Many years ago, when I was a lad, I was taught that rights and privileges brought with them corresponding responsibilities. A right or freedom could not be exercised willy-nilly as I may wish on a sudden impulse but had to be exercised responsibly, in benefit for the common good and not purely for personal gain. For example, the freedom of speech does not allow me to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, unless that is actually the case and I and my fellow movie-goers are facing immanent conflagration. Nor does the freedom of speech give me the freedom to spread malicious and damaging gossip about my neighbor, especially if it is not true or without a good cause even if it is. Rights are intrinsically linked to responsibilities.
This idea may now seem quaint to many, but I still think that way. That is why I find the current national debate about gun control so exasperating. The right to bear arms – a very potent right – brings with it, in my way of thinking, also very compelling responsibilities. Just as there must be rules of the road for those who drive automobiles in order to insure the safety of all, so it seems to me self-evident that there should be rules and regulations for those who own guns, or in constitutional parlance, bear arms.
I would not want to live in a state that did not require an applicant for a driver’s license to first pass a driving test. And so it seems to me only logical to the point of being self-evident that universal background checks for the purchase of firearms are a very good idea indeed. The criminally insane should not be armed. And some demonstration of knowledge of firearm safety would be a good thing as well. Likewise, limitations on the amount of bullets a magazine can hold makes good sense to me for the protection of all of us.
No amount of traffic laws will eliminate all accidents, but I do not thereby wish to abolish all traffic laws! The fact that common-sense restrictions on firearm ownership will not stop all gun violence is likewise hardly a reason for not enacting them. After all, we have the Second Amendment right to bear arms for the sake of our protection. We need sensible gun control laws for exactly the same reason, i.e., our protection.
There seems to me a certain “Catholic” sense in all this, for deep in the Catholic psyche is the vital sense of community, that somehow we are all connected, that we are all in this together, that we all have responsibility for one another. It is never sufficient to simply insist on my “rights” without also acknowledging my “responsibility” for you and everyone else as well. We are, after all, one body, the Body of Christ.