The gun lobby often argues that the United States government cannot regulate firearms because gun ownership is a fundamental American right. But this argument incorrectly assumes that a “right” is untouchable, never to be limited or expanded based on the circumstances of our day. In fact, the regulation and protection of citizens’ inherent rights are not mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as an unregulated right, and guns are no exception to this basic principle of our nation’s governance.
The history of our right to drive a car, for instance, reveals that regulation is crucial to maintaining the safety of our society. Nicholas Kristoff highlights this very example in an op-ed published in today’s New York Times, in which he examines the trajectory of this simple freedom. The activity was once dangerously unregulated and caused innumerable fatalities, but today—due to stringent and responsible laws—driving has become significantly safer. Between seatbelt, license and airbag requirements along with speed limits and harsher punishments for drunk driving, the death rate on our roads is at an all time low: 1 car death per 100 million miles driven.
Did we relinquish our right to drive by making it a safer activity? Absolutely not. That right still exists for any American that can prove that he or she is responsible enough to drive safely without endangering his or her fellow citizens. Likewise, there are a series of concrete steps that we can take today to ensure this same standard of safety for gun ownership. “There are similar technological and behavioral fixes that can ease the toll of gun violence, from expanded background checks to trigger locks to smart guns that recognize a thumbprint, just like my iPhone does,” Michael Waldman writes in his new book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography.”
But sadly, it seems that the American gun lobby and the legislators that it coerces obdurately refuse to apply this reasoning to guns. “The truth is that we regulate cars quite intelligently, instituting evidence-based measures to reduce fatalities,” writes Kristoff. “Yet the gun lobby is too strong, or our politicians too craven, to do the same for guns.”
There was a time in this country, as Kristoff notes, when regulating guns was as universal and unquestioned as speed limits, seatbelts, and license requirements are today. Since then, gun control measures have become anathema to politicians and lobbyists alike. But with 92% of Americans supporting expanded background checks and 30,000 Americans killed by guns each year, it’s time for our government to give us both the right and regulation of firearm ownership. It’s what we as citizens overwhelmingly want, and what we undeniably need.
Read Kristoff’s full op-ed in The New York Times, here.