The pros and cons of gun laws

18:11, Jan 14 2013

Guns, again. Was going to say I've never been near one but then I remembered my childhood. A brother had a .303 with telescopic sights, which he kept under his bed, together with about 100 rounds of ammo. When I burnt down the family house in the early seventies (the first time, I mean) the attending firemen said they never would've ventured inside had they known about it. There was also a silver air pistol which kept us entertained for hours.

Doesn't seem so funny now. Whether it's hunters taking out one of their own or the increasing use of firearms in crime, guns seem to be a constant ingredient in our tragedies today. News of another accidental-but-fatal shooting over the weekend was just the most recent episode. People talk about the rights and wrongs of gun control but there's one absolute truism. Those who have guns are more likely to be killed by them than those who don't.

New Zealand seems to have reasonably common-sense gun control legislation - comparatively speaking, at least. But it's a bit of a worry when you hear stories like the one involving former All Black hardman Keith Robinson, at present facing assault charges. According to reports, the incident happened after a "man cave" tour in which attendees played drinking games, drank beer through a funnel, threw kegs around a lawn, and "shot guns".

Neither is it comforting to hear people, in the wake of two assaults on police officers over the past month, calling for the mandatory arming of the constabulary. Especially when, in one of the cases, the fact the police officer attacked didn't have a gun might well have saved his life. We can talk about arming the police all we like; all it will mean is more criminals armed and more people - innocents and protagonists alike - shot. More funerals.

Still, when you look at the mess the United States has bought into over gun ownership rights, it feels as if New Zealand is at least on the right track, if not some distance ahead of the field. Doesn't seem to matter how much havoc and death is wrecked in the US under their absurd second amendment, the right to bear arms is still considered as American as apple pie. While classrooms of children die, gun advocates argue the principle of the matter.

Have chatted to several American friends to get a grasp on the prevailing attitude. If what they've told me is correct, the second amendment isn't so much about proffering hunting, or self protection rights, but more about an 18th century view that, in the absence of a permanent federal army, citizens needed the ability to resist an invasion or a tyrannical government. To support or suppress an insurrection, depending on the circumstances.

How that still applies today is anyone's guess. Not only does the US fund a spectacularly large and all-encompassing military for homeland security, it also has its fingers in military pies all over the globe. The idea that Americans need to be armed because of an inadequate army would be hilarious if it wasn't so bloody tragic. Surely, the sheer might of the American military renders that particular interpretation of the second amendment redundant?

Anyway, makes me feel both wary and pleased about New Zealand's gun ownership legislation. Wary, because some people are still agitating for the mandatory arming of police and the introduction of even more guns into the community. And more guns will equal more shootings. Pleased, because, no matter how flawed our gun control laws might be, we've at least managed to avoid the sheer lunacy of our cousins across the Pacific.

» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
» Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardboock.

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