Guns, a right that requires responsibility

Published 6:28 pm Wednesday, April 26, 2017

By Together We Will Bluegrass

The Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees US citizens the right “to keep and bear Arms.” Unfortunately, people rarely read the whole amendment: “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.” In our young, small, and vulnerable country with no standing army, our forefathers recognized civilians’ need for the protection afforded by guns. People also used guns for hunting and to settle disputes — think of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Interestingly, only nine countries ever included gun rights in their constitutions, and only the United States confers this right without any restrictions specified.

Not surprisingly, Americans own an enormous amount of guns. As of 2009, the United States claimed more firearms than people, and the increase in gun ownership has recently surpassed population growth. In 2011, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimated that over 13.7 million people over the age of 16 hunted with 12.7 million of them using guns. Responsible hunters enjoy the benefit of additional food on the family table, and an opportunity to be outdoors getting exercise while helping to control wildlife population. Hunting is also big business with an estimated $25 billion in retail sales and $17 billion in wages.

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But, guns also wreak extraordinary devastation in America. Raw statistics tell the story. Every day, 91 of our fellow citizens die at the end of a gun. From 2000 – 2015, firearms deaths of Americans exceeded the total U.S. combat deaths from World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Gulf War combined (427,280 battle deaths).

Our gun violence levels far outpace those of other developed nations. A 2010 study by the World Health Organization compared gun violence in the United States with that of 22 other countries with similar economic profiles. Among the study’s findings, Americans are six times more likely to be accidentally killed with a gun than citizens of other high-income nations. The United States accounts for 82 percent of all gun deaths in the combined 23 countries, though its population equals less than half of the total. The United States also accounts for 90 percent of all women, 91 percent of children under 14, and 92 percent of people ages 15-24 killed by guns. In 2011, guns were used in 11,101 homicides. The same year, 17 US citizens were killed by terrorism.

Guns claim lives in many types of incidents, not just in sensational headline-grabbing mass killings like the Sandy Hook school shooting or the Pulse Nightclub massacre. Gun violence takes lives in individual homicides, gang violence, drug-related killings, accidental shootings by children at play, intimate-partner abuse, and suicide. From Jan. 1 – April 10, 2017, 105 children were killed and 149 children were injured by guns in the United States, two of those children killed and two injured were Kentuckians.

Importantly, a recent legislative push has sought to move beyond simple gun ownership and to expand the presence of firearms in our everyday lives. Among these initiatives, gun-rights groups have sought to increase the number of states with “permitless carry.” As of 2016, 39 states mandated permits—which usually require training and background checks to obtain—in order to legally carry a concealed deadly weapon. However, gun-rights advocates want to eliminate the permit requirement, so that citizens may carry a concealed weapon without a permit—which means no background check and no training. The National Rifle Association (not Kentuckians) has helped by financing this initiative and offering already drafted legislation to make permitless carry a reality in more states.

Gun rights advocates included Kentucky among the states they targeted for a permitless carry law — as if our desire to hunt would outway our common sense that people who use guns need to be trained how to use them safely, and that not everybody should have a gun. Let’s face it, if the government has Joe on the no-fly list, do you really think he should be carrying a gun, especially a concealed gun, around?  In the just-finished session of the General Assembly, legislators introduced two such bills. HB 316 would have eliminated the permit requirement for any person over 18. This bill was sponsored by the liquor store-owning representative, C. Wesley Morgan, from Madison County who kept sponsoring bills to make the liquor business more profitable. When this bill met opposition, Senator Albert Robinson introduced SB 7, which differed from its House counterpart only by raising the age for permitless carry to 21. Robinson admitted that he introduced the bill because the National Rifle Association asked him.

The danger of the permitless carry bills would have been exacerbated by HB 249. This troubling legislation would have forced certain public institutions, including schools, public universities, libraries and highway rest stops, to allow concealed carry, even though most such institutions currently prohibit possession of firearms.

Fortunately, Kentucky citizens mobilized against these dangerous bills. Representatives of affected institutions spoke out against them, as did ordinary citizens. In particular, law enforcement officials voiced their concerns about these measures, which would make their jobs both more difficult and dangerous. Thanks to the outcry of so many Kentuckians, none of these bills even made it out of committee.

I took a trip to the state Capitol during the recent legislative session. Before I entered the building, security personnel asked me to walk through a metal detector and checked my bag for a weapon, as they do with all visitors. Interestingly, the above-described bills would have exempted the state Capitol and legislative offices, which could continue to prohibit weapons on their premises. Clearly, our legislators don’t want to work in an environment where free and easy carry of dangerous weapons is allowed. They should extend that same protection to all Kentuckians.