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Parini: Gun Control

01/17/11 5:55PM By Jay Parini
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(HOST)  In the wake of the tragedy in Tucson, the subject of gun laws has come up again - as commentator Jay Parini thinks it should.

(PARINI)  For some years as a student, I lived in Britain, where access to guns of any kind is severely limited.  I remember being impressed that even the police in Britain rarely carried weapons.  There was, and remains, a peacefulness in that country, a palpable lack of the kind of vitriol we've grown used to here. I've often wondered if their general lack of firearms accounts for this.

In truth, one can never really know the connection between gun ownership and violence. But the possibility of a connection seems obvious enough.

Much as in Britain, handguns are severely restricted in Canada, as well.  In both countries, the number of yearly homicides by handgun hovers between 1.5 and .4 deaths per 100,000 people.  In the USA, the number is more than ten times higher.

As one might expect, there are many studies of gun violence out there, such as the landmark Cullen Inquiry of 1996. Professor Thomas Gabor, of the University of Ottawa, summarized the findings of that landmark study like this:  "Homicide rates tend to be related to firearm ownership levels. Everything else being equal, a reduction in the percentage of households owning firearms should occasion a drop in the homicide rate."

That seems pretty straightforward to me.

Of course one has to take into account the conditions on the ground, including the traditions of a particular country.  And Americans take pride in their Constitution, as they should.  It's a very special document.  And the Second Amendment at least seems to guarantee the right to bear arms.  But we have to face the fact that our Founding Fathers were astonishingly vague about the actual nature of this right.  Quote: "A well run militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." End quote.

To me, that means that if you're in the army, you have the right to carry a weapon.  But that's it.

And I'm aware that the U.S. Supreme Court disagrees with me on this - at least the conservative wing of that august body.

In fact, it's almost impossible to imagine that we could reach collective agreement on the meaning of the Second Amendment, so maybe we should simply get rid of it altogether.  The Constitution allows for such changes.  Then we could debates guns - not rights.  And I would argue for a ban on handguns, with few exceptions, such as law enforcement.

Now I fully understand that my view will not sit well with many Americans, each of whom has a right to his or her opinion. Yet I still think we should make it very, very hard to obtain a handgun.

Legitimate hunters might be another exception, but hunters don't need automatic weapons - especially handguns with multiple ammunition clips.
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