What about the right to live?

This was the week when I was going to put anger aside and smile again. But then some fool at Virginia Tech picked up guns, killed 32 innocents and blasted the whole nation into sorrow.

There are some out there whose first instinct after such a tragedy is to grab their guns protectively to their hearts. There are others who want to talk about why the right to own deadly weapons is so carelessly granted in this country that murderers-in-gestation, boiling with their personal animosities, can obtain them with little inconvenience and scant limits.

I want to talk about that, too. But the trouble with knee-jerk discussions inspired by new tragedies is that they never rise to the cerebral heights above the knees. Both sides in this perpetual debate need to shuffle their rooted feet and give a little ground, if only out of honor and respect to the latest group of the needlessly dead.

So I will make a deal with those of you who worship gun ownership without any restrictions. The deal is that I will concede some crucial points if you agree not to be stupid. Forgive me for saying so, and maybe it is not in the conciliatory spirit of the moment, but you guys have quite a talent for stupidity.

So here’s what I will say that some in my camp cannot bring themselves to say: Gun ownership is an individual constitutional right and should be respected as a fact of American life.

Call it another “inconvenient truth,” but it’s written plainly in the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Of course, I recognize that the plainest of words can be parsed to hell and back in a nation of lawyers and that it can be argued that the word “militia” suggests not an individual right but a collective one. But it seems to me that this nation is nothing if not a collection of individuals.

If you accept the right of the people to bear arms, then the argument becomes about the nature of infringement. In that regard, my own personal favorite among the amendments, the First, may be instructive. Among other things, it not only protects religious practice, but also tells Congress that it may make no law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”

Yet this doesn’t allow me as a journalist to destroy someone’s reputation with a reckless disregard for the truth, although I know some of you out there who would richly deserve it. Nor can I, as a popcorn-eating citizen at the multiplex, shout out that there’s a fire in a crowded theater in an attempt to cause a riot. There are laws against such things — and rightly so.

Nobody seriously argues that commonsense restrictions are abridgements of the general right of free speech — and what is an abridgement other than an infringement? Yet, when we move down the list to the Second Amendment, common sense is jettisoned by gun nuts who think that their right is absolute. This position is absolutely stupid.

If people want to own guns, yes, they should be able to exercise their right, provided they are free of criminal convictions and are of sound mind, with no loopholes to avoid background checks at gun shows. I also believe in limiting the number of guns people can purchase at one time.

Gun ownership should not be casual. If it were treated with uniform seriousness across the nation, then we could mourn now without thinking that every sensible thing had been done. While the killer was legally entitled to buy his Glock 19 handgun, he got it all too easily.

If gun-control laws were tougher, they still would pose no threat to the legion of responsible gun owners. The first step to stopping the madness is for all sides to recognize reality.

That means that anti-gun forces need to stop giving the impression that they are there to take away everybody’s guns — they need to recognize the right. The gun absolutists need to put aside the dangerous fantasy that guns are the people’s only protection against tyranny.

Is our democracy really so feeble and degenerate that we need to contemplate another civil war? Many democratic countries, believing in the innate good sense and decency of their citizens, preserve their liberties quite well without guns.

Today I mourn 32 good souls by suggesting some middle path so that we might not repeat the national folly driving such disasters. If you still love your guns more than your fellow Americans, I would ask you this: What part of “well regulated” don’t you understand? And where is the security of a free state in the absence of sensible regulation?


(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com.)


  1. markduffy

    First time post. I never post on any of these boards. But when I read your opinion, I had to post to tell you that many conservatives agree with your opinion. I’m a very conservative person. I have a lot of conservative friends. Many who own guns. And we all agree that the right to bear arms is very important, but we also believe that there should be strict regulations in place. It’s common sense.
    I subscribe to the conservative view that government should be small and limited. But a critical responsibility of the government is to protect it’s citizens. Regulating guns so that they cannot easily be obtained by criminals and lunatics certainly falls within that responsibility. Protecting the right of law abiding citizens to bear arms also falls within that responsibility. We need to be able to protect ourselves. Common sense tells us that both are possible.
    I think the time is coming soon that politicians will wake up and see that they have the support of an overwhelming majority of Americans to place better regulations on gun ownership.

  2. Razor

    Anyone like Cho who makes up his mind to kill people will find a way to do it. Gun registration, regulation, confiscation, only leaves guns in the hands of criminals. They will get thier guns no matter how many laws there are.
    Guns have been around for centuries and they are mainly used to kill people. The united states government is the biggest supplier of guns in the world. There is a lot of money in selling tools to kill. This is a societal problem not a gun problem. Cho could have done comparable damage with a machete or a bomb or a vehicle. This would have not happened had people that knew he had a mental problem and could be dangerous did not do anything to help him or deter him and that is why it happened. Gun laws are fine, but any more gun laws will lead right to confiscation because that is a main factor when countries are being turned into ruled countries. Instead of spending trillions of dollars on phoney wars that kill thousands and make a few elites rich, spend that money on social improvements and education so wierdos can get help when they need it and you wouldn’t have horror in the classrooms. More laws is something this country does not need.

  3. Redneckmother

    So you gun liberals (bet you love reading that NRA) see no problem with this scenerio:

    A demented kid with a Green Card walked in a gunshop, handed $571 to an untrained clerk (his comment “seemed like a clean cut kid” and he had a driver license. And passed the ATF “Instant Check,” even though a Judge declared him a hazard to others 2 years ago. Don’t give me your excuses that without guns he could have become a mad bomber or axe murderer this is a true story. This sick bastard got off on having guns in his hands, good bet that he practiced his routine at a range with other “good-ol-boys” pretty good bet he played Doom too, why should I let any role players off the hook.

    Maybe you NRA freaks haven’t noticed. You’ve pissed down your leg in your excitement to make a point; “if everyone on campus had been armed… If everyone on campus were armed we’d all be taking our chances with every hormonal punk and premenstrual woman over there.

    If kids have to have a vouch safe and verified instruction to get a learners permit to drive, why shouldn’t a handgun require a license too.

    Yeah I got guns, doesn’t mean I want every other wandering idiot armed as well.

    Wise up! This would be a hell of a time for someone, Charlton Heston? to propose a real change which we are about done waiting for. Or would you like to see what Congress does with this…

  4. SEAL

    Any of you who thinks that more and tougher regulations will prevent people like Cho from acquiring a gun are so naive it must be deliberate. I can go downtown and illegally buy a gun within 2-3 days in just about any city in the country and so can you. And the more laws you make the easier it will be to buy illegal guns. Wake up to reality and stop arguing nonsense.