Straight shooting

The White House wants you to know the President can shoot straight:

President Barack Obama shoots clay target on the range at Camp David, Md., Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama shoots clay target on the range at Camp David, Md., Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)














I take the occasion to confess that I enjoy shooting guns too. I learned to shoot as a pre-teen at summer camp. Somewhere I’ve got the National Rifle Association marksman medals to prove it.  A few years ago I had an opportunity during a State Department security course to try it again.  Squeeeeeze.  Definitely fun.

But learning to shoot, knowing how to shoot and enjoying shooting do not translate into owning a gun.  Why not?  Because

a) having one around the house is a big responsibility;

b) there is only a miniscule probability that I would be able to use one to good effect when faced with a threat.

I don’t really mind if well-trained and reasonable people have them around the house, provided they are more confident they can use them effectively than I am.  But a gun is at least as dangerous as a car.  It should be kept locked.  You should have a license that requires you to meet some minimal criteria:  sanity and competence in gun safety would be my primary candidates.  There should be no loopholes.

I am a good deal less comfortable with people carrying guns around town, whether in the open or concealed.  I can find no substantial evidence for the assertion that this reduces crime.  And it makes life for law enforcement personnel far more difficult.  In recent mass shootings, I don’t remember an instance of someone intervening to good effect with a weapon they happened to be carrying.  Even if you are carrying a gun, using it against someone during a crime is not a sure thing:  it will attract the criminal’s most homicidal instincts and it may even bring a hail of gunfire from law enforcement, mistaking the gun toter for a miscreant.

The issue of “carrying” is one on which people in different parts of the United States tend to disagree.  There are  big east/west and urban/rural divides.  I really don’t care if people in Texas want to carry guns.  But then I find it difficult to understand why they should care if here in DC we don’t want people carrying guns.  This is something that states should regulate.

But that leaves open the question of what kind of gun should be allowed.  If people start driving around in battle tanks or “technicals,” claiming that they have the right under the second amendment, I’m pretty sure the authorities (even in Texas) will find a way of limiting the firepower a citizen can appear with on the street.  Assault weapons are lower on the firepower spectrum.  I don’t really see any reason why all the states should necessarily choose the same limit, but there are obvious practical advantages if they do.  Assault weapons aren’t going to stay only in the states in which they are legal.

There are so many guns already in circulation in the United States (upwards of 300 million) that it is going to be hard to keep them out of the wrong hands and hard to keep them out of some states and not others.  There are good reasons in some places for people to keep guns, provided they do so meeting some safety standards.  But I sure would like to be able to trace a gun used in a crime back to its owner.  We make that relatively easy with cars by requiring license plates.  Ballistic fingerprinting of bullets, or marking them so that they are identifiable, is possible.  I can hear the outcry from the gun lobby already, but think about a world in which cars did not carry license plates.  There would be an outcry against the requirement, but it would certainly be fully justified.

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