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With rights come responsibilities and some limits [editorial]

Personal Weapon ControlInterior PolicyFirearmsCivil and Public Service

In much the same way the recent drug disposal day organized in Harford County was a valuable public service for people looking to safely divest themselves of unwanted medications, the gun turn-in day planned Saturday in Harford County and at locations elsewhere across Maryland is a valuable public service for people who are looking for a safe way to divest themselves of unwanted firearms.

Similarly, in much the same way that drug disposal days have, at best, a limited effect on drug abuse problems in the community, a gun turn-in day will have, at best, limited effects on the use of guns in criminal activity.

The thing about guns is they're not all created equal. Some are engineering masterpieces. Some are historic works of art. Some are slipshod, inaccurate menaces to anyone foolish enough to fire them.

Giving people the opportunity to get rid of guns they don't want by simply turning those firearms into police is a preferred option for those weapons that aren't up to standard for use and hold no particular value as artifacts.

The timing and genesis of this weekend's gun turn-in opportunity, however, aren't coincidental. Organized by the Maryland Attorney General's Office, they come on the heels of a recently approved, though hotly contested, state law that restricts certain aspects of firearms sales.

The result is that the gun turn-in day is largely symbolic, just as many efforts at restricting guns end up being more symbolic than effective.

The often repeated mantra of the gun rights crowd that guns don't kill people, people kill people certainly has a lot of truth to it, but so does the observation that it's a lot easier to kill with a gun than it is without one.

This country has a long tradition of private gun ownership, and the Constitution traditionally has been viewed as upholding gun ownership as a personal right. The awkward wording of the Second Amendment notwithstanding, gun ownership has long been regarded as a protected freedom and willy nilly tampering with Constitutional freedoms is a bad idea.

Constitutional freedoms, however, are not unlimited and they can be regulated. The First Amendment right to petition the government is the basis for an entire political industry known as lobbying, but lobbyists are obliged to register with the government. Freedom of the press can't be usurped by the government, but it is against the law to falsely print defamatory claims about people and the penalties legally assessed in court against offending presses can be financially debilitating.

Until the political debate over gun rights ascends to a level that ignores hysterical extremes and focuses on important details (like the reality that the Second Amendment doesn't say citizens have the right to bear guns, but bear arms, and the definition of arms includes everything from BB guns to tanks), we'll be stuck in a mode where political symbolism trumps actually accomplishing a public good.

In the meanwhile, if you have a cheap gun, do yourself and the rest of us a favor this weekend and turn it in so some good comes of the latest incarnation of the gun debate.

If you want to exercise your Second Amendment rights, do so with a quality weapon.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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