Bigger threat: guns or government?

Phil: We both agree the “lone wolf” shooter in Colorado shocked us and broke the hearts of the families whose loved ones didn’t return home. Why do these acts of horror happen?

Ethan: I’m not sure we’ll ever know the why, but we certainly know the how: the easy access this troubled man had to military-style assault weapons, unlimited ammunition, assorted guns and explosives.

Phil: You see this tragedy as about access to physical things that might harm us? If so, what would you recommend to control your ability to acquire fertilizer used in improvised explosive devices?

Ethan: Thankfully, since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives monitors very closely unusual purchases of ammonium nitrate (fertilizer). Not so much with guns. The truth is that the military-style assault rifle and ammunition magazines the shooter legally purchased used to be illegal. The same is true for the massacres at Fort Hood military post in 2009, Virginia Tech in 2007 and Tucson, Ariz., in 2011.

Phil: While it may feel good to restrict a 100-round clip, 10 clips with 10 rounds will still be available. The solution is to focus on people who are a danger to us and themselves and make sure they make better choices.

Ethan: “Make sure they make better choices?” What are you proposing? Force everyone to go to church every day? Psychiatric screenings every three months for all males age 15 to 30? Government searches of anyone whose grades start dropping?

Phil: If we need to impose the power of government, why don’t we discuss forcing people with mental illness to take their medicine? The all-too-common trait of these terrorists is that they stopped taking their pills.

Ethan: You want to start talking about infringing on people’s rights, start talking about forcing people to take medication. Regardless, we have no evidence that the shooters in Fort Hood, Virginia Tech, Tucson, or Aurora were not taking prescribed medication. What we do know is that the Aurora shooter quickly fell through the cracks and then legally purchased an arsenal of weapons.

Phil: So are you saying that our constitutional right to bear arms caused this horrific act? What if he had detonated a bomb instead? Wouldn’t it be fair to say that law-abiding citizens will always be victims of criminals whether it’s by guns, bombs or chemicals?

Ethan: Actually no. Since 9/11, Americans have rarely been the victims of bombs or chemicals. But, because we have not used our constitutional right to regulate firearms during the same period, over 300,000 of us have been killed by guns. This inability to stand up to National Rifle Association leadership (even though NRA members strongly support increased gun regulation), has made us our great country less free.

Phil: You seem to want me — a law-abiding citizen — to give up my inalienable right to “choose” to protect myself. Think for a moment how this conversation would be unfolding if a law-abiding theater-goer who was carrying his legal concealed weapon took action against this terrorist.

Ethan: Are you blaming the victims for not carrying armor-piercing weapons and bullets? The shooter in Aurora was wearing body armor from head to foot in a dark theater full of smoke and tear gas. How could a concealed pistol in someone’s purse stop this guy? Nor would it have stopped the guy in Biddeford, who took a loaded handgun into a movie theater, if he had brought his fully automatic machine gun instead.

Phil: If you confiscate guns you don’t think are needed, where do you draw the line? Using your logic, shouldn’t you also take away forks to stop obesity, liquor to stop drunk driving and cars to eliminate accidents?

Ethan: Phil, you know as well as I do that your freedom to drive on the highway is enhanced by drunk driving laws, just as your freedom to eat in restaurants is enhanced by clean food and fire safety regulations. Reasonable gun regulations will do the same.

Phil: But where is your line between my right to protect my family and leaving them vulnerable to a criminal or a lunatic? Are you advocating that only government employees should have guns?

Ethan: Of course not. My line is the middle ground between your right to own a handgun and people being able to blindly purchase an assault weapon that shoots 60 rounds a minute.

Phil: We’re simply looking at different pictures. You see government needing more control of guns, and I’m looking at the choices made by the terrorist.

Ethan: We all wish people would make better choices. But sometimes they don’t. As a result, we all take our shoes off before they let us on a plane and we have to show identification before we purchase Sudafed. But if you want to purchase an AR-15 and stockpile 6,000 rounds of ammunition you simply click your mouse, no questions asked.

Phil: I think we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one. However, I know we both agree that something must be done to lessen the possibility of tragedies like Aurora happening again.

Ethan: Amen.