Friday, January 18, 2013

Controlling the Question Key to Gun Debate

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, January 18, 2013.


By Bill Gouveia

When you need to win a political fight – and the facts aren’t on your side – you can’t just debate the obvious question. You need to refocus the public’s attention on what you want to talk about. Political battles are most often won by those who successfully frame the question to be discussed before the fighting even begins.

That is exactly what is going on today with the controversial issue of gun control. Both sides of the debate are working very hard, but not just on truly solving the problem. Instead they are laboring to convince the public that the real issue is what they say it is, not what their opponents claim.

Gun control supporters say it is time to limit access to assault-style weapons and large capacity ammunition clips. They want to ban assault weapons, limit devices that carry large numbers of bullets, strengthen and increase background checks, and maximize efforts in the mental health area. They want the debate topic to be: Should we limit the sale of some guns and tighten up gun registration to protect the public?

The NRA and some gun advocates reject that question. They say the issue is whether or not the country will continue to honor the Second Amendment. They claim law-abiding gun owners are being blamed for things not their fault, and that Liberals are using the recent mass shootings to try and take away guns. They want the debate topic to be: How can we stop an over-emotional response to recent tragedies and still protect the “right to bear arms”?

Let’s get something straight here. No one should be blaming guns themselves for any of the awful massacres that have dominated the news in recent years. You cannot blame a gun for being shot. They seldom (if ever) go off by themselves. They are fired by people. The responsibility for the damage they do rests with those people. So those who may be blaming the guns must stop it. And those with the opposing view making arguments like “People die in car crashes, but we don’t ban cars” – you must stop too. Both arguments are just dumb.

Allow me to humbly suggest the real question which should rightfully consume both our politicians and the public at large over the next several months. It’s a simple one, although any answer will be complicated and difficult. The question is:

Can we pass common-sense laws that limit assault weapons and large ammunition clips while maintaining the public’s right to own guns for self-defense and other legitimate reasons, while also overhauling mental health regulations all in the name of making our schools and neighborhoods safer?

I believe we can do it, and I believe we must. I also believe anyone who chooses not to at least try and engage in such a discussion is either selfish, a coward, or both.

This works both ways. Gun control supporters cannot simply jam new laws down the throats of gun owners or anyone else. Guns are an undeniable part of the American culture, and always will be. Those with a literal interpretation of the Second Amendment have a right to that view, and it must be respected. Their concerns must be discussed and addressed.

But a line needs to be drawn on just what kind of weapons can be sold to the public. Guns that fire an incredible number of bullets in virtually no time at all have no place outside of military or police use. And spare me the argument that you can carry lots of smaller clips and reload immediately. Of course you can. But it makes it harder to kill lots of people quickly that way, and in the end – that is a most worthy goal.

Don’t be fooled into believing upcoming legislation is about “taking our guns”. That’s merely an attempt to prey on your emotions and avoid the real issue. Don’t be distracted by those seeking to politicize our very safety.

There is always a price to be paid for keeping our kids and neighborhoods safe. If part of that price is restricting who can own certain guns designed for the sole purpose of killing many people quickly – then we can all live with that.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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