It seems to me that what the discussion on gun control needs is fewer strident voices and more common sense. Many believe that the ready availability of weapons in our country, particularly assault weapons is at least partly responsible for the mass killings in Colorado, Virginia and Connecticut. Such concern is understandable, particularly after the incomprehensible murder of 26 young children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
It must be admitted that while guns were the instruments used in the killings, the acts were those of mentally deranged individuals whose actions were enabled by their access to the weapons used. Other factors were also involved including insufficient or lax security, and the need for proper care for the mentally ill.
Then there is the question of rights; the victims’ rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that were taken from them; the same rights of millions of other school children, teachers, theater goers and citizens who wonder where the next mass murder will be; the rights of those who own guns and fear that an overreaction will deprive them of their right to bear arms; and, the right of government authorities to take action to protect their fellow citizens from harm and fear for their safety.
All rights are not equal, but none are absolute. The Freedom of Speech guaranteed by the First Amendment does not give one the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theater when there is none, nor does Freedom of the Press give one the right to publish child pornography. Many of our national, state and local laws spell out limitations to our rights such as speed limits, zoning restrictions and building codes, to name a few. They are all examples of where rights are in conflict and laws qualify them.
When rights are in conflict, solutions must be sought that protect the rights of all but limit them in such a way that the rights of others are not taken away. In the current debate, the rights of our children and our citizenry to be free from fear must be respected. The right of the mentally ill to proper care and the opportunity for as normal a life as possible must be kept in mind. The right of citizens to own firearms for sport or protection must be guarded. But none of these rights, natural or civil, are absolute. All must yield to the common good.
It is time for a civil discourse, not one where it is the good guys against the bad guys, but one where good people sit down to work out their differences by reasoning together. Let us all pray that our leaders will truly collaborate and find a way to keep all Americans as safe as possible.