Cover for the book "Living With Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment."
The issue of gun control is again on the minds of Americans in the wake of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. With at least 27 reported dead so far, including 18 children, some are saying it could be the worst mass shooting in American history.
But despite this tragedy and others that have occurred recently in Oregon and Colorado, there has been a lack of cooperation between gun control supporters and opponents when it comes to an open discussion of what could be done to prevent mass shootings.
Former New York Times reporter Craig R. Whitney's new book "Living with Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment," delves deep into the history of guns in America, their important role in establishing the United States, but also the need for an effective discussion about how to modify current laws to help prevent the tragic misuse and abuse of the Second Amendment.
On why gun control supporters and opponents absolutely need to have an open discussion about gun control:
"It's an attempt to break the polarization by encouraging both sides to talk to each other about the real problem we have of gun violence, and it shouldn't be true that there's nothing we can do about that. We could if people who support gun rights and people who support gun control would talk to each other about reasonable ways to compromise … If we do nothing to try to cope with things like these mass shootings that occur periodically they're just going to keep happening. How long can we go on just shrugging and saying, 'Well there's nothing we can do?' There is something we can do, we can start by talking to each other about it."
On his view that the Second Amendment is common-law right, subject to regulation:
"When I set out to write the book I didn't have any preconceived idea about whether the Second Amendment was a good thing or a bad thing … but in doing the research about how it came about and what the history of guns was in the United States before it was the United States, I determined that the NRA is right in one respect, it is an individual right, always has been in the United States and in the colonies before that. A common law right though, one that was subject to regulation in those days and has been since. And I think that's all the Second Amendment did was recognize that and protect it to some extent."
On how the Second Amendment as written is out of date:
"A British friend of mine asked me recently when I explained that we'd always had guns in America because we needed them to defend ourselves against indians and against them, the British. He said, 'Well you don't have to worry about indian attack anymore do you, or attacks by Britain?' and I said no. But just because that was the purpose of the Second Amendment and the context of it doesn't mean that's the only thing its good for, the Second Amendment doesn't limit the right to people who belong to a militia, it simply says the right that existed before the Second Amendment was written or adopted will not be infringed or eliminated. The law obviously changes over time, what the Second Amendment meant back then is not limiting on what it means to us today in very different circumstance."
"I think it means, unless you repeal it, that you can't seize or eliminate the 300 million firearms that are in people's private hands today, and I think there are some on the gun control side who would like to do that. In fact, in 1969, a presidential commission concluded that in order to reduce gun violence the best thing to do would be to seize or outlaw the 24-million handguns that were in people's hands those days. They actually recommended that. The report came out just as the Nixon administration was coming into office, so nothing happened, but I think people on the NRA side of things remember that and they keep bringing that possibility up as a means to get members and to raise money today.
"We do have a long history with guns, we wouldn't have a United States of America if it hadn't been for the fact that people who lived in America then had arms and knew how to use them, and had been organized in militias to defend themselves … Later those became the elements that went into building the continental army, which defeated the British they were the most powerful military force in the world at the time. There's the wild West and indian attacks were a real threat to the colonists in the 17th century and even early into the 18th. So we owe our existence as a country to an extent to firearms and we think of firearms as part of our history and they are more than they are in most other countries."
"I think spreading fear and paranoia is very effective when people don't know the facts. Take what the NRA has been saying about President Obama, they say he's a rabid gun control supporter. Well, when he was a state legislator, and maybe for a little while when he was a representative from Illinois, he supported some gun control that's true, but what did he do as president in four years?
"Neither of those two things squares with the NRA's view of him as a dangerous gun control ideologue, yet gun sales or at least applications to buy guns, soared after his election in '08, and they spiked again…after his reelection all because enough people believe the NRA when it said he wants to take your guns away. Well, show me the statement he's ever made where he said he'd do that."
"We have to live with them, because we've got 300 million of them in this country and unless we figure out a way to deal with the gun violence problem more effectively than we do, more people than should will die from guns … It's not a question of getting rid of them, it's a question of how do you get at the human behaviors that lead people to misuse them, and how do you make them safer, maybe how do you deal with the social problems that lead to gun violence."