Unlock and load: Guns ‘R’ Us

Today, if Marshall Matt Dillon in Dodge wanted cowboys to hand over their six-shooters before entering town, he would be in violation of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling concerning handgun regulations. Now, with the Supreme Court on their side, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is going to make sure all of us will have a shootin’ tootin’ time in public places.

On June 26, the majority on the court ruled that the District of Columbia’s "handgun ban and trigger-lock requirement on rifles violated the Second Amendment because it amounted to a prohibition on a class of arms that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense … 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."

Since that ruling, the NRA has taken a radical step by filing federal lawsuits in Chicago and San Francisco to overturn rules forbidding gun possession in public housing units — not that some of the residents need encouragement to own weapons. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said the court’s ruling “just flies in the face of reality. You just wish the Supreme Court could spend a week in public housing and then come out with this decision. It’s very easy and comfortable to stand there with security guards and metal detectors and make these decisions.”

It’s doubtful many NRA members live in the projects either.

Having more guns means more will die by the gun. In 2005, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has gathered statistics on death rates, 30,694 people were shot to death in the U.S.; that year in Colorado, 535 people lost their lives to a bullet. Of that national total, 55 percent of those were accounted suicides and 40 percent homicides. Public health researchers have noted that when guns are in a home, the chances that someone will die by a gun are much higher. Plus, suicide attempts by firearms are more successful than any other means.

Most likely, the NRA will use the court’s decision to pressure the Department of Interior to overturn a regulation that mandates weapons have to be unloaded and stowed in national parks, national recreation areas and wildlife refuges.

State officials across the nation and former park rangers are very concerned about lifting these rules. In a letter to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, public officials in Washington and Oregon stated, "Our businesses, families, and communities are much dependent upon the National Park Service providing parks that are safe and family friendly. Allowing loaded firearms will greatly undermine the current park atmosphere, threaten public safety, and damage wildlife."

Certainly, not everyone driving around with a loaded rifle in Rocky Mountain National Park is going to be tempted to shoot an eight-point elk bull standing 10 feet from the roadway. But even with the current gun regs, wild animals are indiscriminately shot. Recently, an individual in Wyoming found himself looking at a four-year prison sentence for

illegally shooting an elk. Chief U.S. District Judge William Downes made this sentencing statement to the defendant:  "Your case represents a classic public-policy answer to the question: ‘Why do we not want to have people with indiscriminate access to firearms in a national park?’ And your crime answers that question, ‘We don’t.’"

For now, the federal government and the Supreme Court, with pressure from the NRA, encourage gun ownership for self-defense and arming citizen militias. Unfortunately, the people we have to protect ourselves from are us.


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