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COMMUNITY VOICE

Gun laws won't solve whole problem, but over time may save some lives

Friday, June 21, 2013 - 12:01 am

In September 2001 our college-age daughter was severely injured in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. In addition to a broken shoulder blade, she suffered a punctured lung and a skull fracture that resulted in a brain injury. Although we’ll never know for sure, the head trauma may have been caused by the intrusion of some wooden furniture she was carrying through the perimeter style headrest used on her car.

Thinking back to my own college days, when I was studying automotive design, I can recall the day when world-famous design instructor Strother MacMinn announced to our class that the federal government had suddenly entered the automotive design realm.

The first of what would become many laws had been passed that sought to control the form and dimensions of automotive components. The faculty and students alike were pretty unified in their shock and disgust that the government would insert itself into such a peripheral area. Never again would we designers be free to just dream up new designs and push them along through the design process without government interference.

Looking back, and especially focusing on our daughter’s 2001 crash, I am immensely grateful that government intervention has brought us airbags, collapsing steering columns and many other safety features, including headrests. While I could question whether the style of headrest used on our daughter’s car contributed to her injuries, or lessened them, I am confident the full slate of mandated modern safety features saved her life.

Never, during the dialog about automotive safety improvements, was it alleged that safer cars would mean an end to traffic deaths and injuries. Never was it alleged that it would be cheaper or easier to design cars after the imposition of complex standards. Wise individuals even conceded that there were bound to be some small number of cases where intended safety features would actually cause or intensify injuries. But the purpose of all that new legislation was to dramatically reduce traffic injuries and fatalities, and that goal has been overwhelmingly achieved.

Now our nation has another important area of proposed government involvement to consider. In my view the overall subject of gun control closely parallels that of automotive safety, starting in the 1960s. Compared with most civilized nations, the United States has an appalling record of gun-related accidents, crimes and deaths. Until the present time, our country has also had almost unrestrained availability of guns, based both on the personal interests of sportsmen and the constitutionally guaranteed right to own firearms.

I have not heard from either side of this issue that anyone wants to place unreasonable restrictions on gun ownership or use. To the contrary, most proposals made to date have involved closing loopholes that allow some gun purchases to be made without the logical background checks required for most purchasers. I have to ask, if one is in such a terrible hurry to complete the purchase of a gun, isn’t that almost an admission that it is going to be used for some harmful purpose?

Surely gun fanciers can wait a few days until a suitably low risk level can be established.

It is tempting to address some of the other aspects of the gun debate. A favorite is the 2nd Amendment understanding that our government may someday become so oppressive that citizens will have to arm themselves against their elected leadership. Actually, that happened once, when the citizens of a number of states resented the federal government’s prohibition against their owning other human beings. After four years of the bloodiest war in American history, the issue was settled — with the established government being the victor.

Today, if we argue for arming ourselves against directions taken by our government, are we not ignoring that the Armed Forces of the United States possess warships and warplanes, helicopters and drones, not to mention limitless manpower and nuclear weapons? Frankly, I don’t want my neighbors ramping up their arsenals tit for tat. And I fear that their determination that it is time for rebellion may not coincide with my own.

Aren’t there an awful lot of well-meaning folks out there who use their democratic freedoms and constitutional rights to mask their real reasons for opposing reasonable gun control? Just as in the case for highway safety, the convenience and comfort of keeping things unchanged is so appealing. But the inconveniences of buckling a seat belt or designing a bumper that reduces predictable injuries long ago proved their worth. Likewise, placing reasonable restrictions on the purchase, ownership and use of guns is virtually guaranteed to reduce our nation’s embarrassing and exceptional statistics.

Naturally, our gun laws, like our auto safety regulations, will not solve the whole problem. There will even be instances when new requirements prove harmful. Improvements and adjustments will be made over time, and both the regulations and their results will ultimately save lives.

Thankfully, our daughter recovered fully from her accident. With some justification, we’ve even joked that her math skills improved after her brain healed. Who knows what large and small benefits could come from enhancing our efforts to carefully keep guns in the hands of people who will own and use them responsibly?

Richard B. Hatch is a resident of Fort Wayne.