Three words dominated the news this last week. Pirates, guns and money. Sounds like a song by the late Warren Zevon.
A great debate is afoot, generated from two sets of criminal acts — the pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia and the string of mass murders we have seen in the United States in the last year.
We are too familiar with what is happening off the Somali coast. The Maersk Alabama was hijacked by Somali pirates. Not a lot of pirates, mind you, but they were armed and the crew was not. The good news: all were rescued, unharmed. The bad news: pirates still ply the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
On April 11, an American-owned tugboat flying an Italian flag was hijacked with 16-crew members reported on-board. The Italian navy sent its warships to do what they could. Tuesday morning, ABC News reported four more hijackings by Somali pirates.
Then there are the mass murders reported across the nation; disgruntled workers killing co-workers, a man walking into nursing homes and murdering innocent patients, a father killing family members and then suicide.
What do these have in common? Guns. Do not get me wrong, I am not for a complete ban on firearms, but there has to be an understanding what is and is not “common sense.” No one has ever explained to me why someone must own an assault rifle if all you plan to do is hunt deer. Assault rifles are designed to kill people, the “enemy.” Deer are not the enemy, nor criminals, nor al-Qaida. Deer is either food or trophy.
The history surrounding gun control dates back to 14th-century England as a religious issue; Catholics were prohibited from owning guns after the Protestant English Reformation. The 1689 English Bill of Rights’ seventh provision, giving Protestants the right to own guns, is the foundation of the Second Amendment.
The argument concerning “gun control” is, in my mind at least, interpretation of life then and now. The Second Amendment says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” In 1776, every able-bodied male (OK, free white male) was a member of the local militia. Farmers and merchants took up arms and stood shoulder to shoulder to fight along with free and slaved blacks.
So what does this have to do with crimes on the high seas and at home? The two incompatible arguments are simple: we need to arm our Merchant Marines to protect them from pirates, and we need to control the sale and ownership of guns at home. It is not hard to see the conflict presented or the emotion generated by these two opposing needs.
The problem is enhanced by the knowledge that many of the pirates are not old enough to shave and there is essentially no government or law in Somalia, and that the guns used in the sensationalized crimes at home were, for the most part, legally purchased.
So where do the liberals and conservatives go from here? Both sides are arguing from Maslow’s second level in his hierarchy: fear of crime, of uncontrolled violence, of civil uprisings. In a word, chaos.
The argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is true, but the weapon of choice is usually a firearm. Another argument is that anything can be used as a weapon and kitchen knives can be used to kill. True, but if Seung-Hui Cho had a 10-inch cooking knife, 32 would not have died at Virginia Tech. Yet hunting, sport and home protection are all legitimate reasons to own a weapon. So where is the balance?
The NRA need not worry; gun ownership will never be prohibited in this country. However, the lethality and technology incorporated in the modern handgun, shotgun or rifle could not have been imagined 300 years ago. And no one has ever answered my question — why own an assault rifle to hunt deer?
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Besides the Missourian, David is also a featured columnist for MissouriTribune.com and TRCB.com. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.