February 24th, 2013

In a political environment where there are loud voices arrayed against any control of guns in the face of the Second Amendment, I propose a solution for the benefit of society, a solution that focuses on the responsibilities of gun ownership.

The United States of America is an amazing experiment, the first in human history to base government on the will of the people governed.  I thank God every day that I was privileged to live here, at this time, able to enjoy the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution and its bill of Rights.

To live harmoniously in community requires that we give up total freedom; we don’t live alone on a desert island and we must each moderate our behaviors to accommodate our community.  Freedom in community is NOT absolute!

The Constitution is a social contract among us for living in a people-governed community.  It establishes a method of government and guarantees certain rights to protect us against tyranny.  Our diversity requires that we live by the rule of law; with laws enacted by legislatures elected by the people.  There are even processes in the Constitution to protect us from tyranny by the majority, thus preserving the rights of minorities and ideally giving a voice to all in our diverse society.

Laws are enacted by people-elected legislatures that restrict some freedoms for the benefit of all of us living in community.  No rights are absolute.  All rights guaranteed under the Constitution are conditional.  Those conditions are necessary to enable us to live harmoniously in community.  For example, the right of free speech is conditioned by protections against libel and slander or creating panic by shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  Rights of free travel are conditioned by laws regulating speed, traffic patterns, etc.

The right of gun ownership was deemed subject to regulation by the Supreme Court (District of Columbia vs. Heller, June 26, 2008, in NYT, Supreme Court Ruling Doesn’t Block Proposed Controls, Dec. 16, 2012).  The Supreme Court concluded that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is NOT unconditional and may be subject to legislative regulation for the benefit of society.  But the main obstacle to the imposition of conditions, according to the New York Times, “is likely to be politics, not constitutional law.”

Since it seems unlikely that the right to own a gun and to use it for self-defense will be restricted by Congress, and the Utah Legislature may well put Utah in the questionable position of obstructing any controls, we must recognize that ALL rights guaranteed by the Constitution are NOT absolute and carry RESPONSIBILITY for behaving in a manner to benefit community as a whole.  Let us therefore enshrine in law the responsibilities of gun ownership with suitable penalties for abdication of those responsibilities.

If one CHOOSES to own a gun, then that person accepts the responsibilities for such ownership and ANY consequences that occur from operation of that gun BY ANYONE.  Thus anyone can legally own a gun, but associated with the nature of, and potential for harm caused by a particular gun, the consequences for unlawful use can range from small to very serious.  If one chooses to own a particular weapon, for example a rapid fire-multi cartridge weapon, and that gun is used to inflict serious injury or death by anyone who obtains and uses it, the owner as well as the perpetrator are subject to serious penalties for such use.

Along with the right to own any weapon, for example a rapid fire-multi cartridge gun, goes the responsibility to use it lawfully AND keep it out of the hands of anyone who might use it for unlawful purposes.  If you choose to own it, you also incur the responsibility to keep it secure!

 To put teeth in this law, since the responsibilities of ownership increase with the potential for harm of the type gun owned, it is reasonable to prescribe increasingly severe penalties for failure to accept responsibility for increasingly dangerous weapons.  You can own it, but with the knowledge that you have serious responsibilities for doing so, the abdication of which subject you to serious penalties!

In a political climate where loud voices proclaim absolute Second Amendment Rights, and lots of lobbyist money supports no gun controls whatsoever, perhaps it is time to put into law the responsibilities each gun owner has in order to protect society from unlawful use of that weapon, no matter who may so use it, and enshrine appropriate penalties for both the owner and any other person whose use of the weapon causes unlawful harm to anyone in our Constitutionally protected society.

If one chooses to own a highly dangerous weapon AND that weapon is used by anyone to inflict unlawful harm, the penalties for such irresponsible ownership should parallel the penalties for inflicting harm with it.  Minor consequences get minor penalties, and MAJOR CONSEQUENCES get MAJOR PENALTIES, including confiscation of the weapon, fines, and prison time.  Both the perpetrator AND the gun owner both have responsibility and share prison time together.

Such penalties might cause a reasonable person to think carefully about owning any weapon, particularly one with which very serious penalties are attached.  No one says you can’t own it, and no one says the government will take away your gun, but you should think carefully about your responsibilities to society to control its accessibility as well as its use, even use by someone else, AND the penalties you might incur for irresponsible ownership!

I believe this approach honors both the spirit and the requirements of the Constitution and the Second Amendment, and may get past the shrill screams of the Second Amendment absolutists.  It’s worth a try!

Cam Mosher

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