April 23 • 08:43 AM

Striking a balance

Statistics, arguments,and 2nd Amendment

May 23, 2007
In 2004, according to statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29,500 people were killed by gunfire in the United States. That works out to an average of 81 people each day who were involved in homicides, suicides, accidents or legal police action.

Injuries from guns accounted for another 64,389 people or 176 each day. By contrast, 58,156 drivers were killed on the nation's roads in 2003. Another 2,289 people were injured in traffic accidents that year.

Citing statistics to bolster any argument is always dangerous and nowhere is this truer than in the argument over the issue of gun control, where policy advocates on both sides of the issue often cite dubious figures, according to writer Carl Bialik in a recent Wall Street Journal article where he discusses the techniques used by researchers to bolster their side of the debate.

For the record, the figures cited above come from a recent New York Times article and information I gleaned from the Statistical Abstract of the United States for 2007 and are, as far as I can determine, the latest such numbers available.

As expected, the Virginia Tech shootings have rekindled the gun control debate which unfortunately gets a rehearing after somebody with a gun has decided to solve their problems by taking people out in a rampage of gun fire.

The leading advocates for and against gun control are The Brady Campaign and the National Rifle Association and both sides have, in my opinion, clouded the issue in their sometimes hysterical defense of their respective positions. I should say at the outset that late in life I developed an interest in target shooting, own several guns, and, am a member of the NRA.

It is estimated there are over 240 million guns in America and it is hardly possible to ban them given a citizen's right to their ownership is constitutionally protected by the Second Amendment. Simply put, a ban on all firearms makes about as much sense to me as those who would cut down on traffic deaths and injuries by banning cars from the road by citing the kinds of statistics quoted above. I submit, however, there are changes in the existing gun laws which need to be considered rather than prohibition.

Just as there are some people who should never be permitted to get behind the wheel of a car there are a few who should never be permitted to have access to a firearm. To help insure this there are some changes in the firearms application process that need to be implemented.

When Cho Seung-Hui purchased his 9-millimeter Glock handgun from Roanoke Firearms the purchase was a routine transaction and met the requirements for the purchase of a gun in Virginia. Since 1968 Federal law has prohibited the sale of a gun to anybody adjudged mentally ill, but because more than half the states do not supply the necessary mental health records to the FBI database that is used to conduct background checks on those purchasing firearms, Cho's court ordered psychiatric counseling in 2005 was not included in the background check since he was never committed to a mental hospital once the court determined he presented no danger to himself.

Privacy laws and the lack of technical ability prevent 28 states from sharing such information on the FBI's criminal background check system. Had this not been the case perhaps the Virginia Tech tragedy could have been avoided. The addition of a three day waiting period might also have helped in this situation.

There are perhaps other changes in the gun laws that we might consider, but an outright ban on handguns is not one of them. In England where handgun ownership is prohibited, the Olympic Pistol Team must practice on foreign soil and I'd hate to see that same situation in our country where the majority of gun owners are law abiding citizens.

Films such as 'Death Wish' might be psychologically satisfying—watching an armed citizen vigilante blowing the bad guys away—but no responsible gun owner I know would advocate this as a solution to our crime problem. And while no one can say for sure if allowing students and faculty members to carry firearms on campus would have prevented Cho's attack, one has to wonder if it would not have ended sooner had someone been able to fight back.

As an academic I would prefer not to have guns on campus and leave the job of campus security to the professionals, giving them all of the tools necessary to keep everybody safe.

One thing is certain there are no easy solutions to the causes of gun violence in our society. In his book, 'A Well Regulated Militia: the Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America,' Professor Saul Cornell, argues the Second Amendment does not pose a barrier to gun regulation, it compels it. As with any freedom, the right to bear arms must be balanced against the need for public safety. As Cornell wrote in a recent Op Ed piece, "Gun control supporters need to find common ground with the vast majority of gun owners who are not wed to a radical gun rights ideology and understand the importance of sensible regulations."

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