The right to live should outweigh right to own gun

Published 9:55 am Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Our country currently prioritizes the Second Amendment over the First Amendment and common sense. Reasonable measures to prevent gun injury and death, such as universal background checks, go down because too many politicians are more worried about their NRA grade than the wishes of an unmistakable majority of Americans.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Gun advocates talk about schools and churches choosing to be “gun-free zones” as if it’s a safety breach. They frame violent attacks in these places as the product of a lack of guns. The gist is this: “If you don’t let people carry guns on these premises, you may as well put a target on it.” How’s that for peddling fear with a whiff of extortion?

Email newsletter signup

A lack of guns is the last problem we have in America. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, we have over 40 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns. There are nearly enough guns in the U.S. to arm every adult and child with either a handgun, rifle or shotgun.

By gun lobby anti-logic, that should make us the safest place on earth. Yet, among industrialized nations, we have the highest rate of gun homicides by far.

In addition, people who live in homes with firearms are more likely to die from firearm-related injuries than people who live in homes without firearms. Suicide by gun is the biggest reason, but homicides committed with guns are higher by a statistically significant margin. Not surprisingly, accidental shooting deaths are too.

If people want to purchase guns for personal protection, they may want to consider better locks instead. Better yet, they could work on building up their communities into places where all people have opportunities and positive social connections.

Switzerland has a fairly high number of guns per person (still only half that of the U.S.), but their gun homicide rate is about five times less than in the U.S. Switzerland also has a more “let’s be ready to band together for our country” spirit about its gun ownership. In the U.S., a widespread individualist mindset feeds paranoid, anti-government and often hate-filled delusions on the fringes.

There are numerous ways to reduce gun injuries and deaths. Besides universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods, guns should be subject to the same consumer safety laws as other products. Their exemption protects gun manufacturers more than the rights of gun owners. Two safety upgrades that would reduce accidental shootings would be making guns impossible to a) accidentally fire during cleaning and b) be fired by an unwitting child. These product deficiencies have resulted in the deaths of at least four U.S. children so far in June. One was a student at the high school from which I graduated.

When part of our constitution doesn’t fit society’s needs anymore, we amend it as necessary. (See: slavery, prohibition and repeal of prohibition.)God did not etch the Second Amendment in stone with lightning bolts from his fingertips. Men wrote it for a fledgling country with no standing army, a sparsely populated frontier and several significant external threats. It made sense at the time, but it’s not practical now that the U.S. is the largest military power in the world by a wide margin.

It’s OK to like guns. They have a place in sport and hunting. I can see why a person who lives in the country may want a shotgun as a safeguard against intruders, human or furbearing. These rights should be maintained within sensible limits.

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens suggests adding an extra five words (in italics) to the Second Amendment to make it easier for states to pass gun legislation based on their different needs — “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the militia shall not be infringed.”

Some gun rights advocates like Ann Coulter have pointed out that higher gun homicides in the U.S. compared to other countries is mostly a product of high rates of black-on-black violence. While that is true, it’s no reason to dismiss measures (as she does) that would help lower these deaths, unless one missed the 14th Amendment memo that black people are full citizens.

Martin Luther King Jr., stated in his letter from a Birmingham jail in 1963, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

Over 50 years later, we still have to reiterate that black lives matter. All lives matter. No person, of any age or color, should have their right to live subordinated by another’s right to own a gun.


Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.