Thursday, November 10, 2005

Handgun Ban in San Francisco

One ballot measure I missed in proclaiming a clean sweep for the status quo yesterday was the handgun ban in San Francisco. Aside from the fact that it's likely to be struck down in the courts anyway, this strikes me as bad public policy. Now, please note that I'm by no means a gun rights absolutist--- the phrase "well-regulated" is right there in the Constitution--- and I think a lot of reasonable controls (waiting periods, licensing, storage requirements, ammunition tracing, etc.) can be placed on gun ownership without infringing on our rights. But an outright ban on a broad class of common firearms crosses a dangerous line. Essentially, it says that citizens aren't trusted to protect themselves, and only the police and military are. That disturbs me.

On the practical side, I'm inclined to agree with those studies that say that a gun in the home tends to make one less safe, not more. Just as a thought experiment, under normal conditions, what is the relative likelihood of being able to properly access and use a weapon against an intruder in a truly necessary situation vs. the likelihood of children being hurt in a gun accident, of a gun being used by a family member in a fit of rage, of your gun being stolen by a criminal, or of the presence of a gun unnecessarily escalating a confrontation to a lethal situation? That's why I don't own a gun myself, nor do I plan to.

But now imagine that you're a liquor store owner. Or a woman with a violent ex-husband. Or a prosecutor who sent gang members to prison. (We can all agree that it will only be law-abiding citizens who will turn their guns in, right?) Or for that matter, somebody who feels that in the event of a temporary breakdown in the social order, like in a natural disaster *cough* earthquakes *cough* or rioting, the police might not be able to protect you.

It's not up to the government to decide who needs a gun and who doesn't. I certainly wish there were fewer handguns out there, but that's a choice people need to make for themselves. There's certainly a public interest in ensuring safety and accountability in handgun ownership, but the basic principle of the right to bear arms was important enough to be put into the Bill of Rights, and I happen to think that all ten of those rights are worth keeping.


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