US gun laws: the three simple questions

gun lawsAnthony Behar/Sipa USA/Rex Features
By Simon Hetherington

On two previous occasions – here and here – I have been written a post in the wake of an atrocity where someone with a gun has wreaked havoc on his community. From Norway, from Denver, and now from Connecticut, images and stories of shock and grief of barely imaginable proportions fill our headlines and screens. And once again the gun laws in the US are under attack.

I’ll make this brief, because I fear that with undue deliberation some important, simple questions will be lost. Three questions, in fact.

First: can we be sure that tighter gun controls would have prevented this latest tragedy? No, we can’t be. In the UK we have tighter gun laws, but they were not proof against the killings committed by Derrick Bird in 2010. The most that can be said with certainty is that the weapons Adam Lanza had were legally obtained by his mother: he had easy access to them.

Secondly: does prohibiting individuals from owning guns prevent gun-crime generally? No, it doesn’t; guns are obtained illegally and used to commit crimes.

Thirdly: should citizens carry deadly weapons? This is a matter of opinion, obviously. Personally, I think the answer is No – as a society we should not tolerate it. But even if I believed otherwise I could not do so simply on the basis that carrying firearms is a constitutional right. Indeed, that such a right exists in a form which is extremely hard to challenge legislatively encapsulates one of the strongest arguments I know against a written constitution.

We can conjecture that by regulating the kinds or numbers of guns that people can possess, or the quantity and availability of ammunition, or a person’s fitness to have them, or any other aspect of gun ownership, we can reduce the chances of something else dreadful happening. Perhaps so. But interest groups wrangling over the fine-tuning of regulation will threaten to divert attention from a final question: does the US actually approve of citizens carrying weapons? And without constitutional amendment, the answer will always be Yes.

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