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Dana Sutton: Gun control debate encompasses rights, fear

Mar. 02, 2013 @ 09:50 PM

As I've tried to make sense of or see something new in our national "conversation" about gun control, it seems that most comments seem to fall into two basic categories.

The first is about "rights" -- our individual (or is it corporate?) rights guaranteed under the constitution to keep and bear arms. Setting aside any debate about "framers' intent," there is rational thought at the heart of a right that ensures that a tyrannical government can't expect to succeed through military power when many/most of its citizens keep weapons.

But where do such rights end? I would hope that most of us would agree that individual citizens do not/should not have the right to keep personal nuclear weapons. Am I being absurd? I hope not -- just pointing out that we generally recognize that in a "society," all rights have limits.

What about anti-aircraft weapons? Anti-personnel mines? 50 mm anti-tank guns? Work your way down the list until you're comfortable. Automatic weapons designed for rapid fire assault? Hand guns? Knives? Fists? All but the most dedicated pacifists would reserve some rights to defend ourselves.

Yet unlimited individual rights is known as anarchy, and while I'm convinced that some of our citizens would prefer to take their chances in such a "survival of the fittest," "dog-eat-dog" scenario, most of us prefer some order. And while we may disagree on how much is enough, on this level, I think we can actually have some conversation around guns and their appropriate uses.

It is around the second category that logic and rational thinking fails -- fear. Clearly we live in an anxious and fearful society, one in which many people do not feel safe on a daily basis. I find this at least a bit ironic, considering that we live in one of the safest and longest-lived societies in the history of the world. One reason for this fear is religious -- the percentage of Americans who believe that some kind of apocalyptic event (e.g., the return of Christ) will lead to a war of "Armageddon" during their lifetimes is on par with the number of people in Turkey who believe the same thing.

Another source of our collective fear is likely due to the fact that, perhaps even more effectively than sex, fear "sells." Whether it's "The Weather Channel," various news outlets, or gun shops (which have reportedly seen record profits recently due to the fear that some gun sales may be restricted), fear prompts buy-in.

But an even deeper kind of fatalism seems to affect many Americans, who, despite living in "the greatest country on earth," are convinced that the good times can't continue and that eventually it will all come apart. And there are signs of decline all around us if we pay attention: protests against corporations, random killings, drug use. Things that have never before happened in our history... or have they? (What must fearful people have thought in the turbulent late 60's and early 70's?)

Any hint of governmental intervention into our rights is vindication of the fear of tyranny -- the "slippery slope" of such debate suggests that once some individual right is limited for the greater good, all individual rights must inevitably disappear.

Yet we stop on the middle of such slippery slopes all the time; it turns out Americans are good "skiers." For nearly 250 years we've been finding middle ground right in the middle of such slippery slopes. Yet fear can keep us from even venturing out onto these slopes. And without delving too deeply into a related conversation about mental health, what does it do to our collective mental health when fear is far more prevalent than hope?

My conclusion: fight the fear.

Dana Sutton is a resident of the Ona area.

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