The need for common-sense restrictions on the sale of firearms and ammunition, not intended for uses protected by the Second Amendment, seems self-evident. New Jersey has lived with some of the restrictions being proposed in Washington, D.C., and our sense of liberty and freedom has not declined.
But what appears to us as self-evident, is not received wisdom throughout the country. We understand that some citizens may be concerned that their interests in legitimate firearms ownership and usage may be compromised as the wider society attempts to reduce gun violence. Defining "assault weapons" that may be banned, or restricted to law enforcement, requires line drawing that some may disagree with as overly broad. Even if they agree that machine guns and 100-round clips are not appropriate for general ownership, some may think a seven-round limit for a clip (as in New York State) or a 10-round clip limit (as in proposed federal legislation) are too restrictive. How does legislation close the gun-show loophole, so that background checks on all commercial sales are mandatory, without intruding on intrafamily transfers? Just how would such a ban be integrated with a gun-trafficking law?
Some may believe that other concerns should be considered, such as mental health and societal, entertainment or video violence. These are legitimate areas of discussion, and our democratic society should be strong enough to engage in that debate in a rational manner so that the views and interests of all can be taken into account in the legislative negotiations.
Sadly, however, we perceive that one side of the public discourse has been plagued by name-calling, straw men and charges that current gun safety proposals really are designed to eviscerate the Second Amendment or take away all firearms. That is neither the intent nor the effect of current proposals. Misconceptions and mistrust abound. In part, we believe, this is a result of a decades-long campaign of fear financed by those who stand to profit most from the status quo — a well-financed lobby of gun manufacturers and off-the-books gun sellers. We fear that nothing said will convince them to modify the stridency of their appeals, since their profits are dependent on that fear. The vitriol and hyperpartisanship of their leadership have mislead well-meaning gun enthusiasts and distorted what should be an objective debate on how to balance public safety with legitimate gun ownership.
The answer, we believe, is a massive education campaign — not only on the meaning of the Second Amendment and its limits but on the nonthreatening nature of the safety measures proposed. This calming message would be most effectively communicated not just by big-city mayors but also by persons who generally support legitimate gun uses, such as law enforcement leaders and the former general who recently affirmed that a hunter does not need, or even use, an assault rifle meant for wartime killing. We are reminded of the teach-ins that brought the contradictions of the Vietnam War to campuses in the late 1960s and 1970s. Maybe lawyers who belong to the National Rifle Association could sit down with others to assuage their fears and introduce reality into the debate.
Board Chairman Rosemary Alito and member Peter Verniero recused from this editorial.