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Our Views: A loaded debate
Hard to see how stronger gun limits would keep dangerous lunatics from getting them
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Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.

It doesn’t take long for the smoke to clear from the latest shooting incident before politicians, pundits and amateur sociologists get out their magnifying glasses to determine why such horrible acts occur.

On July 20, a young man with dyed orange hair is accused of opening fire at a movie theater showing the new Batman film in Aurora, Colo. Twelve people died and 58 were wounded.

Then last Sunday, a man described as a neo-Nazi began a shooting spree in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six.

Different acts, hundreds of miles apart, by different shooters: One a deranged young man seemingly locked into a fantasy world, the other a white supremacist filled with hate. And yet there were parallels, particularly in the reaction afterward, when the focus of many was on the suspects’ ability to purchase firearms.

Both shooters are reported to have bought their weapons legally. Still, many believe tougher gun laws could have prevented the violence they wrought.

We hear the same refrain after every high-profile shooting case, though oddly not that often when the news only tells of a random shooting here or there. Nor is it a popular topic when we hear of a home-owner or businessperson using a legal firearm on hoods who threaten them.

The debate sounds the same every time: If the United States had stricter gun laws like (fill in the blank with a European country), such random acts of violence could be prevented. Advocates of stronger gun laws, or outright bans, remain convinced that tougher rules would keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of violent, insane people.

In the real world, it is naive to think such restrictions can somehow curb acts of evil. Yet the anti-gun Pollyannas seem convinced, as if they could wish the bad people away with a stroke of a pen.

First, it’s worth noting that we already have such restrictions. Federal law requires background checks to ensure that those with criminal records or a history of mental illness are denied weapons.

Does it work? It’s hard to measure crimes not committed, or know how many legal guns were kept away from those who might have harmed others. Nor can we measure whether those same bad actors might have acquired firearms illegally for their acts of mayhem.

This is where the law runs up against reality. A legal weapons purchase is but one way to get them. Anyone unable to buy them at a sporting goods store can get them any number of other ways, either legally or through shadier means.

Firearms are out there, millions of them. Anyone who wants to buy one to commit a crime or wreak havoc can do so. More laws won’t change that.

And laws, remember, are only affective against those who choose to obey them. They don’t prevent bad things from happening. That’s why, for instance, laws against drunken driving don’t prevent such crimes. They merely dole out punishment for those who are caught.

Does anyone truly believe limiting legal purchase of firearms would keep bad guys from getting them? You don’t have to belong to the National Rifle Association or be a gun advocate to see the flaw in that logic. It might inconvenience a violent thug a bit, but is that feel-good idea worth limiting the rights of others?

Yet the chorus of “more gun limits” continues regardless of the fact that the only people truly affected by such are law-abiding hunters, gun collectors and those who want to protect their homes, properties and lives.

The focus instead should be on the individuals, not the weapons, and finding a way to get mentally deranged individuals the help they need and removing those who are violent from civil society.

Many say banning military-style assault rifles used by the shooters is a common-sense approach, as such high-tech weaponry is not needed to kill game or protect homes. That’s a valid point, yet the same reasoning applies: No ban will keep the myriad assault weapons already out there from falling into the wrong hands. The only way a new law can stop a weapon from firing is to roll it up and jam it into the barrel.

This knee-jerk call for more gun laws is just a way for many to feel they are in control of an uncontrollable force. This is why we already have too many limits on individual freedom. Governments can’t steer away hurricanes or wildfires, but the clamor for more and better response follows every disaster. Similarly, acts of individual violence are met with the latest eight-point plan to fix the problem.

We fool ourselves into thinking we can prevent all of life’s painful events. We create layers of agencies enforcing volumes of laws in hopes of creating an invisible shield around us. Then planes crash into buildings, heat waves kill our crops and a lunatic guns down innocent people, reminding us how little control we really have. Life is both precious and uncertain, the world is a dangerous place, and there are no guarantees.

Actually, we do have one guarantee: The U.S. Constitution. When embraced, it provides the freedom to make our own way, minus a government’s false promise to keep us safe from all pain and suffering in return for our individual sovereignty.

Many prefer to take their chances with that guarantee, as it remains the only certainty truly within our power.

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