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The Other Big Question

There’s been much discussion in the MSM and the blogosphere linking the vitriolic language of politics with the appalling act of violence just committed in Tucson, as well as much discussion of the discussion — is it relevant? Is it appropriate? Is it opportunistic? Is it base?

But there’s another conversation to be had in the wake of the attack. I was talking to a friend yesterday about the shootings — another transplanted American married to an Israeli — and her response was an impassioned plea for across-the-board gun control in the US. The argument was striking to my ears simply because it’s been such a very long time since I’ve heard anyone propose such a thing. Israel is, after all, something of a case study on the lack of correlation between a ubiquity of guns and crazy gun violence. There are M-16s slung on the backs of young soldiers everywhere, my eight-year-old walks past an armed guard on his way into school every morning — even I, nondescript suburban Mom that I am, am routinely asked if I’m packing every time I park my car in an underground lot or walk into a mall. (If I were carrying, I would be asked to show my gun license.) Schoolteachers and school officials are permitted (provided they are IDF veterans, as they almost invariably are) to wear guns to class (and the only school shooting I can think of was a Hamas terrorist attack in a yeshiva lunchroom two years ago). Incidents of soldiers using their weapons to commit acts of violence at home have occurred, but are extremely rare.

In short: guns are in full view and pretty readily available here. But here’s the thing: they’re not handed out like candy, and you can’t just buy whatever floats your boat. Loughner is not a veteran, is only 22 and has a drug offense on his record. Those points alone would likely have quashed any attempt by an equivalent young Israeli to get a gun license. He would also have been required to present certification from a medical doctor that he is fit to carry a weapon, and all the reports I’ve read concur that Loughner had been behaving very strangely for quite some time prior to his purchasing a gun — so much so that there is retroactive speculation that he is schizophrenic. The odds of such behavior being completely ignored by a doctor certifying a gun license applicant on behalf of the Israeli health ministry are slim to nil.

Also, I understand Loughner was using a “high-capacity” ammunition magazine in a semiautomatic; he was thus able to shoot off thirty rounds before having to stop to reload. Leaving aside the magazine for a moment, on what possible grounds was this kid issued a semiautomatic? In Israel, if I’m not mistaken, the only civilians who can get their hands on semiautomatics are “licensed animal control officers,” and their licenses entitle them only to limited-capacity magazines. Surely some regulation is a good thing?

I’m fully aware that historically, the disarming of the population is often a precursor to tyranny and strongly support the right of the individual to defend him- or herself; it’s abhorrent that anyone should be required to abdicate that right. But there are ways and means. The “thin end of the wedge” argument — that it’s dangerous to allow regulation of the sale of semiautomatics to unstable young people because that’ll trickle down to bans on the purchase of 12-gauge shotguns by upstanding citizens who wouldn’t dream of using them outside a duck blind — is more than just silly; it costs lives. The phrase “gun control” has come to connote “eventual gun ban”, but perhaps it’s time to take back the narrative, no? The convulsive desire to ban all guns in the wake of a gun atrocity is patently absurd — but I’d argue that some control is clearly needed here. Would you agree?