The following is the transcript from this week’s Better UTAH Beat. It aired on January 29, 2013.
Last Saturday over a thousand Utahns gathered at the state capitol in support of the unregulated right to bear arms. The event was held in response to President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s calls for stricter regulations regarding the right to bear arms. Among the president’s proposed policies are tighter background checks, restricting high capacity magazines, and more funding for mental health programs.
But even though a recent Gallup poll found that over half of all Americans support Obama’s proposals (with as many as 90 percent supporting criminal background checks for ALL gun sales), the specter of a federal government taking aways its citizens rights persists especially here in Utah.
Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, spoke at the Saturday rally. Among his many comments was this, as quoted in a Salt Lake Tribune article:
“If I could tell one thing to these bedwetting, hand wringing liberals out there, it’s that Thomas Jefferson anticipated you and called you a tyrant,” Aposhian said. “And there’s already a method of taking care of it, if not by the First Amendment, then by the Second.”
His comments should be shocking but in the context of this issue, they are, unfortunately, anything but. Mr. Aposhian’s rant, is not intended to educate or inform, it is obviously intended to incite a reaction by those on both sides of the issue.
But the bravado doesn’t end with ordinary citizens. Elected officials are also engaging in this sort of hyperbolic reasoning.
For example, just last week the Utah Sheriffs’ Association released a letter they sent to President Obama in which they, rather solemnly, affirmed the right of Utahns to keep and carry firearms. But their respect for firearms became overreaching when the solemn nature of their letter turned to a not so veiled threat: “But, make no mistake,” claimed the Sheriffs’ Association. “As the duly-elected sheriffs of our respective counties, we will enforce the rights guaranteed to our citizens by the Constitution. No federal official will be permitted to descend upon our constituents and take from them what the Bill of Rights-in particular Amendment II-has given them.”
The duty of a law enforcement officer is simple–to enforce the law. It is not their job to interpret the law or to selectively enforce only those laws with which they agree. Their comments are almost anarchical in nature and certainly put them at odds with the oaths they have taken to uphold the laws of the land. It is interesting that only one Sheriff, Salt Lake County’s Jim Winder was not part of the letter, and now he finds himself targeted, politically, by the pro-gun contingent.
As we begin the legislature we are already aware of two gun bills. Representative Mathis from Vernal is proposing an open carry bill that would give anyone over the age of 21, who legally purchases a gun, the right to conceal and carry without the need for a special permit. But even more worrisome is the proposed legislation by newly elected Representative Brad Greene, who wants to make it illegal for any federal agent to enforce federal gun laws in Utah and would subject those same agents to arrest. It is ludicrous at best and we have to believe that cooler heads will prevail and the bill will die a quick death.
But as all of these comments suggest, the issue of gun regulation is emotionally charged. And as is the case with most emotional issues, it’s hard to sit down and have a reasonable conversation without defaulting to ideological stock positions. Extreme supporters of gun rights are quick to point to the second amendment as anywhere, anytime, no-holds barred endorsement of any type of gun ownership.
Guns in schools? OK. Guns in churches? OK. Guns in supermarkets? OK. But arguers on the right aren’t the only ones defaulting to long held ideological arguments. There are some on the left who favor eliminating all guns, even those used for hunting.
But something as serious–and perhaps even epidemic–as the problem of gun violence in America requires a level of discussion that our vitriolic and dysfunctional political climate is not yet capable of enduring.
However, despite the current inability of so many to reach across the aisle, maintaining an open dialogue remains key to ensuring that the problem of gun violence doesn’t affect our ability to live normal functioning lives. A commitment to open dialogue is why the Alliance for a Better UTAH is encouraging legislators to act cautiously and judiciously when making any laws regarding guns, be they the further broadening of gun rights or regulatory or safety changes. We need legislators to weigh the REAL issues carefully and act in the best interests of ALL their constituents and the state of Utah, rather than pandering to extremes and big-check wielding lobbyist voices.
Important questions remain about why the 2nd amendment engenders such emotional responses from either side. The emotional responses become all the more stark when compared to issues that *should* be engaging more emotional responses: issues like severely low funding and support for public education and the problem of dangerously poor air quality. But as discussions of guns in schools continue to receive national and statewide attention, it is likely that educational issues and the issue of gun ownership will collide during the legislative session over the next couple of weeks, creating what could be a perfect storm for the sort of violent rhetoric being employed by Aposhian and others.
No doubt the issue of gun ownership is an emotional one, but if thoughtful policy discussions are ever going to occur, participants in the gun debate would do well to avoid the kinds of argument that are counterproductive to the interests of most Utahns.