What makes for reasonable gun regulation?

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Shooting_range_GlockThe following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

I’ve possessed a concealed carry permit for over five years now. I believe in the right to bear arms and I’d use a handgun or any weapon to protect me and my loved ones. I don’t believe I ought to wait for local police to protect me and what’s mine.

I’ve owned one gun in my life so far – a Tech-9, officially labeled an “assault rifle” by Congress when I purchased it back in the mid-’90s. I worked for Congress at the time and I remember when the House of Representatives voted to ban “assault weapons.” It upset my sensibilities so much that I drove out to rural Virginia and bought the Tech-9, knowing perfectly well that my purchase would be protected by any “grandfathering” of so-called assault weapons not yet banned by the United States Senate and signed into law by the president.

I didn’t need a Tech-9 to protect my home, though it clearly does that. That Tech-9 represents my right to bear arms.

Those of you who know me by now know that I don’t believe in absolute rights. Every right either has an exception or is offset by a competing right. The Second Amendment is not an absolute right. The right to bears arms can be regulated. But, like all amendments in the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment deserves to be honored and respected, in practice, not just in theory, and any regulation must be reasonable and the least intrusive means to accomplish any governmental or societal objective.

In obtaining my concealed-carry permit, I remember one lesson taught to me by my friend Clark Aposhian. As Clark described Utah’s gun laws he stressed a “reasonable man’s test” – meaning that if I were to brandish a firearm, would I be acting in a way that any reasonable man would act? The word that comes to my mind is proportionality.

Is my reaction to any threat proportional to that threat? And, regarding regulating firearms, is the means of protecting myself and others proportional to any potential threat? For instance, would I use a shotgun to stop a pickpocket? Or would I need a bazooka to stop a home intruder? These are reasonable questions to ask.

Admittedly, advocates of gun control use these arguments regularly to claim that we ought to ban “assault weapons” or automatic weapons or clips containing any quantity more than standard issue. Actually, they argue that any and every gun should be banned because proportionality covers nearly every imaginary scenario wherein a gun might be used. It’s a fact, in theory, there’s always a gun scenario that includes disproportionality.

This truth leads many gun owners and Second Amendment advocates to argue the other extreme: Proportionality cannot be a justifiable reason to regulate and license guns. In fact, there is no justifiable reason to regulate and license guns.

Recently, the Utah Legislature passed a bill referred to as “constitutional carry,” meaning any person could carry a gun, concealed or not, without a permit (also meaning without any training whatsoever). The bill was vetoed by Governor Gary Herbert. I must admit the veto didn’t bother me – not because I actually oppose the ideal involved, but because it was often justified, by its supporters, as an unreasonable infringement of the Second Amendment. I don’t see it that way.

What I see is that licenses and permits and classes and training are reasonable regulations in a free society. But just as proportionality should apply to the ownership and use of any firearm, proportionality should also apply to the regulation of firearms – the least intrusive, the better.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

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