Firearm rights and limitations

By Bob Elliott / Guest Editorial

We know our constitution and its supporting law enforcement and judicial systems are there for our protection and quality of life. But out of necessity, there are also legally-recognized and broadly-understood limitations on those freedoms and rights.

Can you say anything you want to anytime and anywhere? Can a newspaper print anything it wants to about anything or anyone? Can a group of protesters gather anytime any place? Can anyone purchase and possess weapons of any kind, any time?

Freedom of speech: Everyone knows you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. That’s inciting to riot, and there are laws.

Freedom of the press: If a newspaper prints something found to be untrue and damaging; that’s libel, and there are laws.

Right to peaceably assemble: If protesters block freeway traffic or otherwise create serious problems, it’s no longer peaceable and there are laws.

The right to keep and bear arms: With our country awash with guns and murderous rampages, what should be reasonable limitations?

Let’s be more specific than just saying “awash with guns.” As far back as 1995, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives estimated there were 223 million guns in the hands of private citizens. That’s only an informed estimate because most states don’t require registration.”

More recently, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the United States recorded 16,259 homicides in 2010, 11,068 of them by firearms (average of 30.3 gun deaths each day). The report also revealed the U.S. has the highest gun ownership rate in the world; 89 guns per every 100 citizens, compared to 6 per 100 for England and Wales.

As Ezra Klein pointed out in a December 2012 Washington Post article, “If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If a plague was ripping through communities, public health officials would be working feverishly to contain it … As others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn’t ‘too soon.’ It’s much too late.”

The same article stated that during the past 30 years, at least 61 mass murders in the U.S. were carried out with firearms, most of them obtained legally.

So what limitations would you suggest for the constitution’s second amendment — “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed (ratified December 1791).”

Personally, I believe our nation is so flooded with revolvers, rifles, assault weapons and worse, any restrictions or limitations enacted now will make precious little difference for probably decades. But we have to start sometime.

So, considerations about comprehensive gun registration and reporting, limit on size of ammunition clips, limits on caliber of weapons and so-called assault weapons need to be objectively and thoughtfully discussed. Of course, mental health concerns are a must, but there must be a balance between protecting society and doctor-patient confidentiality.

There are those who compare gun deaths to motor vehicle fatalities. They like to say, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. We don’t outlaw cars, so neither should we outlaw or limit guns.”

But we do record all car sales and license all vehicles, as well as test and license all drivers. Additionally, we’ve made motor vehicles more safe and, as a result, fatal car accidents are decreasing. Doesn’t it make sense to consider some of the same things for guns and gun owners?

Quick question to consider: Right now, if you were in a crowded bar, theater, arena, or mall, would you feel more safe or less safe if everyone there had a gun?


Bob Elliott is long-time resident and former city councilor of Iowa City. Bob Elliott’s email address is