Thank you to our HNN readers who wrote in (with passion!) on the issue of humanism and gun control. We had an overwhelming number of emails sent in, so we regret that we are unable to publish every opinion. We appreciate those who took the time to share their views! All responses below have been published with permission by the authors.
I find the arguments over gun control and registration ridiculous. I usually shut my opponents up when I point out that automobiles in the hands of the inexperienced and untrained are dangerous, and therefore we have compulsory tests and licensing to drive a car. The same logic applies to gun control, they are dangerous and there should be compulsory tests to determine your aptitude to handle a gun with subsequent registration and licensing. I do not see why anyone would consider this unreasonable.
—Howard McFann, Florence, South Carolina
Everyone who talks about the issue of control forever quotes the Second Amendment. The problem is when that amendment was written, guns were in a totally different category: far less dangerous, much slower, etc. etc.
I can see absolutely no reason why anyone needs the powerful, far reaching, large-clip automatic weapons available these days unless they are defending their drug turf – and that’s another whole can of worms. I am not against having some hunting rifles/shot guns or hand guns. But never has the old saw been more true: Violence breeds violence! The idea of teachers now walking through a school fully armed is beyond ludicrous. America is becoming more and more the laughing stock of the world! All those gun-ho types need to get a life – one not involving violence!
—Hella, Scottsville, VA
As secular humanists I think we are committed to rational gun control. I am not a gun owner and consider guns of all types to be dangerous but I believe there are legitimate reasons to own a gun, i.e. hunting, sport shooting and, rarely, protection. However, guns are dangerous weapons and as such should be rigidly regulated. This includes licensing and registering ALL guns and requiring safe storage and training in their use. It also means prohibiting civilians from obtaining military weapons and high output magazines as well as large caliber destructive ammunition. These measures, if ever enacted, would not immediately stop the carnage but eventually would reduce the number of gun induced tragedies in our country.
—Arthur W. Silver, Coronado, CA
“Individual freedom and the Bill of Rights” do not justify assault weapons and automatic pistols. These weapons are only useful to kill humans, so Humanists should support banning them, as well as more thorough background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally disturbed.
—Erdman Palmore, Chapel Hill, NC
The idea of providing an armed, fully-equipped policeman in every school has been presented by the NRA. Allow me to suggest a different idea that I believe would work out to be a better idea.
All of these problems—bullying, homophobia, being a loner, poor adjustment, mental disorders of many kinds—may play a role in the tragic violence that our country has experienced all too frequently of late.
My idea is a challenge to the American Psychological Association to begin talks on what would be required to advocate for an unarmed, professional Clinical Psychologist in every school across our nation. These psychologists could, in privacy with parents, make referrals for treatment of troubled young people to a local network of educational and health professionals for ongoing “team” care—covered by health insurance.
—Don Manning, Lynchburg, VA
Commitment to the Bill of Rights is a noble position. However, the Second Amendment guarantees nothing but the importance of maintaining a well-armed militia and allowing members of that militia to own guns. Everything else is judicial interpretation. Until the middle of the 20th century, the Second Amendment wasn’t used to protect private gun ownership. The important thing to remember is that it is possible to be both pro Bill of Rights and pro-gun control. The name of this publication is “Humanist Network.” Protecting human life would seem to be the first principle of any organization with that name. Reasonable gun control doesn’t violate the Bill of Rights. There is no justification for owning an assault rifle or for opposing background checks except in the delusional mind of the NRA which sees any regulation as the first step to confiscating their guns.
There is no reason Humanist Network should support the NRA’s interpretation of the Second Amendment when that interpretation is clearly anti-human life. What is the justification for allowing large magazines of ammunition to be sold so that guns firing 50 to 100 rounds per minute do not have to be reloaded too often? Assault rifles have only one purpose to kill humans; certainly humanists should work to ban these guns.
—Angela Mogin, San Mateo, CA
Any time I hear a group make a statement like “end gun violence” they lose credibility with me. A goal to “reduce gun violence” shows a rational rather than just emotional response. The press narrative of just “guns are the problem” is missing that there are other difficult issues like the tradeoff between rights of deranged people versus the interests of the rest of us, or possibly questions like “Do video games serve as a frustration vent or do they just encourage natural violent tendency’s in males?”
[Maggie Ardiente, HNN Editor] mentioned that humanists are committed to individual freedom and the Bill of Rights, which appears to be the corner stone of the humanist ethic. This is all well and good, but if we’re to keep pace with modern society and attempt to create a better life for ourselves now and in the future, we must also make sure our laws and societal guides keep pace with the changes. Being a humanist is not easy, especially when discarding a belief system and realizing that the realities of life rests entirely upon our own shoulders. No one is going to save us from ourselves, except ourselves, and this is where we run into difficult choices.
The saying that “Guns don’t kill, people do” is a truism and it brings into perspective the issue of saneness within humanity itself. Banning assault weapons (again) and high capacity magazines would be a token gesture to help the public deal with these horrible events, but would have little effect on future crimes, as there are already thousands of these types of firearms owned by the public. Besides, there are many other ways to do harm to another using commonly obtained materials. I believe the best approach would be to develop better methods to screen and offer help to those fighting their own demons.
Any way you look at it, there isn’t much we can do about it except work toward providing our children with the best possible chance to become emotionally healthy adults. Which makes us more human, our ability to reason or our emotions? I believe it’s both, but reason must be able to override emotion if we’re to survive as a species. And, then there’s genetics!
—Stephanie Singer, Columbus, OH
Just a brief comment on the topic of more strict gun control legislation. I’m sure that would be desirable, but I’m not sure it is the complete answer. Terrorists or people who are mentally disturbed and wish to kill will always find a way to get the necessary weapons and do their killing. Perhaps it might help if we as parents would raise our children in a more thoughtful and meaningful way, emphasizing the leading of a good and moral life. I don’t know if that will help because even then, there will always be some who will stray and will kill innocent people. Maybe there is no answer to these periodic slaughters by insane individuals who will always find a way to obtain the necessary weapons to kill the innocent.
—Ted Utchen, Wheaton, IL
This just seems like a no-brainer to me. Humanists are supportive of human beings, as unique, valuable trustees of the planet and its inhabitants, and that begins with protecting life (and of course liberty and the pursuit of happiness). Doing what we can to keep people from being shot by someone with a psychological disorder would seem to be one of the first orders of business for a humanist organization.
—Carol Andersen, Denver, CO
On the question of gun control, as humanists, we should examine the evidence and take a stance based upon the greater good of humanity. In this case, there is strong evidence that controlling access to guns prevents deaths. That should be the humanist position.
As a gun owner and possessor of a concealed weapons permit, I’ve watched the news closely and felt I’d like to comment. I’m a former U.S. Marine who spent 19 months is Vietnam (1967-1969) and who owns two handguns and a .22 rifle, all inherited. They are old, historic pieces. The .25 Bayard was used by the Austrians in World War I. It fires like it was new. The .38 Colt, made in 1918, is also cherry and believed to be a pistol my grandfather hid for a Mafia friend in New York City about that time. Both are well-hidden in my house and car. My wife dislikes firearms and would never use one, except perhaps against me in a moment of anger.
Our nation’s current firearm dilemma won’t be easy to resolve. I went to a gun show Saturday in St. Augustine, expecting to watch a feeding frenzy of gun buys. But it wasn’t like that at all. One older guy outside, sitting in one of those little electric vehicles for the disabled, was wheeling around hawking large capacity magazines. He was selling, too. Inside, it was crowded but calm. In 90 minutes of browsing, I saw only one rifle purchased, a Russian 7.62 rifle with an attached bayonet. It was not an AK, which I would have recognized. But 7.62 mm is an excellent round and can knock people down from a long way off. So assault weapons are not the only threats.
One problem is keeping lunatics from arming themselves. My wife is a middle-school teacher and almost daily confronts eighth-graders who threaten to burn down the school or shoot other kids and her. The school sends these future jail inmates to a special school for a few days. Then they come back, cockier because now they’re class heroes. Now, the Sheriff’s Office is cracking down on those dangerously disturbed kids, arresting those who make direct threats or who bring weapons to school. The universal law is finally being understood: Little nut-jobs can often grow up to be bigger, more dangerous nut jobs. Getting them on a registry and out of the general school population will certainly reduce danger.
Any kid threatening or committing acts of violence won’t get to watch TV or play video games. (You’ll need the cooperation of parents here.) When a weak-minded kid watches 600 murders a week on TV, it inoculates them to the horror of other people’s death. The NRA, whose shrill rhetoric puts off even gun enthusiasts, wants people to be armed to “prevent a potential government takeover.” But I see it differently. Secessionist, “patriot,” end-time fanatics and racist militia are coming out of the woodwork because Obama’s presence offends them. I would say that they are the danger. Keep your guns, don’t tell anyone you have them and stock up on ammo. In short: Stay alive.
I’ll trust our incompetent government before I’ll trust a society run by cults or “sovereign citizens” or those wanting to make Florida its own country. The world’s crazy enough without that!
—Peter Guinta, FL
I suggest the AHA, as an organization, not take a stand on contentious issues such as gun control. They are divisive for the organization and will likely lead to a lower level of financial and other support from members and potential members. I prefer an organization that encourages members and others to make their own decisions on such matters based on the philosophy of humanism. Let’s be inclusive, not divisive.
—Paul Morsey, Owensboro, KY
The inherent danger of a gun is that it can kill at a distance, somewhat impersonally. Guns are unlike any other common weapon, e.g. knives, clubs, swords, etc. wherewith one must be in close contact with one’s victim(s). A second dreadful aspect, for modern weaponry, is that guns can be used for multiple killings in a very short time period, i.e. so brief that successful intervention is almost impossible. It would take quite a stretch of reason or interpretation of the constitution to believe that the individual killing of one or more citizens by any one citizen falls within our Second Amendment “right to bear arms.” It is murder, whether premeditated or not, it is simply murder.
Just as we know that brushing one’s teeth, avoiding bites by infected mosquitoes, drinking clean water and following other modern health care rules will both increase the quality of our lives and lengthen them – all measures developed in the past 200+ years – we must surely know that allowing citizens to possess weapons of mass destruction (also developed recently) is a reversion to times of ignorance and asocial behavior indicative of a citizenry which has lost interest in maintaining and improving the social order for the betterment of all. Even though the existing number of guns in America is very large (some say as many as one per citizen) it is not impossible for us to gather up those which are neither hunting rifles nor target weapons (which could be kept at the private shooting ranges) and prevent them from getting back into circulation. Further, we can control the sale of all guns with proper legislation. Still further, we can control the sale of ammunition by enforceable rules. Last, but not least, we can be much more diligent in reporting, evaluating and treating (when necessary) our citizens who exhibit aberrant behavior indicative of their lack of ability to live in a responsible manner in our society.
The NRA membership represents only some 4 million citizens; they should not control gun policy or any political action concerning guns in America. As humanists our primary concern is how we can improve life in the here and now (not in some predicted future existence). Hence, our beliefs must translate into actions which better our society at all levels, neighborhood, town, state, national and international. We must demand from our elected officials a responsible approach to control of deadly weapons in the hands of our fellow citizens and an effective system of identifying and treating any who demonstrate those with strong asocial tendencies.
It seems to me that the American Humanist Association has an inherent vested interest in preserving and improving the lives of all people by strongly supporting effective gun control measures and improvements in our mental health system.
There are some obligatory comments about the number of guns readily available in this country, but in its wisdom the National Rifle Association (NRA) responds by promoting the idea that everyone should be allowed to carry a concealed weapon and, for example, if a few men had loaded revolvers in that theatre they could have killed the perpetrator before he killed many of them. This is a laughable fantasy. Ten scared, excited, amateur gunmen, shooting wildly toward the killer would kill and wound a lot more than the killer did because of inaccurate fire in the crowded, darkened theatre. Think also of former VP Chaney, who accidentally shot a friend when shooting at confined pigeons in a field.
Lost in the fog of all the reporting and hand wringing of this and the other massacres are the stark statistics produced annually by the FBI that is pretty uniform by year. For example, in 2010, 31,224 American civilians died from gun fire. 12,632 (3,067 of whom were children or teenagers) were murdered by our fellow Americans. An estimated 70,000 were wounded. Suicide by gun claimed the lives of 17,352 of us. This questions the advantage of having a gun in the house for “self-protection,” since another FBI statistic states that you are more likely to be shot if there is a gun in your house then you are if your house is gun free.
We have been at war for 10 years in Afghanistan and Iraq, during which time period the Taliban and al Qaeda killed about 7,000 Americans and wounded about 50,000, a wounded-killed ratio of 7 to 1. Many wounded servicemen are returning with injuries so serious they would have died in prior wars, where the wounded-killed ratio was 3 to 1 or 4 to 1.
So just dealing with the killed numbers, during the last 10 years American citizens murdered about 125,000 of us (12,632 x 10) or about 17 times more per year than the 7,000 killed by our enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the 125,000 killed by gun owners were 31,000 children and teenagers.
Purpose of this is to show the human cost and irrationality of our current gun policy, and where it may be headed if we don’t at least get much better control of automatic weapons manufacturing and sale. Support sensible gun control laws!
Growing up on a farm in Michigan, I always had guns in the house: shotguns, rifles, etc. Living as the manager of a housing project for migrants in Florida, we got handguns and took training offered by the police department.
People will have hunting gear and small firearms for “self-defense,” but there is absolutely no need for assault rifles. There is no need for magazines that hold 30 rounds of ammo.
Gun shows in Florida are wide open for nuts of all kinds to get what they want. Gun shows should be outlawed, outlaw sales should be illegal and policed with heavy penalties and all guns should be registered. We need to reregister arms like we get dog licenses. That way the authorities will know what arms we have.
— Jan Kalnbach, Brooksville, Florida
Let’s be clear about gun control. There is nothing constructive or creative you can do with a gun. You can’t build a house with it, you can’t fix your car with it. Guns have only one function and that is killing. If you are not going to kill someone you don’t need a gun. If you are going to kill someone, you should be locked up.
Some think guns give security. And there is a relation between guns and security, but it is the opposite of what gun owners think. Adam Lanza’s mother had guns in her home, and now she is dead, her son is dead, and 26 other people are dead. That is the kind of security that guns provide. A gun in the home is 22 times as likely to kill a family member as an intruder. That is the kind of security that guns provide.
The United States has a gun homicide rate 42 times as high as the United Kingdom. That shows the difference between a country with no gun control and a country with effective gun control.
—Fred Brown, Palomar, CA
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