Representative Dan Benishek recently shared in the paper his views on firearms, a subject of considerable discussion across the country these days.
He spoke up forcefully for northern Michigan, noting that the responsible use of guns for sport and hunting is a way of life up here. The tradition of responsible gun handling and safety is handed down from each generation to the next and with such respect for firearms we can year after year have generally very safe hunting seasons with tens of thousands of people in the woods and very few gun injuries.
The key element of this activity is the proper emphasis of marksmanship, of developing the keen eye and steady hand in order to be able to drop a target with one round or two. Marksmanship is the essential skill for all shooting sports from hunting game to birds to skeet to trick shooting. This also holds true for people who simply wish to have a pistol for personal and family protection, being able to stop an intruder accurately if forced into such a situation.
Gun knowledge, training, and safety should be paramount across the country, as they are here in northern Michigan.
It is therefore disconcerting to know that 154 rounds in about two minutes was the firepower unleashed on 26 people in Newtown, Conn.
That rate of fire for a weapon system does not fit into any shooting sport or other lawful gun-related activity, including personal protection, so far as I can see. That kind of firepower properly has a place in only one human activity, namely, combat.
It has no place in civil society and such weapons systems (semi-automatic rifles and large-capacity magazines) ought to be removed from the marketplace.
Of course, their ban would not eliminate the large numbers of them already out in society which have been aquired legally, but their elimination from the marketplace could contribute over time to fewer opportunities for tragedies like Newtown to recur.
In the hands of responsible owners and gun collectors, such systems as remain in society would be expected to pose minimal threat to anyone.
The Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 overturned the District's overreaching ban on handguns, and did affirm the individual's personal right to keep and bear arms.
The decision went on to note that the Second Amendment is not an absolute right but is subject to limitations by government with regard to types of weapons available to civilians, and to reasonable regulations to try keeping such weapons out of the hands of felons or citizens with mental impairments.
Machine guns have been banned since 1934 and some styles of 'assault rifles' were banned from 1994 to 2004. The Toomey-Manchin bill which recently failed to receive sufficient support in the Senate to be brought to the Senate floor would have expanded background checks for virtually all proposed gun purchases as part of the process to keep weapons from those who should not have access to them.
The bill also very specifically prohibited anyone from attempting to establish any kind of registry of gun owners. I am absolutely floored by the odd logic which attempts to morph this proposal for universal background checks (for which no notes or records can be kept by anyone once the check is completed) into a national registration system for guns and owners (expressly prohibited in the legislation) to the paranoid outcry that 'the government is coming to take our guns.'
Perhaps Rep. Benishek could explain or clarify further his views with regard to this line of reasoning.
I agree with Rep. Benishek about generating a conversation in this country with respect to enforcement of current gun laws and the state of mental health care.
Current laws certainly should be enforced to the fullest extent possible and I trust he is an advocate for full funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, including confirmation of a Director for the Bureau which has been without one for about six years.
This advocacy should extend to any and all other agencies, federal or state or wherever, which also have jurisdiction in this area.
None of the ideas which have been proposed during this national conversation or mentioned here would by themselves or taken collectively assure or guarantee there would never be a recurrence of a tragedy like Newtown.
Nor would any of them impair law-abiding responsible gun owners from their continued enjoyment of the various shooting sports or the individual desirability or necessity for personal protection.
However, such discussions could lead to a better balancing of Second Amendment rights with the rights of society to seek and establish better standards for public safety. By all means, let's keep talking.
William D. Rice