The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.
No one can credibly claim that semi-automatic and automatic weapons are useful for hunting or even that they are necessary for self-protection. A handgun with six to eight rounds in it ought to be enough to deter a criminal attacker, or even attackers, in almost every instance.
But if anyone proposes that assault weapons ought to be banned, the proposal will reinforce the Far-Right fantasy that Big Government—and President Obama in particular—exists primarily to take guns away from private, law-abiding citizens. The NRA will pour millions of dollars into targeted campaigns to remove from office every legislator who voted for such a bill, but especially those legislators in states with moderate to high levels of gun ownership.
So, instead of a ban on assault weapons, here is what I would propose: legislation that emphatically reinforces the concepts of personal responsibility and responsible gun ownership.
Because some will argue that carrying one standard handgun with six to eight rounds may not afford enough personal protection in every instance, allow anyone who now qualifies to carry one such handgun to carry two of them—along with a bandolier of bullets for each gun.
Furthermore, allow anyone who wishes to own assault weapons to continue build a veritable personal arsenal of them. In case the End Times come, each American can then be adequately prepared to protect family, home, and property from the equivalent of a battalion of Marines.
But mandate that no private citizen can transport an assault weapon outside of his or her home or off his or her property except in the closed trunk of a vehicle. If someone is found carrying such a weapon on his or her person anywhere but at a shooting range or a gun shop, there should be a mandatory hefty fine. If anyone points such a weapon at another human being, other than an intruder in his or her own home, there should an mandatory short prison sentence. If anyone shoots another person, other than an intruder in his or her own home, with such a weapon, there should be a mandatory lengthier prison sentence. And if anyone kills someone, other than an intruder in his or her own home, with such a weapon, there should be a mandatory life sentence without chance of parole—or a mandatory death penalty for multiple murders.
Moreover, if someone other than a gun owner uses or steals a semi-automatic or automatic weapon from the owner’s home and kills another human being, not only should the user be subject to the penalties just outlined, but the gun owner’s personal property and personal wealth should be subject to seizure and sale, with the proceeds going to the victim(s) and the immediate family(-ies) of the victims: that is, if someone feels the need to protect his or her home as if it were Fort Knox, then he or she should be prepared to secure the weapons to be used in that defense as thoroughly as they would be secured in Fort Knox.
To those who will argue that such penalties are too draconian, I can only say that gun owners have always insisted that it is not enough to reinforce standards of responsible gun ownership but that the criminal use of guns must be dramatically curtailed before anyone will be convinced that carrying guns for personal protection is largely unnecessary. So if enforcing draconian penalties for the criminal use of assault weapons, or for having provided criminals with access to such weapons, is the cost of convincing responsible gun owners that we are very serious about taking or keeping such weapons out of the hands of criminals, I am now willing to support such penalties.
Of course, none of these things would have directly prevented some of the recent rampage shootings. Likewise, there are so many unlicensed guns in America that nothing will change things–nothing will stop the slaughter–in the short term. But if we persist in a grim determination to reduce this kind of violence, if we attach a terrible stigma to it–instead of responding as if it is something beyond the reach of our condemnation–it will inevitably diminish.
It is time to insist that the NRA’s long-made case for responsible gun ownership be given some real teeth.
It is time to insure that everyone’s Second Amendment rights are absolutely protected so that those who do not wish to avail themselves of those rights are also protected.
It’s time to let the non-violent drug offenders out of jail and to put the perpetrators of gun violence in those prison cells instead.
It’s time to send a message to everyone in this country that we, as a nation, are taking a zero-tolerance approach to anything other than the truly responsible, legal use of guns.
It is time for Americans to become dead serious about an issue that is leaving too many Americans dead.
It’s time to try to put an end to the recurring mass murder of innocents.
It is time to denounce anyone who resists any meaningful solutions to this carnage for what they are–heartless fanatics who cherish their dark fantasies about a gunless America more than they value American lives.