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Saturday, April 20, 2013
A couple of months ago, my family took a dream vacation to New Zealand, for my money the most appealing nation on Earth. The air is pristine, the water is clean, the vistas are amazing and the people are generous and friendly.
We arrived in New Zealand shortly after the Newtown, Conn., shooting tragedy, and many people we met wanted to talk about it, even more so when they learned of our close ties to Virginia Tech. I spoke at length with two policemen and one hunter.
New Zealand gun laws are amazingly sane:
Private citizens can own pistols, but they must be a member of a licensed pistol club. The pistols cannot leave the club’s premises.
Private citizens can own rifles for hunting, but owners must pass a qualification test, undergo a background check and have their characters vouched for. Rifles must be registered and stored unloaded at all times in approved, locked safes when not in use. Ownership licenses are expensive.
Private citizens cannot own semi-automatic or automatic rifles.
Regular beat cops do not carry guns. Only members of the national SWAT team carry guns.
Gun violence per capita in New Zealand is about 5 percent of ours.
As the debate goes on and our nation struggles with how to curb the epidemic of violence, many of those in favor of modest proposals like universal background checks and limited-capacity magazines are quick to say, “I support the Second Amendment, and I don’t want to take anybody’s gun away.”
Our government really should take your gun away.
Owning a gun to hunt should be a privilege, granted to our citizens in ways similar to how it is for New Zealanders.
Owning a gun to protect the citizenry from a tyrannical government is nonsensical, obsolete fantasy. Our military can put a missile into the window of any house on Earth within an hour. So forget any delusions of protecting ourselves from a totalitarian government.
Owning a gun for personal security is statistically unrealistic. Owners are more likely to be hurt by their own gun than someone else’s, as a gun is used in suicides or suicide attempts 11 times as often and in unintentional shooting deaths four times as often as in self-defense.
Virginia recently eliminated its one-handgun-a-month law, on the books for 19 years. If you’ve got the money, you can buy as many Glocks, Smith & Wessons or Sig Sauers as you want. And America has among the highest rates of gun violence in the First World, 46 times higher than England, 17 times higher than Germany and 160 times higher than Singapore.
Yes, we have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. We do not have the right to unlimited firepower and unlicensed use. Every right has limits.
Our problem is that we’ve spent the last three decades making it affordable and easy to obtain weapons of unprecedented lethality. We need to begin marching in the other direction, making guns difficult to obtain and expensive to own and use.
To own and drive a car, citizens must pass a competency test, register the car and have it licensed and routinely inspected, and obtain insurance. Why? Because cars are a potential public safety risk. How can we morally justify making it easier to buy and operate a Bushmaster .223 than a Dodge Dart?
Yes, we need other solutions, too, including better enforcement of current laws and better mental health screening and treatment, and we need to commit to paying for these things. But not talking about guns to reduce this carnage is like not talking about cigarettes if we’re trying to reduce cancer deaths.
Recently, a man walked into a Charlottesville grocery story carrying a loaded semi-automatic weapon. According to the article about it, “Police restrained the man to ask him questions. They released him after they confirmed he is not a convicted felon, owned the gun legally and it was not concealed. Police say he was cooperative and did not break any laws.”
I can’t drive to the end of my block without proper licensing — and a seat belt — because of the public safety risk, and yet it is perfectly legal for anyone to parade publicly with a loaded AK-47. This is cruel, inexplicable insanity.
Substantial reductions in the millions of guns in America would make us safer and more secure, even if the government needs to buy them back and destroy them.
It’s high time to show the world — and ourselves — we can get sane again.
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