Find the balance point on safety, gun rights

The massacre of 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., by a single gunman has sparked what is euphemistically referred to as "a national conversation" about guns.

It's about time.

We will start with this: Guns absolutely are not entirely to blame.

We are a society that glorifies, objectifies and merchandises violence - on television, on the movie screen, in video games, even on the athletic field. Is there anyone who doesn't think that affects at least the less stable among us?

We're also a nation that has been substantially at war, recovering from war or preparing for war almost continuously since Dec. 7, 1941. That has to take a toll on the national soul, as our recent adoption of the use and rationalization of torture would suggest.

Many have correctly noted that our society does a very poor job of dealing with mental illness. We can and should do better on that score.

But our entertainment output, including violent, action-based storylines, are a major export to the rest of the world and, thus, hardly unique. And, as more than one observer put it, all of the world's nations have a ready supply of the mentally ill roving their streets.

For some reason, however, the United States stands out for a steady succession of murderous shooting rampages, just since 1999 in: Columbine, Col. (13 dead, 21 wounded); Atlanta, Ga. (12 dead, 13 wounded); Blacksburg, Va. (32 dead, 17 wounded); Kinston, Ala. (10 dead, six wounded); Fort Hood, Texas (13 dead, 30 wounded); Binghamton, N.Y. (13 dead, four wounded); Aurora, Colo. (12 dead, 58 wounded); Oak Creek, Wis. (six dead, three wounded) and Newtown, Conn. (27 dead, two wounded).

What most distinguishes America besides this repeating horror is that we are a nation awash in a ready supply of the most lethal personal firearms on the planet, including those designed for battlefield use.

So, it's all well and good to talk about other issues, but the availability and types of firearms must be addressed, too. The time is ripe.

That said, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is correct: Gun control advocates must come to grips with the existence of the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to keep and bear arms.

Further, the Supreme Court has said that right is an individual right, not limited by the collective right implied by the amendment's grounding in the desirability of a militia.

But what the Supreme Court also has said is that both sides of the issue are, as Schumer puts it, "only half-right: The right to bear arms is constitutionally guaranteed, but reasonable limits are allowed."

Where, then, does the right to defend oneself end and the interest of public safety begin? It's all about finding a consensus on that balancing point.

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