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Our View: Get wise about guns

It's clear we'll renew the debate about gun laws in the United States.

That's progress.

The price paid for even that progress is too high.

Before last Friday in Newtown, Conn., the issue of gun control wasn't even on the back burner. Even the words "gun control" were liable to stop conversation, let alone legislation.

But to mourn the massacre of children on one hand, then argue that there's nothing we can do on the other, defies common sense and decency to the point of absurdity. If the Second Amendment becomes a block to any and all regulation of firearms, then we grant it the power not of rights but of shackles.

We believe in the individual right to bear arms. That's based -- despite varying interpretations -- on the U.S. Constitution, the Alaska Constitution and the fundamental human right to self-defense.

No right comes without corresponding responsibility.

So what do we do?

We consider what will work to make us safer and saner.

Those who hesitate on gun control (Sen. Mark Begich) or flat out oppose it (Rep. Don Young) cite the need to focus on treatment for mental illness. They make a fair point and also remind us that to ensure the domestic tranquility requires work on more than one front. And it follows that a healthier, less violent society would have fewer firearms because there would be less fear -- the oft-cited reason for the possession of firearms by many Americans.

But the call for treatment for mental illness is vague -- and may simply be a way to evade a stand on the specifics of gun violence.

Are we singling out guns? Yes. For philosophical reasons? No. We single out guns based on the reality that firearms, particularly semiautomatic and automatic weapons, are far more dangerous and kill many more people much more swiftly than do simpler weapons.

So let's get down to specifics and start where there's general agreement, or least a good argument.

• Restore the assault weapons sales ban -- with a clearly understood definition of those weapons. The United States had one for 10 years. The republic didn't fall. Neither did gun violence end. But there's no rational reason -- other than shooting-range fun -- for average citizens to own such weapons, or for Americans to own them in such numbers.

• Restrict the sale of high-capacity magazines. A 30-round magazine on a weapon like that used by the Newtown killer means that an assailant can kill and maim just about as fast as he can pull the trigger. What reason does the average citizen have to possess such killing power? Ken Rinkor, vice president of Tactical Arms Manufacturer in North Carolina, makes a living from the sale of assault rifles. But he sees no rationale for high-capacity magazines.

"It makes no sense at all to have that large of a magazine, even for personal protection," he said.

• Extend background checks to gun shows. Yes, it's a burden. But this isn't "Antiques Roadshow." This is trade in lethal wares where a whack-job can walk off with the means to multiple murder.

• Require safety courses for firearms purchases. This might serve three purposes: increase safe firearms practices, weed out impulse buyers and provide employment for those skilled and devoted to the proper use of firearms.

Solutions aren't cut and dried. As Emily Bazelon wrote for Slate, there is much to talk about on these issues and some of these gun regulations will impose restrictions on people who have done nothing to deserve them. But ask if you'd suffer the restrictions to keep 20 first-graders alive.

Alaska may be hard ground for such proposals. We have the most liberal gun laws in the nation. But we also have thousands of responsible, thoughtful gun owners who can contribute to the work of sensible, effective gun laws.

Proponents and opponents of gun controls both invoke the Founding Fathers. Well, the nation's founders were men of the Enlightenment. Were they alive today, they would tell us to scorn sound bites, and think clearly and carefully about how to protect both our rights and our children.

 

BOTTOM LINE: Base gun laws on reality; Second Amendment will stand.

 

 



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