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Absolutists hurt the real gun debate

Janet RobinsEmily Nottingham Michael Nutter Scott Knight

Janet Robinson, Emily Nottingham, Michael Nutter, Scott Knight

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Updated: February 19, 2013 3:04PM

It’s depressingly familiar, this gun debate. It’s just like the politics of abortion — both issues are controlled by absolutists, with a chasm of mistrust separating the proponents and opponents, and each camp never missing an opportunity to prove that the mistrust is well founded. Pushed to the sidelines are the millions of Americans who favor moderate positions on both issues.

Consider the gun debate first. In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre of 20 first-graders, one not-unreasonable proposal is to outlaw high-capacity magazines, some of which carry 30 or more bullets. The most often mentioned goal is to limit the magazines to 10 rounds of ammunition. Second Amendment purists fear that would be only a start, a slippery slope to more gun/ammo bans, the latest salvo by the gun control camp to enact ever more restrictive firearms legislation.

Almost immediately, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his state’s legislature prove them right. New York already had a 10-round limit on magazines but this week enacted a new law reducing the size of magazines to seven bullets. It’s hard to see how that’s little more than a symbolic reduction in the capacity of magazines. But it played right into the hands of the gun lobby, confirming the worst suspicions of gun owners about the ultimate goal of the gun-control crusade, to enact so many restrictions and regulations as to have the effect of making it impractical if not all but impossible to own and use firearms.

The same story plays out in the abortion fight. Most Americans favor sensible measures like a parental notification law to prevent adult predators from getting underage girls pregnant and hiding their crime by sending them to abortion clinics. Abortion-rights absolutists see that as but one step leading to another effort to finally reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Sure enough, those fears are proved well warranted as states such as Texas and Virginia passed laws requiring women to undergo an ultrasound 24 hours before having an abortion. That wasn’t enough for some of the most strident anti-abortion lawmakers; they advocated invasive vaginal ultra sounds.

The proponents of sonograms played right into the hands of the abortion lobby that sees any restriction, however reasonable, such as parental notification, as a slippery slope ultimately ending in so many restrictions and regulations as to have the practical effect of making it as hard as possible, if not all but impossible, for a woman to obtain an abortion.

President Barack Obama pledged Wednesday to “put everything I’ve got” into getting Congress to pass his gun control measures, including a magazine restriction. The problem is that he has little credibility with gun owners given his disparaging remark about Americans who “cling to guns” and his general hostility to conservative ideas.

At least anti-abortion lawmakers are honest and don’t hide their intention to try to legislate abortion out of existence. Gun-control advocates often assert they don’t want to take guns away from law-abiding citizens, but as New York and the handgun bans enacted by Chicago and Washington, D.C. until declared unconstitutional by the supreme court illustrate, they want to come as close to that goal as they can.

There may be middle ground on guns and abortion among millions of Americans, but the purists and their contemptuous opponents see the compromise only in terms of ultimate surrender — and they control the debate.

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