Warring Definitions of Safety

President Trump, who owns a handgun and has a New York State permit to carry it hidden, has killed a rule that President Obama put in place before leaving office that would have limited access to guns by some of the more than 70,000 mentally ill who receive full disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. The Obama measure was opposed by both the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, an apparent anomaly that points to the possibility, however far-fetched, that strict gun control could become a nonpartisan effort, as it should. 

Both sides of the congressional divide believe in the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to bear arms. The dispute is among those who think guns provide safety, for themselves and the community at large, and those who argue that statistics prove otherwise. Hunters constitute only a small minority of the estimated 70 to 80 million citizens in the United States who are reported to own between 270 million and 310 million guns, almost one for every one of us. Those who argue for strict regulation also point to other advanced and affluent countries, which have many fewer guns and also many fewer crimes and criminals. 

Now a proposal with significant national effect on who carries handguns, and where, is apt to cross Mr. Trump’s desk and be signed into law. Bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate requiring every state to honor every other state’s “concealed carry” law. This means those states with strict laws would have to allow someone who obtained a gun where the law was weak — for example, without a thorough background check — to carry a concealed gun. The N.R.A. calls such a law reciprocal and says it is common sense to make carrying concealed weapons across state lines legal.

Setting aside the question of whether the proposed national law would trample on states’ rights, it is alarming that the bill in the House, which was co-sponsored by at least 163 representatives, including Lee Zeldin, would override state laws on guns in bars, day care centers, school zones, and public parks. 

As for the president, he campaigned on a pledge to abolish gun-free zones in schools as well as military bases. He has been quoted comparing a gun to a driver’s license, saying a driver’s license is merely a privilege while owning a gun is a constitutional right. The comparison begs the question since guns are, with only minor exceptions, intended for killing while deaths in auto accidents are inadvertent results of human or mechanical error. 

Mr. Obama’s directive on the mentally ill was supposed to help the country avoid another Newtown, or San Bernardino, or Orlando. Unfortunately, powerful lobbying by firearms companies and an irrational fear of personal harm have caused a boom in gun ownership and a pending retreat from safety.