Opoien: Gun control is about safety first

Jessica Opoien

Jared Loughner tried to buy ammunition at a Walmart the morning of Jan. 8 — before he allegedly opened fire at a “Congress on Your Corner” event in Tucson, Ariz., killing six and injuring 13 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He was refused.

So how did he get the bullets?

He went to another Walmart.

In case you were wondering, Loughner didn’t happen to pick up an N.W.A. CD while he was there — at least, not an unedited version with a Parental Advisory sticker. You can’t buy those at Walmart. But if you’re a 22-year-old with a death wish for a congresswoman, they’ll sell you some ammo.

How is it that this individual, refused bullets by one employee, was able to turn around and get his ammunition from another location so easily?

In the United States, it’s not surprising that this could happen; there’s nothing in place to stop it.

It’s not surprising, but it’s horrifying.

Let’s take a look at our neighbors to the north, for a moment. In Canada, in order to obtain a Possession and Acquisition License or a Minor’s License, one must satisfy the requirements of the Canadian Firearms Safety Course. In the United States, any person above the age of 18 or 21, depending on the class of weapon, can obtain a firearm, with no demonstration of competency or awareness of gun safety required.

The U.S. firearm homicide rate was five times that of Canada in 2008, based on firearm homicides per 100,000 people. But let’s not stop there. A 2010 study confirmed that based on 2003 data from the World Health Organization, among 23 populous high-income countries, 80 percent of all firearm deaths occurred in the United States. In addition, the study reported that the firearm homicide rate in the United States was 19.5 times higher than that of the remaining 22 countries.

The unintentional firearm death rate in the United States? It’s 5.2 times higher than that of all of those countries.

A key difference between the United States and the rest of these countries? The ones with lower numbers in the categories just mentioned all have stricter gun laws than the United States does.

A few pieces of legislation have been introduced, in the wake of the shooting in Arizona, that aim to place restrictions on how many rounds a magazine can contain, and around whom guns can or cannot be carried. While Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s proposed legislation is an understandable reaction to Loughner’s use of a 33-round magazine, and Rep. Peter King is right to think of the safety of government officials, these proposed bills are not the answer. They’re focusing on the minutia, rather than looking at the big picture.

It’s not that U.S. citizens shouldn’t be allowed to privately own guns. It’s not that lawmakers should tell people that 33 rounds are too many, but 12 are OK. And determining which members of society are deserving of protection in the form of a 1,000-foot no-gun radius is likely to be a slippery slope. What we need to look at here is the fact that right now, it was all too easy for a clearly disturbed young man to obtain weapons and ammunition — legally.

Think about it this way. Before you’re given a driver’s license, you spend hours of training behind the wheel of a vehicle, and often more in a driver’s education classroom. Why would we not extend the same treatment to operating firearms?

It’s been said that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees Americans the right to own guns, free of government-imposed rules or bans. This is not the case.

The Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Before you even get to the word “militia,” let alone “arms,” you’ll find the call for something “well regulated.”

What else do we regulate in this country? How about speech? Did you know we have designated “free speech zones” in this country, and even on the ISU campus? And what about members of the military? Their ability to speak freely is limited while in service. Freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Notice the difference in wording between the First and Second Amendments? One calls for something to be “well regulated,” while the other says, “Congress shall make no law.” And yet, First Amendment freedoms are regulated with little to no public outcry, while Second Amendment rights that are supposed to be “well regulated” are barely touched.

Would it be so bad if “well regulated” meant “people like Jared Loughner do not have easy, legal access to firearms and ammunition”?

I’ve heard the argument that gun violence is different from case to case, but the number of gun-related deaths in the United States, as compared to countries with stricter regulations, paints a different picture. I’ve heard this is about individual responsibility and personal accountability, but that argument assumes that everyone is rational; that everyone is responsible enough to not attempt an assassination on a congresswoman, killing and wounding many others in the process.

That argument gets people killed.

Why is gun control the untouchable issue? Why is it wrong to say that people like Jared Loughner, Steven Kazmierczak, Seung-Hui Cho and Robert A. Hawkins should not be allowed to own guns? The argument for individual responsibility has gone out the window in these cases and so many others.

Will people like Loughner be able to obtain firearms and ammunition illegally? Sure, that will always be the case. But do we have to make it so easy for them to do so within the law? We can make the U.S. a safer country without infringing on the rights of rational people — people who act in the interest of safety and the public good — to own firearms.

Who in Congress opposes taking guns out of the hands of dangerous, unstable people?

Who will vote to maintain Loughner’s ability to go from one Walmart to the next until someone gave him the bullets he sought?

Just 21 members of Congress opposed a ban on armor-piercing, “cop-killer” bullets in 1985. Just four members voted against a ban on plastic guns that could go undetected by airport security in 1988. Even Dick Cheney, who opposed both measures, recanted and said, in 2000, that he would authorize funds for the bans.

“Cop-killer” bullets and plastic guns posed major threats in the 1980s. This is our major threat, today: the fact that this country allows someone like Loughner easy, legal access to firearms.

This is not an untouchable issue. It’s not about taking away your rights. It’s about regulating this constitutionally-proclaimed “militia” of U.S. gun owners, so that the horrifying might, one day, also be the surprising.