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Letter to the editor: We have a right to be protected from 'secondhand bullets'

Thursday, August 7, 2014 - 12:01 am

I was listening to a radio report on the 50th anniversary of the publishing of “The Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health.” I found myself revisiting the environment of times past and the tremendous changes that have occurred since the report became public, changes which seemed nearly unachievable years ago, but have greatly improved the quality of life of Americans today.

I remember the constant presence of clouds of acrid smoke I endured as a child in private homes, in public locations, indoors, outdoors, even in designated smoking areas at my high school, and the stench of cigarette butts and burn marks on the stalls in the restrooms there. So great was the opposition to limitations on smoking that I wouldn’t have believed the strides that have taken place in my lifetime had someone told me about them when I was young.

It seemed unreasonable to curtail people’s “right” to light up. And yet, over time, logic has won out. It has been made clear that the right to smoke is superseded by the rights of the majority to breathe clean healthy air and not be subjected to second-hand smoke. The smoker has a right to smoke, but the non-smoker has an even greater right to clean air as it is a necessity and smoking is not.

How interesting it is to find parallels to the fight against tobacco.

Yet another school shooting, close to home, one fatality, two families changed forever. People will once again dismiss the arguments in favor of stricter gun control. They will say that it is reactionary, knee-jerk, excessively emotional or just opportunistic — that those who wish to increase gun control are liberals who wait for just such moments to push their agenda.

But guess what? I’m pro-gun ownership. Yes, I believe in the Second Amendment and feel it has an important place in our Constitution. American citizens should be able to arm themselves.

However, I absolutely believe in gun control. I also believe that we need greater, better, more effective gun control as part of the solution to gun violence in the United States today. Just as in the ‘60s and ‘70s the vocal minority of smokers had the backing of the tobacco lobby to keep the status quo, so today gun rights advocates have the NRA and certain conservative politicians in their corner.

When shootings occur, those who take the opportunity to call for changes in gun laws are called “reactionary.”

People have a right in this country to make certain choices. They can choose to smoke, despite clear evidence that it will harm their health. They cannot, however, choose to harm others by exposing them to secondhand smoke. We have enacted laws to protect those who choose not to smoke. People also have a right to bear arms. They cannot use those weapons to harm innocent people. Innocent people have a right to be free from “secondhand bullets.”

The answer to public safety ... will involve strengthening and/or modifying existing laws, improving enforcement, as well as careful scrutiny of societal influences that may contribute to dangerous behavior. As much as we must guard against the misuse of weapons, we must also take steps to reduce factors that research shows increase violent behavior. This may even involve the possible curbing of other “rights.”

With the wonders of technology, as well as the broad range of resources our society has at its disposal, is it truly asking too much to improve our gun control laws and enforcement? It is not, and people who look at the news with objectivity can see that we need to continue to push for the right to safety for the peaceful majority.

Maria Ruhrold