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Letters to the Editor - November 25, 2017

Dear Sir,

After reading Ed Tasca’s “Perversion of the Second Amendment” (November 11), I’d like to mention some doable suggestions for gun control.

Though I’m not an expert, I am a hunter. During my years in the U.S. Foreign Service, I hunted in Sweden, where there are many hunters and very strict gun control laws. 

I am in favor of gun control, but repealing the Second Amendment, if that is what Tasca proposed, is impractical. The only amendment ever repealed was Prohibition (in 1933), and it took another amendment, a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and approval by three-fourths of the states. 

It is wrong to criticize the Second Amendment by saying the founding fathers had muskets in mind when they wrote it. Tasca is correct to say muskets (smooth-bore, long guns) were inaccurate. But when the Amendments were written in the late 1780s, many colonists already had rifles (accurate guns with grooved barrels) and used them well. For example, when the British marched back from victory in Concord to their base in Boston (1775), they were so decimated by American riflemen shooting from behind stone walls, that they complained it was unfair.

So, if the founders had meant muskets, they would have said muskets. Instead, they used the generic “Arms” to apply long into the future. 

Incidentally, the wording of the Second Amendment shows it promoted state militias, which the founders saw as closer to the people, instead of a standing army, which they were against. Obviously, this viewpoint bit the dust long ago – now we not only have a standing Army, but a standing Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines. Americans gave up the notion that state militias were adequate for defense during the War of 1812, when state militias did very poorly against the British, and the Marines – professional soldiers – did very well.

My point is that, thankfully, you don’t need to get rid of the Second Amendment to get gun control. (After all, the First Amendment protects free speech but we didn’t have to get rid of it to agree, as Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, that it is criminal to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater.)

Instead, we could focus on enforcing existing laws and passing new laws. New laws are difficult, due to the inaction of Congress (probably caused by NRA influence), but once passed they should hold up, because courts have thrown out very few gun control laws. 

For example, Senator Feinstein’s assault rifle ban of 2004 was in force for ten years until it expired. None of the constitutional challenges against it succeeded. And, incidentally, on November 8, after the atrocities in Las Vegas and Texas, Feinstein and other Democrats introduced a new ban on assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines and bump stocks (devices that make semi-automatic rifles fire faster), saying “the American people will know that a tool to reduce these massacres is sitting in the Senate, ready for debate and a vote.” Even Republicans were talking about new bans after Las Vegas. 

And we need new laws to extend existing safeguards to require background checks on the Internet and at gun shows. 

But perhaps easier than passing new laws, we can enforce existing ones. After the shooting at the Baptist church in Texas, we learned the shooter had spent a year in the brig for domestic violence while in the Air Force. This should have been reported to the FBI but it wasn’t, so he was able to buy guns for the massacre. There is no excuse for this. I read that the Coast Guard, which has 45,000 people, reports about 15 domestic violence convictions a year. Other branches have millions in uniform, yet report many less. States are also supposed to report convictions to the FBI, but often don’t. All this has to change. If these existing laws were followed, the FBI database, which works in seconds, would prevent questionable gun sales. 

A last point is that all of us need to brush up on guns and gun legislation. Even intelligent people seem to get unhinged by the NRA’s arguments, which are often either truisms or falsehoods. Instead, we need to keep up the pressure on legislators because the fight for gun control is only hopeless if we give up.

Dan Turnquist,