There are no rights that do not come with responsibilities.
It is no threat to the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms to expect people who own firearms to keep their weapons in such a way that they are not likely to fall into the hands of criminals, children or others who have no business bearing them.
As reported recently by The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah is seeing a troublesome surge in both the number of guns stolen and the number of homicides committed with guns. The former statistic jumped 48% from 2011 to 2020, while the latter number tripled. Gun sales are also up sharply and, while that’s not a crime, connecting the dots strongly suggests that many of the people who legally own firearms are not living up to the responsibility of keeping the community safe from their misuse.
There have been attempts in the Utah Legislature to make responsible gun ownership not just a civic responsibility but also a legal obligation. Sadly, but not surprisingly, every attempt to mandate that gun owners secure their arms, or to make giving or lending a gun to someone who later uses in it the commission of a crime something that a person can be sued for, is rejected on the flawed argument that it would impinge on the rights of gun owners.
It would do no such thing. It would only impress upon people that even a constitutionally protected right is not something that comes absolutely unfettered.
Just as the First Amendment does not confer a right to commit libel or to publish child pornography, the Second Amendment does not place every action involving every gun beyond the reach of criminal and civil law.
Leaving a gun in an unlocked car or somewhere else where it could be easily stolen, keeping it in a desk drawer or kitchen cabinet where it could fall into the hands of an irresponsible child or a suicidal teenager, are clearly abuses of an individual’s rights and should not be protected as though were.
People keep guns, they tell themselves and others, to make the community more safe. But not keeping your guns within your control or securely locked away clearly makes the community considerably less safe.
Recent cases of stolen guns leading to mayhem include an April shoot-out near the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office that left one person dead and a deputy missing an eye, as well as the alleged murder of a 16-year-old youth from West Valley City.
The murder of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey was committed with a gun that her killer, a convicted felon who was not supposed to possess a firearm, had borrowed from a friend on the pretext of going target shooting. A bill that would have made it possible to bring a civil action against anyone who provides a gun to someone who later uses it to commit a crime failed in both 2019 and 2020.
Utah lawmakers have been moving in the wrong direction recently. They removed the permitting requirement for carrying concealed weapons, erasing what was already a very thin line that at least mandated those packing heat to at least hear some lectures about gun laws and gun etiquette before they go out pretending to be the latest version of Agent 007.
Laws that would require guns not in a person’s immediate possession to be locked in a car or in a safe at home — or at least with a trigger lock in place — should be routine in any society. They are only common sense, supported by police officers and prosecutors, who note that those most often threatened by the circulation of stolen guns are law enforcement officers.
Guns are not toys and, if their owners aren’t willing to take proper care, they certainly are not symbols of responsible manhood.
Love them or loathe them, guns matter, matter enough to be mentioned in the Constitution of the United States, because they have power. The power to protect, yes, but also the power to end lives, innocent lives, if they are not properly stowed and supervised.
Society should expect it, and the law should require it.