POINT OF VIEW: We need common sense gun laws

Updated Feb 27, 2018

I am not an expert on guns or crime, or the conflicting statistics we hear about them. I am a citizen of the U.S., in the great experiment called representative democracy, which unfortunately is not faring well these days, notably in our own country.

The First Amendment grants me the right to speak about the Second, and so I offer some observations about the justifications for the current state of affairs vis-à-vis gun ownership.

The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, and so we should not impinge on access to guns, including semi-automatic rifles.

Almost no one would suggest that my Second Amendment right extends to stockpiling chemical weapons, owning surface-to-air-missiles and bazooka launchers, or equipping a drone with bombs to drop on herds of deer for “sport.” Common sense dictates limits to this basic freedom. There is no common sense purpose to owning guns and ammunition designed to solely make murder and mass murder easier and more efficient. Banning semi-automatic weapons and armor piercing bullets are reasonable limits to the right to bear arms.

If we take away guns, only criminals will have them.

That is akin to saying, “If we make driving 120 mph illegal, only criminals will speed.” We already did that, not because we believe that everyone will obey the law, but rather because we believe that common sense laws concerning dangers to our citizenry are necessary. Automobiles can kill and so we require instruction and tests in order to operate them. Will someone drive without a license? Yes. Will people die due to automobile accidents? Yes. Do these things infer that driving laws can’t effectively reduce dangers to society? No.

The government wants to take away our guns so they can torture and enslave us.

Yes, people actually have this paranoid delusion, and thus refer to the “well regulated militia” clause in the Second Amendment. I think it goes without saying that a group of self-described patriots armed with semi-automatic rifles have no chance of defeating the U.S. military and its arsenal. The ballot box has always been our most potent weapon in ensuring democracy’s promise.

As I wrote above, the government has limited my right to drive by ensuring that I have been trained and licensed, and passing laws making it illegal to drive under the influence or recklessly. The government also limits what vehicle I may drive. It could be great fun to make my way down U.S. 1 in an armored tank, but the government won’t certify me to do that, thus limiting the “firepower” of my vehicle ownership.

Over the past 250 years, our free country has debated what is moral and just. We want to protect citizens from avarice while encouraging innovation and growth, and so we debate finance laws and environmental laws. We want to protect citizens from dangers and so we inspect and legislate around infrastructure, food, drugs, etc. The two-party system is designed to balance pros, cons and competing agendas, resulting in compromise and consensus to best serve the “us” that is “U.S.”

In the wake of the most recent tragedy in Parkland, not far from where I work each day, we have another moment to ponder who we are. We have lost our way — temporarily, I hope — and common sense gun legislation is a great test for whether or not we can find our way back.


Editor’s note: Berg is dean at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music.