My Turn: No easy solutions with guns

Posted: Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Events such as Virginia Tech always raise the question of more limitations on firearm access.

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In response, advocates of the NRA position hit opinion pages en masse and mob the Internet. The NRA's position on these issues is extreme. It encourages diatribes rather than discussion. Recent letters to the Juneau Empire have presented some arguments from that extreme position while failing, in my opinion, to recognize the complexity of the issue.

For example, there is no clear consensus regarding a constitutional right to own a firearm. Many argue that the Supreme Court has decided that the Second Amendment applies to state controlled militias, not to individual gun ownership. You can argue this either way, but the NRA position of an absolute constitutional right is not universally accepted. Individual gun ownership by felons is prohibited in most places, and ownership by individuals judged a danger to themselves or others, by reason of mental illness, is prohibited in some jurisdictions.

As for the weapons-for-home-defense argument, there is data indicating a homeowner is 20 times more likely to be killed with his or her own firearm than he or she is to shoot an intruder. One can find anecdotal evidence to support both sides in this argument. We need to talk about what really happens, not about what extremists on both sides want to believe happens.

One fact seldom cited by NRA supporters is that among developed countries, gun violence is greatest in those with the most access to firearms, the United States being foremost among them. I believe it would be very hard to rid our society of handguns, because they have become so prevalent. Nevertheless, we should talk about how to make a start.

The majority of criminals tend to be opportunistic. One of the largest sources of guns used in crimes has been weapons stolen from the houses of law-abiding gun owners. No doubt some of the Empire's letter writers are responsible gun owners who lock their weapons in a secure gun safe, but most people probably do not. After all, what good is a gun that is locked up?

My point is simply that the issues here are complex. It would be nice if we could discuss the complexity, rather than resort to worn arguments presented by advocates of extreme positions.

I would like to hear discussion of solutions which preserve the rights of hunters, target shooters and collectors, while reducing the number of people who are killed in gun violence.

• Jim Greenough is a Juneau resident.

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