Opinion

To Bear or Not To Bear?

I like to think my political views are moderate at best. I think capitalism and the free market are important for a healthy economy, but regulation is necessary to the extent that it levels the playing field. I think wealthy people and corporations should fork over a bit more tax money than their lower-earning peers. I think CEOs and high-ranking executives are entitled to compensation, but let’s not go overboard here (research shows that the positive correlation of income to happiness drops off once people start earning a salary over $75,000). I also think the government has an obligation to help those who are struggling and to promote the overall well being of the American people.

There is, however, one issue I have been feeling increasingly strongly about. Let us plead the second for a moment:

Amendment II
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.

If we put on our American history caps, this is an important addition to the Constitution given the lessons learned from the Revolutionary War. The justification may have went like this: if another nation descended on our home turf and initiated a war, we would need our weapons on hand so we could run out and join our local militia in the fight down the road.

Fast forward to present day and we have quite a different situation. Our national military is a lot bigger than the old local militias and more organized, too. The tools of the trade have undergone their share of upgrades and are more lethal than ever. Soldiers are trained to use these things to ensure the safety of our country. But what are the intentions of the modern-day, civilian arms bearer?

Now, I find nothing wrong with individual autonomy. If you feel the need to conceal a legally obtained and registered firearm at home in case your family is ever in danger, I think it’s your choice and I respect that. But I have a problem when such a constitutional right is exploited, when a man with no prior criminal record opens fire in a Aurora, Colo. movie theatre, killing 12 and wounding 58 more. I have a problem when a 4-year-old boy’s life is cut short as a consequence of armed violence in the Bronx.
Violent Crime in NY and US, 1960-2010
What’s confusing is that violent crime in New York and the United States has been on the decline over the last 20 years, since peaking in the mid-80s and early-90s. In fact, violent crime rates are approaching those of 50 years ago in 1960, between 200 and 400 per 100,000 people.

Researchers have long been trying to answer the question of whether violence in the media exerts some influence on human behavior. Dr. Ventura Perez, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, says violent media may desensitize us to violent acts and make some more likely to commit them. Dr. Perez teaches a course called Violence in American Culture.

While watching violence on television, at the movies, or in video games does not necessarily cause someone to act violently, it can influence our definition of violence. Perhaps altering the definition erodes the moral code that once made clear distinctions between right and wrong.

It seems that we’re left with a paradox. Violent crime has been steadily decreasing yet we have seen a number of tragic incidents in recent years. Do I think the solution is a national ban on gun ownership? Of course not (remember how well prohibition worked out?). But maybe the time is ripe to put some serious thought into gun regulation.

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