In 1965 Ralph Nader published “Unsafe at Any Speed” on automobile safety. It became a national non-fiction bestseller. We should apply the lessons learned from motor vehicle safety to gun safety.
There will always be car accidents that wouldn’t happen without cars. Some drivers inevitably speed up, become distracted, use cell phones, run red lights or stop signs, fall asleep, or misjudge what another driver or pedestrian will do.
There will always be shootings and murders that wouldn’t otherwise happen without guns.
It is inevitable that some users will get angry at someone (as insignificant as road rage), feel that their manhood is threatened, misjudge threats, shoot into crowds, leave firearms accessible to third parties or children, seek revenge or publicity, or act impulsively, immature, angry or due to mental illness.
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The more cars there are on our streets, the more accidents there will be. The more guns there are in circulation and carried in public, the more shootings there will be.
The syllogism of the preceding sentence exposes the tragedy of the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision of June 23, allowing anyone to carry a firearm outside the home without demonstrating any particular need.
Jurisprudence recently uncovered by the court on the Second Amendment eventually crumbles from its own illogicality:
The Second Amendment is the only right among the Bill of Rights with a preamble (“A well-regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state…”). You need a doctorate. historians to understand the meaning of the amendment at the time of its adoption. They do not agree. The court unfairly chose among them and the preamble has lost all meaning in the centuries since its adoption anyway. It was essentially ignored in the 2008 Supreme Court Heller decision, which created a new personal right to own and bear arms.
American appellate courts since Heller have unanimously considered in their decisions a balance between the so-called right to bear arms and public safety. Yet last month the Supreme Court unrealistically declared that courts must rely solely on ancient history, rejecting any balance with a transcendent right not to be maimed or shot.
Of course, there are differences between motor vehicles and firearms, and therefore how they can be regulated. Automobiles are for transportation. Firearms are only intended to kill – wildlife and humans, including by suicide. Firearm design poses less of a safety concern than knowing what type of weapon it is, who uses it, and how it is owned, carried, and used.
Nader redirected us. By blaming drivers exclusively for unavoidable accidents, he taught us to care as much about the physical characteristics of the motor vehicles they drove.
He has written about suspension design causing rollovers, proper tire pressure, shifting and “parking” alignments, seat belts, and air pollution. He pointed to the car’s design that would reduce injury or death to pedestrians and “the second collision” inside the car as well as the initial impact.
His revelations led to mandatory seat belts, airbags, foldable steering wheels, stronger passenger compartments, safer dashboards, gas mileage standards, and the creation of the U.S. Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.
Even before Nader, we imposed age requirements for new drivers, written tests on rules of the road, an eye exam, and on-road tests of driving and parking ability. We’ve required insurance, developed point systems that could lead to license suspension or revocation, perfected sobriety testing, and even designed systems a judge could impose to stop an intoxicated person from starting a car. . We also register and regulate the motor vehicles themselves.
Gun regulations pale in comparison.
We may tighten the types of guns available for citizen ownership, gun sales, waiting periods, age at purchase, and buyer/owner background (mental, criminal record, driving threatening).
We may mandate training, insurance, where and how firearms may be carried, court ordered removal of firearms from dangerous persons, magazine capacity, storage, ammunition, registration to enable the tracing of firearms and the technology allowing a firearm to be discharged only by its owner.
As Nader has shown, since accidents will be happen, we must, and have, designed motor vehicles and roads to minimize damage. No matter the caliber, firearms are not safe. The more guns owned and carried, the more people will be be shot without justification.
The Supreme Court has said that some regulation is permitted.
We must relentlessly push these limits to minimize the likelihood of daily, mass carnage – 45,000 people killed by guns a year! About 110,000 injured.
We must persevere, federally and state by state, until the Supreme Court comes to its senses.
Peter H. Wolf is a retired District of Columbia trial judge who lives in Winston-Salem.