizona guns.

Actually, the argument can be made that we allow more freedom with guns than we do with kittens. While both guns and kittens are regulated, the tighter restrictions may be on pets. In my own hometown of Edina, people are limited to a maximum of three cats in a single home, and a public ordinance declares that "Any domesticated animal which attacks, wounds, worries, injures or kills any domestic animal or wildlife shall be deemed a public nuisance." This, despite the fact that attacking, wounding, killing and worrying wildlife is precisely what cats are designed for, much as handguns and assault rifles are designed to do the same things to people.

Meanwhile, despite the restrictions on cat ownership, a neighbor is free to have more than three guns, no matter how much it worries me. Dogs are subject to even stricter regulation: They have to be registered with the city, even if kept entirely within the home. It is this kind of tracking by the state that sends some activists into a lather if we are talking about guns.

In the past few weeks, we also saw the release of a report asserting that cats kill billions of birds and small mammals every year, and that the U.S. cat population has tripled in the last 40 years. Intriguingly, it is the same kind of cat and gun that are perceived to cause the most damage: the strays, which pass from one place to another without monitoring or control. We control the stray cats, but hesitate to require that private gun transactions be subject to background checks.

Of course, there is one crucial distinction between guns and kittens, and an important one: The possession of guns enjoys constitutional protection under the Second Amendment, while kittens do not. However, even the Supreme Court, in finding an individual right to bear arms in Heller v. United States, allowed that reasonable regulations could restrict this right.

Does that matter? It should, and we should not flinch from regulating and tracking guns in many of the same reasonable ways we regulate animals.

After all, if a town has a Cat Hoarder Lady, the town retains and often uses the legal ability to get a court order to go into her home, remove the animals, and possibly condemn the house. We are more reluctant to take the same approach against Gun Hoarder Guy, even where some of the weapons are illegal or are being used in dangerous ways. For example, when Jimmy Lee Dykes of Midland City, Alabama built a bunker, stocked it with explosives, and allegedly fired a gun at neighbors, he wasn't treated like a cat hoarder and dispossessed of his guns. Instead, he remained in place, until he decided to kill a school bus driver, kidnap a child, and retreat to that bunker until shot dead by police.

"Reasonable regulation" means many things, but one should be that we act as aggressively on the gun scofflaw as the cat fanatic, and recognize that guns are at least as dangerous as kittens.