‘You’ll shoot your eye out.’ Talking about guns at Christmastime

The onslaught of the 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon on cable television tomorrow raises an interesting contemporary question: When is a Second Amendment-protected firearm just a gun and when does it become a much bigger threat to public safety?

Ralphie’s schemes, as the movie goes, is to land “an official Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time” under the Christmas tree.

Obviously, a kid’s BB gun is a far sight different than a deer hunting rifle or pistol. But then so is a “sporterized” AK-47 boasting a minor cosmetic redesign that allows it to skirt the 1994 federal assault weapons ban that has since expired.

BuzzFlash posted an interesting Q&A yesterday with Freedom States Alliance communications director Scott Vogel on his group’s efforts to reduce gun violence.

While too much of the discussion gets into scare tactics and overheated gun rhetoric — a criticism correctly lobbed at the gun lobby too — this snippet offers some promise about how to get at the thorny issue of a modern-day interpretation of the Second Amendment.

BuzzFlash: As a follow-up, what constitutes an “arm”? Is a bazooka an “arm”? A .50 caliber sniper rifle? How can the Supreme Court decide what constitutes an “arm” when the only guns around when the Constitution was written were flintlocks and muskets?

Scott Vogel: It’s a very good question. At what point, as the industry continues to innovate with deadlier and more powerful weapons, is a “gun” no longer just a gun? That’s why we need to better identify and classify firearms and make clear distinctions between bolt action hunting rifles, and cop-killing assault weapons, because there are important differences. The gun lobby has succeeded in blurring and weakening the definitions and functions of firearms to block legislation, often claiming that any gun regulation will affect “hunting rifles,” which is patently not true.

Your point is well taken. Even if you believe in an interpretation that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to gun ownership, the Amendment was written when muskets were not the deadly products that are mass produced today. Now a mentally unstable student can easily obtain two powerful handguns with multiple high-capacity magazines and commit mass murder, such as the 32 students and professors killed at Virginia Tech. As you said, a terrorist armed with a .50 caliber sniper rifle could target a chemical or industrial refinery in a horrific attack. Is this weapon a gun? I don’t think so.


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