Public opinion on gun control suggests it remains one of America’s most polarizing issues. According to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Americans have become more conservative on gun control since the last two presidential campaigns. Some 49 percent of Americans say it is more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns, while 45 percent say it is more important to control gun ownership.
In light of last week’s devastating murders in Colorado, carried out by a lone gunman who managed to amass an arsenal of high-powered weaponry easily and quietly, such surveys help define the problem. Thanks to an increasingly radical National Rifle Association, “gun control” has been misrepresented in increasingly radical ways. Even incremental limits on the ability of individuals to acquire military-style weaponry — restricting the sale of automatic weapons that fire multiple rounds with the squeeze of a trigger, limiting the sale of outsized bullet magazines, tracking assault weapons from the point of purchase — are met with howls that liberals are out to “ban guns.” By equating limits on some weaponry to a ban on all weaponry, the NRA has managed to strike fear into the hearts of responsible gun owners. And by lavishing campaign dollars on pliant candidates, they have managed to shape policy in Washington for the worse.
It is possible, however, to imagine a dialogue that is not about “banning” guns, or denying anyone their “rights,” but instead about a commonsense approach to regulating highly dangerous products, which, in the wrong hands and without reasonable restrictions, could lead to awful consequences. We do this with automobiles, pharmaceuticals, and even the things we eat. When the right to purchase and consume these products clashes with public health, states and the federal government have agreed on reasonable restrictions, oversight, licensing, and training.
The tragedy in Aurora — and a daily plague of gun violence — calls for a national dialogue on guns that would lead to new, sane policies. It need not be a dialogue of gun owners versus gun “haters.” Rather, it could be a conversation of moderate, serious people on both sides who value human life and respect individual rights, and political leaders who can strike the proper balance between the two.