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Raising the bar on the firearms debate

Paul Ongtooguk

Raising the bar on the current firearms debate is not tough. Right now everyone's high-jumping about six inches, but the temper and tone is just shy of burning heretics on political stakes. It would be amusing if the issues were not so serious.

Let us start with the right of the citizenry to own firearms described in the Second Amendment and ask how it became wrapped around semiautomatic rifles with magazines of more than ten rounds. Clearly there are many citizens who fail to consider form and function, as in, "Why do citizens outside of military service need weapons of warfare?" In many circles it is understood as a way for average citizens to resist the government. Libya and Syria are role models.

It might be noted that anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank rockets seem keys to turning the corner when it comes to civil unrest. Grenades, full-auto machine guns and sawed-off shotguns might also be helpful. So let us be logical and understand that the Second Amendment sets no boundaries; it guarantees my right to the entire tool set. In fact, I think the NRA has sold out. Stripped of its glossy promos it stands naked as a tool merely for the GUN lobby. What about grenades and flame throwers? The NRA has sold out REAL American rights.

This high-jumping group is not, however, alone on the field. Their jumps are matched by those who do not believe that the Second Amendment has any relevance for the 21st century. This group knows little about firearms and wants to parsimoniously imagine what they would prefer for us not to really have at all. This was the mindset of the accountants who took over the American car industry and gave us cost-saving classics like the Chevy Vega, the Ford Pinto, and the Geo Metro.

Now what do I make of all this?

A path for compromise

If I were looking for a compromise or a discussion about both sides winning something, the current debate is hopeless. The proposal of the president gives nothing in return for the taking. It is a win only for the anti-gun side. There are, though, many options for a real compromise.

I would suggest a meeting of key players perhaps at Camp David for some the issues to be really engaged at least at the national level. This may seem impossible but think of the historic meeting of Reagan and Gorbachev in Iceland. At the state and local level these kind of sustained conversations should also occur with real mediators who help us to listen carefully to one another. Here we can remind each other we are all Alaskans.

I am surprised that the side opposed to assault-style rifles and 30-round magazines cannot move past supporting rifles for hunting and describe what they are FOR when it comes to applying the Second Amendment to self-defense. Ignoring this emotionally charged issue does not make it go away. I am also surprised at the lack of political savvy by those leading this charge in that, in exchange for giving something up, they do not offer anything in return.

What would a conversation that actually advanced the current stalemate look like? It might include a discussion about a provision that would finally allow a 50-state concealed carry license and a system for the inexpensive transportation of a revolver for that purpose. A qualifying test matching the minimum Federal standard for carry by federal agencies could be mandated (modifying the maximum shooting distance to 15 yards which is about the distance of a standard street). A revolver of credible power is normally seven rounds or less. The caliber of the carry could be linked to the qualifying test, i.e., the same or less. Fees would not be excessive and would be waived in cases of limited income. License renewal could be the average time of an auto license renewal taken across all 50 states.

A cease-fire on prohibition

We might also want to see a pledge by the Democratic Party to abstain for at least 10 years before pursuit of additional firearms legislation until the effects of the agreed compromise legislation was allowed time to take effect. The Democratic Party would also have to agree that revolvers are an essential base part of the Second Amendment as well as any rifle or shotgun not of semi-auto design. Now that would be a meeting in the middle ground for many Democratic Party stakeholders.

Some look at the whole exercise as hypocrisy by the Federal government because there are civilian police with high-capacity firearms. This is a credible argument. If there were, say, a 10-round limit, the standard police officer should carry that limit since they are, after all, also civilians. It is difficult to show how missing with six rounds is somehow acceptable and that hosing an area with more rounds is the answer. A formal study of police use of firearms might show that the extra rounds are not really key to successful outcomes.

A crucial aspect of the discussion is the expressed desire of many anti-gun advocates to confiscate the high capacity magazines and semi-auto AR- and AK-style rifles. This is simply not in tune with American culture and is less likely to succeed than Prohibition succeeded in stopping alcohol consumption. Prohibition, along with creating a movie genre that heroized law breakers, also promoted organized crime and taught many otherwise law abiding persons to dismiss the law. The United States can easily restrict the importing of many kinds of firearms although the last go around resulted in shallow cosmetic alterations of AK-style, semi-automatic rifles that met the regulations without altering their fundamental design.

The magazine shortage was just starting to take effect in Alaska when the previous ban was lifted. At that time the scarcity of high capacity magazines had created a notable spike in price -- sometimes triple or more their pre-ban cost. The ban also began to alter the design of firearms. They became slimmer as the wide grip needed to hold a high capacity magazine became obsolete. However, the lifting of the ban deflated the market price of high capacity magazines. Today the high capacity pistols are being driven by the panic buying of those who want one before they lose the chance to have one.

Cheaper than a battleship

Here's another thought for a debate. Reject confiscation of private property and instead propose a ban on any further manufacture and sale of the AK and AR style rifles and then budget for a federal buy-back at three times the market price as of 2013. An AR-style rifle will likely bring $3,000.00 or more. High capacity magazines would in the same order might bring $100 or even $200 each. This would be enormously expensive in one sense but likely would cost less than one Aegis class Navy ship and certainly far less than another super carrier of which we have 10. All other nations combined have zero (We are ready for the next Battle of Midway, 1942 ... but no else is showing up for the dance.).

The high cost should please Democrats as spending a LOT means we are taking something seriously and it also would be a cash injection to the economy which many Democrats think can turn around our fiscal fate. Republicans should like this as the government is getting hosed again -- not by a large multinational corporation, but actually by Americans. Still in the ball park. Sales of all of these magazines and rifles will be encouraged as spouses and individuals realize that the rifle that has really been too expensive to shoot -- just add up the cost of spraying ammo downrange and it soon covers a very nice steak dinner for two and the better hotel later -- can pay off a credit card or make a good down-payment on a car.

Let's talk.

Paul Ongtooguk is IƱupiat and graduated from high school in Nome. In his long career in the field of education, he has been a professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks, Illisagvik College in Barrow, and is currently an assistant professor at UAA. In 2008, he was the Gordon Russell Visiting Professor in Native American Studies at Dartmouth College, and he has published several scholarly articles about Native Alaskan culture, history and education.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.