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Gun debate stalemate is symptomatic of a greater problem [Editorial]

The increasingly high-profile public debate over gun rights highlights a lot of the follies in the arguments from all sides on a range of charged political issues.

Predictably, Harford County's contingent in Annapolis is decidedly against proposals by the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley to enact more strict regulations on gun sales and ownership. A civil right well-established in the traditions of the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights is at stake.

Equally predictably, the side advocating for stricter gun regulations has concluded that the increasing regularity of mass shooting incidents, particularly those at schools, cry out for action. Protecting the citizenry, especially children, from the actions of deranged attackers is at stake.

There is no shortage of self-righteousness on both sides, but there are also plenty of sound and logical arguments on both sides. Unfortunately, as is often the case in political discussions of this – and probably every – era, those on one side hear the rhetoric of their side as reasonable and logical, and the rhetoric of the other side as self-righteous puffery, or worse.

For the record, there's a lot to be said for making it harder for convicts to legally purchase guns. Those convicted of any number of crimes are, within the bounds of the law, routinely denied other rights starting with personal freedom, which is given up when a convict is sentenced to serve time.

There's also a lot to be said for the logic that there's a certain amount of naivete in expecting would-be mass murderers to obey gun registration laws.

And there's also the matter of treading carefully when it comes to making changes in the personal rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Curiously, some of those advocating for gun rights have hinted that violent movies and video games ought to be more strictly regulated as they could be seen as inspiring violent behavior. Does it really make sense to protect the tradition of Second Amendment arms bearing rights by curtailing First Amendment free expression rights?

Somewhere in all this are reasonable ways to responsibly limit access to firearms without running roughshod over traditionally protected U.S. civil rights.

Unfortunately, in this discussion, and many discussions of American public policy issues, the question quickly is reduced to, "Is this what the Founding Fathers intended?"

As a practical matter, what the founders intended with regard to a particular issue, whether it be access to automatic weapons, or whether violent video games should be allowed on the market, is of little consequence. Neither automatic weapons nor video games were around in Thomas Jefferson's day, nor could he have anticipated the invention of either.

What Jefferson and his cohorts did anticipate, however, is that things would change, and the needs of their posterity would be different from the needs of the folks in the late 1700s. Thus, they penned a Constitution that was designed to allow us to come to agreement on important issues through compromise.

Indeed, compromise is the overriding quality that gave the Constitution its form, and resulted in the inclusion of the first 10 amendments, more commonly known as the Bill of Rights.

Such is the nature of political self-righteousness that compromise becomes a dirty word. Rather than enacting what all can agree on, the goal becomes preventing the opposition from getting anything it wants.

This unfortunate situation applies not only to matters relating to gun control and Second Amendment rights, but also to any number of public policy issues ranging from speed limits to defense spending.

In our representative democracy, we allow this to continue at our own peril.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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