March 18, 2013
M i s s o u r i L aw y e r s We e k ly
Both sides distrust other’s intentions on gun laws [EXTREMES FROM PAGE 1]
do that, too, because you’re threatening me.” His Dirty Harry moment having passed, Ellinger puts down the remote gently, as if it really were a gun. “I don’t ever want to be in that position,” he says. Ellinger, of course, has the right to keep and bear arms that is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, just as he has the right to free speech under the First Amendment, or the right to be free of unlawful police searches under the Fourth Amendment. But Ellinger doesn’t particularly value his Second Amendment rights. In some ways, he downright detests them. And that inherent distrust of guns is probably the reason some lawmakers don’t trust Ellinger and others like him to set gun policy. “This protects our God-given and inalienable right to keep and bear arms,” Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters, told the House committee reviewing his Second Amendment Preservation Act. The bill purports to reject not only any new gun control measures but also the existing provisions of the National Firearms Act of 1934 (which restricted civilian access to fully automatic weapons, among others) and the Gun Control Act of 1968 (which forbade the sale of guns to criminals and the insane). Far from making any weapons illegal, it would make it a crime for federal officers to attempt to enforce gun laws in Missouri. Funderburk’s bill is both extreme and commonplace. It’s one of at least seven similar gun-law nullification measures introduced this year. This particular one has 23 co-sponsors, including House Speaker Tim Jones, a lawyer. “We’ve heard a lot of support from the constituents back home on many of these bills that further cement and protect our Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens,” Jones said in an interview.
State Rep. Ron Hicks, R-St. Peters, enjoys himself during target practice at Ultimate Defense in O’Fallon on Thursday afternoon. He says he generally tries to reach middle ground on issues. But for guns, he doesn’t know what that is. Photo by Karen Elshout
Second Amendment unique
What makes the debate over guns so stark? How can gun ownership be regarded as an unnecessary and dangerous practice by some and an object of near religious veneration by others? Why is it a topic so given to hyperbole and extreme examples and conspiracy theories? And why is there a complete lack of trust on either side? In many ways, the Second Amendment is unique. Alone among the Bill of Rights, it protects a specific type of object that can be taken away physically. It’s a piece of technology where the line between legitimate and illegitimate use is a little thinner than it is for, say, a camera. The illegitimate uses of a gun — murder, armed robbery and the like — all involve killing or threatening to kill someone. But legitimate uses of a gun also involve killing: hunting (killing an animal) and self-defense (killing or threatening to kill an intruder). Even target shooting is, at some level, practicing to kill something, even if many such shooters are perfectly content to plink cans or shoot skeet. What’s more, it would be very hard to set out to produce, say, a landscape photo and accidentally create child pornography. But it takes a great deal of caution, training and responsibility to keep the legitimate uses of guns from turning into tragic ones. A negligent hunter can miss his target and hit another person; a
State Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-University City, proposed a bill along with several other Democrats last month that would make it illegal to possess rifles, handguns and shotguns with certain military-like features and magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Gun rights supporters responded with a bill that would make it a felony for lawmakers to propose restricting gun rights. Photo by Karen Elshout
loaded gun meant for self-defense could be grabbed by a child. Like a Rorschach test, two people can apparently consider the same gun and come away with very different ideas about it. According to a Pew Research Center survey released last week, well over half of American households don’t own any guns, and of those 58 percent say they would be uncomfortable having a gun in their homes. Yet among the 37 percent of homes where someone owns a firearm, 48 percent said it was there for protection. Seventy-nine percent of gun owners, and 64 percent of those who live in a house where someone else owns a gun, reported
feeling safer as a result of its presence. In addition, the Pew report found “fundamental disagreements” over the need for new gun laws. Two-thirds of those in non-gun households said stricter gun laws would reduce the number of deaths in mass shootings. Just 35 percent of gun owners agreed. In other words, the Second Amendment protects something that a good number of Americans value very highly and others don’t value much at all. Some on the gun control side simply do not trust people with certain types of weapons. And some on the gun rights side do not trust those people — or the officials they elect — to
protect that right.
Debate is different
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, sees a difference in the way gun rights are debated. “I’m not aware at the state or federal level of any politicians saying, ‘Well, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the First Amendment, and maybe the First Amendment isn’t really as important as we think it was, and the Founding Fathers’ idea of the First Amendment is different from ours,’” he said in an interview. “You see all those debates in the Second Amendment argument.”