For a sense of how extreme some gun-rights advocates have become — and why Congress won't pass even modest firearms safety laws — consider what happened to history professor and longtime gun enthusiast Dick Metcalf. When he recently wrote in his Guns & Ammo column that the Second Amendment right to "keep and bear arms" is not unlimited, Metcalf suddenly became the enemy.
Readers reacted in fury, and gun makers threatened an advertising boycott. The magazine quickly caved, firing Metcalf and apologizing in a way that sounded like the confessions the Chinese Communist Party used to extract from counter-revolutionaries.
"Our commitment to the Second Amendment is unwavering," said editor Jim Bequette. "In publishing Metcalf's column, I was untrue to that tradition, and for that I apologize."
OPPOSING VIEW: Who's being unreasonable?
Gun-rights absolutists assert that language contained in the Second Amendment — "the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed" — means no restrictions, period.
But last we looked, it was up to the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution, and that's not what the court said in its landmark 2008 decision upholding an individual's right to own guns. "Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited," conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. He added that limits on who can buy weapons, what kind they can own and where they can carry them are constitutional.
The decision, which resolved decades of argument, was cheered by bedrock Second Amendment stalwarts such as the National Rifle Association. But reasonableness has been purged. Gun groups and their members seem to vie now to see who can be more extreme and who can promote the most expansive guns-everywhere legislation in statehouses. Their destructive one-upmanship substitutes tunnel vision for reason.
Two more recent examples:
- Vivek Murthy, President Obama's well-qualified nominee to be surgeon general, once had the temerity to support an assault weapons ban and doctor-patient discussions about gun safety. Now the NRA is threatening to punish anyone who votes to confirm him, and Murthy's nomination is in deep trouble.
- "Smart guns," which use electronics to stop anyone but their owners or other authorized people from firing them, would help save lives, especially in homes where parents keep loaded weapons. But after the first smart gun went on sale in California, gun advocates so intimidated the store owner that he pulled the gun from his shelves — ironically depriving people who want such weapons of the ability to own one. This is gun rights?
Despite the hysteria that too often distorts the gun debate, a few things should be clear by now. The nation has debated gun ownership and resolved it in gun owners' favor, politically and in the nation's highest court.
What's left to decide are what measures can keep guns away from criminals and the dangerously mentally ill, saving some of the more than 30,000 lives lost to gun violence every year. That will require the Second Amendment absolutists to show more respect for the rights of others.
USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.