Gun Control: You Live Free, We Die

THE PROPRIETOR OF ABE’S AWESOME ARMAMENTS sees things differently. Thorough in his record-keeping, wary of fidgety buyers, and conscientious about performing the same background checks at gun shows that he does in his log-cabin shop just off I-93 in New Hampton, New Hampshire, Abe Foote says licensed gun dealers in his state are vigilant about following the law. Responsible dealers cannot be held accountable if guns sold lawfully later turn up at crime scenes because they were either stolen or resold illegally by the original buyer. That could happen as easily in Massachusetts as New Hampshire.

In Foote’s view, Massachusetts-style regulation harasses law-abiding gun owners without deterring criminals. Restricting the bullet capacity of magazines or the number of guns an individual can own assumes criminal intentions and violates individual liberty. If guns are the problem and tough laws the solution, Foote asks in all sincerity, then why is New Hampshire a more peaceful place to live than Boston? That so many crime guns in Boston originate in New Hampshire does not alter his view. “My sales are all legal,” he says. “If [the guns] are stolen, that’s beyond my control.”

He is certainly right that requiring more rigorous and consistent vetting and a standardized permitting process would inconvenience responsible gun owners in states that now have more permissive rules. But it would not undermine their right to buy and keep firearms. Public safety sometimes demands a compromise of personal freedom.

Common sense is often easier to describe than it is to put in action, though. Because the truth is, when it comes to self-righteousness and sanctimony, it’s hard to beat the gun-rights or the gun-control crowds. With partisans so convinced of their own virtue, discussing guns in the United States is a lot like discussing abortion — a conversation destined to devolve into crude caricatures of “gun nuts” or “baby killers.”

That we are a nation divided on gun control is indisputable. In the aftermath of Tucson, each side remains dug in. A poll by the Pew Research Center after the shootings found an almost even split on the question of whether the rights of gun owners should take precedence over the need for gun control — findings unchanged from a similar survey last fall. A CBS poll yielded comparable results.

This is not 1968, when the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy prompted a fleeting — and futile — push to ban handguns in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court has settled that issue with two recent landmark cases, ruling for the first time that individuals have a Second Amendment right to possess firearms for private use.