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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, August 14, 2019 1:00 am

'Tyranny of anxiety'

Reining in assault weapons can build off our experience in regulating cars

George Emmert

George Emmert, a Huntington resident, is a retired architect.

America's politicians are scrambling to offer their versions of substance in response to the continuing invasion of gun violence laying siege to our nation's sense of security and well-being. Many hope promises of “universal” background checks, red-flag laws, increased age-to-purchase rules and other edicts of similar heft will at least quiet the current tumult.

Indiana's new senator, Mike Braun, favors a practical gun policy, easy to enforce, whatever is going to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, adding that legislation shouldn't affect law-abiding people. His remarks were reported to include seeing “what we can do that uses things that have some kind of track record and maybe try some stuff we haven't in the past.”

No comprehensive policy will be simple or instantly implemented. However, for much of the past century we have been living with a model system that effectively governs that other huge, national inventory of dangerous, essential hardware, our motor vehicles.

Every vehicle has its own vehicle identification number. Every vehicle has its own title and title-holder, a state registration, and requirements of operator licenses and insurance commensurate with estimates of potential liability. Similar accounting for firearms would only have to also include ballistic information that could tie any crime-scene bullet to the weapon's recorded owner, whose responsibility would only be relieved by a recorded transfer of title to some other party. Every freedom must also entail responsibility.

Contrary to the assertions of some that Second Amendment rights are etched in stone, various interpretations by the U.S. Supreme Court have been handed down over the past 143 years. Early concerns led to an 1876 ruling meant entirely to constrain federal government power over state militias. A ruling in 1939, holding that short-barreled shotguns would not be useful militia weapons, stripped them of Second Amendment protection. In a 2008 ruling, earlier Second Amendment criteria of appropriateness for militia service were discarded in favor of “traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defense within (one's) home.” A 2016 ruling overturned the conviction of a woman who fended off a former partner with a Taser by holding that its use for self-protection warranted Second Amendment protection.

In light of persistent and current tragedies, another Second Amendment speed bump outlawing or severely restricting ownership of military-style assault weapons is warranted and overdue for clearly posing significant dangers. The same would apply to military grenade launchers, tripod-mounted machine guns or other strictly military weaponry.

One persistent National Rifle Association claim for protecting gun rights as a deterrent against tyrannical government begs asking what, other than gun restrictions, would be objected to as tyrannical. A clever government would first attempt to co-opt gun owners, then gradually phase in tyrannical measures.

Even given that unlikely scenario, the current specter of random gun violence now imposes a tyranny of anxiety of its own on our entire nation, especially on younger children, and their growing fears of schools and other public places. Future tyrannies might have to wait their turn.

Other than as boastful symbols of lethal capability, assault weapons aren't appropriate for hunting, and for home defense, numerous non-lethal, close-range weapon options exist that won't penetrate multiple layers of today's construction, and kill or injure a neighbor. Perhaps private shooting clubs conforming to strict codes of shooting range configuration and on-site, electronically monitored armories that assure no assault-style weapons could leave the premises, might satisfy those requiring the thrill of rapid gunfire while mollifying public concerns.

It is high time for our leaders to set aside partisan advantage, to imagine and to enact truly effective antidotes for this poison.

George Emmert, a Huntington resident, is a retired architect.