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Promoting Public Discussion: Slippery slopes

Posted: Monday, Feb 11th, 2013

Sometimes I wonder if I live on a steep icy precipice since I keep hearing about “slippery slopes.” “Approve this ordinance, first thing you know we can’t …” You fill in the blanks: “eat fast foods, build a house, drive a car” and especially, “own a gun.”

With the recent flurry of gun comments in this paper I’m weighing in. Here’s the entire Second Amendment: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

But how can you “well regulate” something without “infringing?” Resolving this is why we have a Supreme Court. Previous Supreme Courts gave precedence to the “militia” clause. The Heller (2008) decision established the right of individual citizens to possess guns for protection but explicitly noted “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever …”

Thus, none of President Obama’s proposals for Congressional action and Executive Orders violate the Second Amendment. Here is a full list of these proposals

Everyone should read them. Here are three examples: a) Provide incentives for schools to hire officers. b) Require background checks for all gun sales, c) Ban armor-piercing bullets except for military and law enforcement. Would all his proposals completely end gun violence?

Of course not, but they would surely help. What about banning high capacity magazines and assault weapons? In his Jan 23 column, Mr. Al Fonzi cites data that assault weapons account for only about 300 out of 30,000 gun deaths annually. No one knows how many deaths in recent mass shootings these two bans would have prevented. But saving even one innocent person from gun violence is surely worth any small inconvenience to target shooters having to pause to reload.

So why the outrage over these proposals? The two most frequent responses I hear are: i) someone will forcibly “confiscate our guns” and ii) the slippery slope argument. I suspect that many of those outraged haven’t read what’s actually being proposed. As for the confiscation fear, who is it supposed would do this? The U.N.? They couldn’t even keep the peace in Rwanda or Serbia, let alone disarm anyone. The ATF? They don’t even have a director. (Appointing one is one of the proposals.) The U.S. Army or Marines? Seriously? It is said Hitler disarmed citizens, but would private AK47s have stopped him when it took six years of all-out warfare by the Allies to defeat the Nazis?

As for slippery slope arguments, they’ve never impressed me. Every local, state or federal action should be judged on its merits. If citizens think any particular action is unwarranted they have recourse in the courts and at the ballot box.

I strongly agree with one point in Mr. Fonzi’s Jan 23 column: we need to reduce the culture of violence. I don’t know how to do this. The entertainment industry’s glorification of violence surely doesn’t help, nor does marketing of weapons to kids (The Tribune, Jan 27). But I do know we need a lot more thoughtful discussion from everyone, especially responsible gun owners, about gun violence.

President Obama said, “We cannot treat name calling as reasoned debate.” Amen. Nor should we treat the boorish behavior by some aimed at disrupting the public forum on gun violence, sponsored by the Atascadero Democratic Party on Jan. 17, as reasoned debate.

Dr. Ray Weymann, a retired astronomer, moved to Atascadero in 2003. His interests include public science education, math tutoring for students and civic engagement.

For the complete article see the 02-08-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 02-08-2013 paper.

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