January 22, 2013

Trahan's Compass does nothing to advance gun-control debate

Jim Andrews

How disappointing to see David Trahan (Maine Compass: "Maine Constitution affirms owning firearms is individual right") arguing from the alarmist perspective of the National Rifle Association and other groups that refuse to engage in the hard work of balancing the right to bear arms with the obvious public safety concerns.

I hoped the executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine would be more pragmatic and lead responsible Maine gun owners in a level-headed debate about the real issue.

Let's be honest. Nobody is going to repeal the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and nobody is going to repeal Article 1, Section 16, of the Maine Constitution. The right to bear arms is firmly established within the law of the land. The U.S. Supreme Court recently affirmed that this is an individual right.

By referring to the most outlandish suggestions of the opposition, and treating them as serious threats, Trahan does nothing to advance the question of what type of reasonable limits on firepower are appropriate.

Yes, the right to bear arms is an individual right; yes, it is a "personal right"; and yes, it prohibits the government from an outright ban on firearms. Now let's get on with it.

Just because this is a constitutional right, and an individual right, it does not mean that it is an absolute right.

Just as the First Amendment right to free speech and the right to the free exercise of religion are properly limited by Congress, so is the right to bear arms.

Trahan cannot legally have three wives, even if the practice of his religion required him to do so.

Despite his First Amendment rights, he cannot cry "fire" to terrify patrons in a crowded theater, or use public words so coarse or offensive they are likely to provoke an imminent violent response from another person.

If the Second Amendment Right was absolute, individuals would necessarily be allowed to possess fully automatic machine guns or sawed-off shotguns. Why not rocket-propelled grenades?

Nobody can seriously argue that the Founding Fathers intended the Second Amendment to guarantee the right of the farmers of Concord and Lexington to own cannon and chain shot.

Trahan is correct that the right to bear arms clearly goes beyond those weapons necessary for hunting purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that self-defense is a valid constitutional consideration. But why avoid the much harder questions?

Under what scenario is a 39- or 50-round magazine justifiably necessary for home defense? Why does any Mainer need to have the right to purchase a AR-15 Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle at a gun show without a background check?

This is where the debate lies. I urge Trahan to join the serious conversation about what the appropriate limits on gun ownership should be. Nobody is coming to pry his gun from his cold, dead hand. He should stop trying to frighten responsible Maine gun owners into thinking this is so.

Jim Andrews lives in Farmington.

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