Inordinate fear, unfortunately, drives the politics of guns in this country, making it extremely difficult to have a rational discussion on reasonable regulation.
Any mention of regulation and the cry goes up -- "Get them now before they are taken away!" -- although no one is talking about confiscating firearms. Gun sales skyrocket, particularly of military-style semiautomatic rifles, as we've seen since the school massacre in Connecticut.
At a gun show at the state-owned Cow Palace near San Francisco over the weekend, people were loading up guns and ammo by the cartload.
Even before President Barack Obama announced the results of Vice President Joe Biden's anti-gun- violence task force, one member of Congress -- Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas -- broached the idea of impeachment.
He's throwing a fit because the president is considering executive actions that would improve enforcement of existing law -- for example, appointing a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has been without a head for six years, and requiring federal agencies to cooperate in providing data for background checks.
Outside the halls of Congress, some were broaching the idea of armed resistance if Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., revives the nation's 1994-2004 assault weapons ban. An NRA lobbyist labeled her proposal as one to "take your guns."
Can members of Congress have a rational discussion on a ban on high-capacity detachable ammunition magazines? On requiring a federal background check for all gun sales, including private and gun show sales? On extending the same laws to ammunition sellers that firearms dealers already follow in getting federal licenses and keeping records of transactions? On allowing federal research on gun violence? We hope so.
None of these measures bode a descent into tyranny. We support the Second Amendment and the right of law-abiding people to own and use guns for hunting, sport shooting and protection.
But we also agree with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia when he wrote, in the seminal Heller case, that the Second Amendment "is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."
At the backdrop of this is an ironic reality, captured in a CNN headline in July: "Fewer
U.S. gun owners own more guns." Even as the number of gun sales skyrockets, the number of households with guns is on the decline. That concentration of ownership skews the debate. Hyperenthusiasts drive gun sales and rhetoric.
At a town hall held Thursday by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, many people were touting conspiracy theories, including sinister-sounding U.N. plots to confiscate American firearms. In a Jan. 4 column in the newsletter Wall Street Daily, Larry Klayman, a Justice Department prosecutor during the Reagan administration, raised the specter of Obama "banning guns and seizing our weapons." He called for revolt: "The time has come after a long line of 'abuses and usurpations' for us to rise up and demand that our current so-called rulers leave 'Dodge City,' or suffer the consequences as King George III was forced to do." Some people have picked up on this speculation as sound evidence that the president wants all guns banned. Obama has never said anything close to that.
The question is whether the president and Congress can rise above all of this background noise to enact common-sense measures to regulate gun sales and ownership in this country in order to try to prevent more mass murders as occurred in Connecticut. They should not allow paranoia to dominate or derail this necessary task.