I have experienced feelings of fear. I was shot at on a few occasions while working as a Philadelphia police officer. This sort of physical fear is rational; it is based on clear evidence that imminent harm is possible, or even likely. But over the last several years, I have noticed that the tone and tenor of political discourse in this country has increasingly focused on fear, including fear of "government tyranny," fear of violent crime, fear of certain religions, fear of economic loss, fear of those who are unlike "us" in some way, etc.
We have also been exposed to social narratives from pundits that create a new "reality" that includes these underlying fears. Some of these fears are rational and are worthy of concern and action, while other fears are irrational in that they are based on a perception or appearance of evidence, and not necessarily on hard evidence or logical reasoning. Critical thinking is based on the need to distinguish between rational and irrational beliefs through logic and testing the truth of the claims being made. What does such a critical examination of the facts tell us about gun control?
In my experience, more firearms have not provided freedom from fear. On the contrary, they have actually fed those fears to the point of creating what is now a culture of fear. This culture of fear that seems to be increasingly influential has, to this point, polarized and paralyzed any reasonable discussion of individual rights versus responsibility with respect to limiting high-velocity ammo, high-capacity magazines and semiautomatic weapons that are easily converted to full automatic.
The 2008 Supreme Court case of District of Columbia vs. Heller has neither helped society come to grips with these fears nor provided a reasonable path toward resolving the violence problem in this country.
In that case, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a majority opinion that disregarded the first 12 words of the Second Amendment concerning the need for a well-regulated militia and focused solely on the final 14 words that, when read alone without the clarification provided by the first 12 words, seem to define the right to keep and bear arms as nearly absolute. This decision effectively crippled the ability of individual states or the federal government to enact laws and procedures with any expectation of effectively protecting society from certain lethal weapons or dangerous people who wish us harm. The concept that all rights come with corresponding responsibilities and limitations seems to have been lost in the narrative that has been growing more fearful since the 1970s and 80s when gun regulation was more strict.
Now, I do respect those who are true sportsmen and women who are responsible members of society, and who enjoy hunting and target shooting. I know these individuals are not the individuals we should fear. These individuals should also not fear those of us who support effective, reasonable gun control either; we (and government) are not their enemy, and we will not invade their homes to seize their weapons. Those who buy guns for self protection also have rights that must be addressed. I would suggest, however, that although their fear of the unknown assailant may seem real, the actual threat is much less so in my experience.
Many gun devotees now acknowledge that real sportsmen do not need high-velocity or hollow-point ammunition and 30-round magazines to hunt or target shoot. Others acknowledge that psychiatric screening and criminal background checks are a reasonable limitation on our Second Amendment rights, and that a waiting period to complete these checks will not unreasonably infringe on those rights. Can we all agree that the rights and privileges guaranteed by the Bill or Rights are also protected when our fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as promised in our Declaration of Independence, are protected by reasonable legislation designed to safeguard our lives and the lives of our children?
The politics of fear have no place in this discourse on gun control. Our future as a free society, free from the tyranny of senseless slaughter, is truly in the balance.
Jim McCarty, of Lower Township, is a retired captain in the Philadelphia Police Department. He is currently an adjunct professor at Thomas Edison State College.