Gun Ownership: In the fight against terrorism, some rights must be repealed

From my cold dead hands

The newly appointed CIA Director Porter Goss, believes that terrorists may bring urban warfare techniques learned in Iraq to our homeland. If he is right, we could have a whole new war on our hands. The prospect is indeed scary.

The idea of terrorist cells operating clandestinely in the United States, quietly amassing handguns and assault rifles, and planning suicide shooting rampages in our malls, is right out of Tom Clancy’s most recent novel. If not for the fact that the 9/11 attacks were also foreshadowed in a Clancy novel, I would have given the idea no further thought.

However, rather than facing this potential threat publicly, the Bush administration is only focused on terrorist attacks involving missiles, nuclear devices and biological weapons. Stopping terrorists with WMDs is a good thing, but what about the more immediate threat posed by terrorists with guns? The potential threat of terrorist attacks using guns is far more likely than any of these other scenarios.

This leads to a bigger policy issue. In the post 9/11 world where supposedly “everything has changed,” perhaps it is time for Americans to reconsider the value of public gun ownership.

The idea of public gun ownership simply does not make sense anymore. The right to bear arms, as enumerated in the Second Amendment, was meant for the maintenance of a “well-regulated militia.” At the time the amendment was adopted, standing armies were viewed with a great deal of suspicion, and therefore, gun-owning individuals were seen as a protection mechanism for the public. These gun owners were also seen as guardians of the republic against the tyranny of the rulers. The framers of the Constitution saw the right to bear and use arms as a check against an unruly government. That state of affairs no longer exists.

Today, only a handful of citizens outside of neo-nazi and white supremacist groups view gun ownership as a means of keeping the government in check. Even those citizens who continue to maintain such antiquated views must face the reality that the United States’ armed forces are too large and too powerful for the citizenry to make much difference. Quite frankly, the idea of the citizenry rising up against the U.S. government with their handguns and assault rifles, and facing the military with these personal arms is absurd. The Branch Davidian tragedy at Waco, Texas, was one such futile attempt.

The more important consideration is public safety. It is no longer safe for the public to carry guns. Gun violence is increasingly widespread in the United States. According to the DOJ/FBI’s Crime In The United States: 2003 report, 45,197 people in the United States were murdered with guns between 1999 and 2003. That averages out to more than 9,000 people murdered per year. Nearly three times the number of lives lost in the tragic 9/11 attacks is murdered annually as a direct result of guns.

Examples of wanton violence are all around. One particularly heinous incident of gun violence occurred in 1998 when former Aryan Nation member Buford Furrow shot and wounded three young boys, a teenage girl and a receptionist at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles and then shot and killed a Filipino-American postal worker.

Another occurred in July 1999 when white supremacist Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a member of the World Church of the Creator, went on a weekend shooting spree, targeting Blacks, Jews and Asians. By the time Smith was done he had wounded six Orthodox Jews returning from services, and killed one African-American and one Korean-American.

Just recently, in Ulster, NY, a 24 year old man carrying a Hesse Arms Model 47, an AK-47 clone assault rifle, randomly shot people in a local mall. While the Justice Department did not label this murder a terrorist attack, all the signs were there. The Ulster, New York shooting is an ominous warning of what lies ahead. Terrorism can be a homegrown act committed by anyone with a gun and is not unique to a “Middle Eastern-looking man with a bomb.” As long as the public is allowed to own guns, the threat of similar terrorist attacks remains real.

The idea of curtailing rights in the name of homeland security does not seem implausible given the current state of civil liberties in the United States. The war on terror has already taken an enormous toll on the First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments, and thus far, very few Americans have objected. In light of this precedence, it seems reasonable that scaling back or even repealing the right to bear arms would be an easy task.

In fact, it will be a very difficult task. So far the civil liberties curtailment has affected generally disenfranchised groups such as immigrants, people of color and religious minorities. An assault on the Second Amendment will impact a much more powerful constituency.

According to the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2002 41 percent of American households owned at least one gun. According to these same statistics, 50 percent of the owners were male, 43 percent were white and 48 percent were Republican. More than 50 percent of the gun owners were college educated and earned more than $50,000 per year. Regrettably, these folks are going to marshal their considerable resources to protect their special interest.

This is a shame. Instead of laying waste to the civil rights and civil liberties that are at the core of free society, and rather than squandering precious time and money on amending the U.S. Constitution for such things as “preserving marriage between a man and woman,” the nation ought to focus its attention on the havoc guns cause in society and debate the merits of gun ownership in this era of terrorism.

So long as guns remain available to the general public, there will always be the threat of terrorists walking into a crowded restaurant, a busy coffee shop or a packed movie theater and opening fire upon unsuspecting civilians. The Second Amendment is not worth such risks.

Junaid M. Afeef is a Research Associate at the Institute for Social Policy & Understanding. His articles are available at www.ispu.us He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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