Ever since the first gun-control law, GCA68, was debated beginning back in 1963, the NRA has trotted out the notion of the ‘law-abiding’ gun owner for all the world to see. In fact, the terms ‘law-abiding’ and ‘gun owner’ are so much part of the gun lexicon that we might actually think of them as a single word. And the reason the term is so ubiquitous in Gun-nut Nation is because, remember, it’s not guns that kill people, it’s people who kill people, and the law-abiding gun owners wouldn’t dream of using their guns to do anything in an illegal way.
But the problem has come up in the last several days and no doubt is being bandied about on Capitol Hill as negotiations towards some kind of new gun regulation moves ahead, because until the moment he began pulling the trigger and ultimately killed 49 patrons inside a gay nightclub, The Pulse, the deranged shooter in Orlando was as law-abiding as you or me. In fact, he was so law-abiding that the FBI interviewed him twice and sent him on his way. Which makes it rather difficult to assume that just because someone is law-abiding to the point that they can legally own a gun, this in any way guarantees that they would never use the weapon to harm themselves or someone else.
But let’s remember, of course, that we are country of laws, and if we ever forget, the NRA and Gun-nut Nation are quick to remind us that one of those laws guarantees the right to own a gun. And while the NRA was willing to bend a little on this issue back in 1968 and agree that the 2nd-Amendment right to gun ownership could be suspended in the case of anyone who broke certain kinds of laws (like laws prohibiting murder, burglary, robbery, aggravated assault,) they weren’t about to give government the right to prohibit gun ownership except in cases where it had been shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that giving a gun to certain individuals was a virtual certainty that these individuals would use the weapon in an unlawful and harmful way.
Accordingly, the NRA routinely fought and still fights against laws that would keep guns out of the hands of people engaged in, but not convicted of a crime stemming from a domestic dispute; they refuse to extend gun prohibitions to most misdemeanor convictions even though such convictions are usually felonies that have been pleaded down; they line up foursquare against removing guns from at-risk individuals unless they have been ‘adjudicated’ mentally ill; and whenever a sensible measure to curb gun access is proposed, they can be depended upon to always roll out the stupid and senseless ‘slippery slope’ argument about how today’s gun regulation will become tomorrow’s gun confiscation, et. al.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m as mindful as anyone about the importance of Constitutional guarantees. And when it comes to trampling on civil liberties or citizen’s rights, the record of liberal Presidents isn’t exactly spotless in this regard. Recall a certain President who intervened in a legal strike and seized the steel mills in 1952? Remember those camps in California where more than 100,000 Americans of Japanese descent were interned during World War II? These weren’t the actions of some right-wing Yahoos, they were deliberate policies of two liberal Presidents named Truman and FDR.
But the problem with gun violence is that using the issue of Constitutional protections every time gun-control legislation is discussed, is to forget the forest and only focus on the trees. When states like Florida do not allow intervention by law enforcement while someone gets licensed to own and carry a gun, they are guaranteeing that the Pulse shooter will ‘slip through’ the licensing process because, after all, he’s a law-abiding citizen and every law-abiding citizen should be able to walk around with a gun. And in case you’ve forgotten, the ‘good guys,’ are the guys with the guns.