Keep rhetoric out of gun control debate
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gun politics have been the news a lot lately.
The tragic Newtown, Conn., school shootings unleashed an avalanche of media-driven anti-gun sentiment. President Obama and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have sought to capitalize on the avalanche by launching gun-control efforts.
Obama took 23 "executive actions," most of which redoubled efforts to enforce existing laws or ordered government agencies to take steps within their existing authority.
Feinstein introduced sweeping gun-control legislation that, if passed, would ban future sales of more than 150 models of so-called "assault weapons," force existing owners to register theirs, prohibit the sale of magazines designed to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, and require federal background checks on all gun and ammunition sales.
There's a lot of heat on both sides of the issue.
Gun-control advocates believe they'll help make the country safer by ridding it of a particular style of firearms. Pro-gun groups see Obama and Feinstein's measures as the first steps in a long-term effort to disarm law-abiding citizens.
The general public - the tens of millions of Americans who don't advocate for either side - would benefit if both sides focused more on casting light on the issue than generating heat around it.
If, for example, Obama or Feinstein wanted the public to make a truly informed decision, they would stop using the catchall term "military-style assault weapons."
When people hear the phrase "military-style," they immediately think of the assault rifles they see in movies and documentaries, fully automatic weapons capable of firing multiple rounds with a single pull of the trigger.
Those are not - repeat, not - what Feinstein's legislation would ban.
All of the more than 150 models of firearms Feinstein seeks to ban are semi-automatic, which means each individual bullet fired from them requires a separate pull of the trigger. Anti-gun activists want people to think "rat-a-tat-tat" when they hear the terms military-style or semi-automatic, when in reality they should think "bang-bang-bang."
Fully automatic weapons are available only to the military, the police, and to the select few civilians willing to negotiate miles of federal red tape to obtain the special permits required for civilian possession.
On the other side of the issue, if pro-gun activists wanted people to make truly informed decisions, they'd stop talking as if the Second Amendment were hanging by a single strand of badly frayed sewing thread over some bottomless canyon of extinction.
The Second Amendment has been the law of the land since the Constitution was ratified in 1789.
For anti-gun activists to overturn the Second Amendment, they'd first have to persuade two-thirds of the members of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to vote for it, and then they'd have to persuade the legislatures of three-fourths of the states to ratify it.
Odds are slim that would ever happen.
A more likely scenario would have the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Founding Fathers didn't really intend for citizens to own guns when they wrote the words "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" into the Constitution. Given the current makeup of the court, that's not likely to happen either.
What I'm trying to say is that both pro-gun and anti-gun activists need to treat Americans as adults - cut the inflammatory rhetoric, use facts that can easily and accurately be verified, and trust this country's citizens to make wise, informed decisions about firearms.
After all, they've been doing it - for the most part, anyway - for 224 years.