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posted: 8/5/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: Quinn's move to ban assault weapons

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By The Daily Herald Editorial Board

One of the challenges in sifting through gun-control debates is the Fun with Numbers both sides play. Suggest a gun-control idea and within minutes, proponents and opponents will be on the street with statistics to support their points of view.

We use that as a backdrop for the debate Gov. Pat Quinn has reignited in Illinois with an amendatory veto that would, if upheld, prohibit the manufacture, delivery, sale and possession of semiautomatic assault weapons and attachments.

Quinn's veto is highly unlikely to be sustained, and we suspect even he understands that. A cynic might say it's just a quick attempt by the governor to grab easy headlines. The more generous among us would say it's an effort by Quinn to spur a needed conversation in light of the recent tragedy at a Colorado movie theater.

In either event, let us acknowledge this: The statistics in this debate are somewhat mixed. They suggest, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, that the onetime national ban on assault weapons reduced the criminal use of banned guns and of the gun murders of police officers but that it also did little to reduce the number of victims per gun murder incident.

And they suggest that a state ban in Massachusetts (signed enthusiastically by then-Gov. Mitt Romney) may have helped the state attain its low firearm fatality rate, but by no means are those numbers conclusive.

Instead, let us ask a different question:

Does it make sense for members of the general public to have access to assault weapons that have no real purpose other than to efficiently kill human beings?

Or further, does it make sense to allow this access for troubled or emotionally disturbed citizens whose disturbances may be difficult to identify or track?

Does it make sense?

The Second Amendment is a cherished instrument that protects our freedom to bear arms.

But even its staunchest proponents and defenders acknowledge that that freedom is not absolute.

There are all sorts of sophisticated weaponry that are off limits to the general public.

No one, after all, would say that it's OK for an individual to own a nuclear warhead simply because it's a weapon.

How far does the technology have to advance in the making of guns until we all would say the same thing? If we're not at that point with the modern assault weapon, we ought to be close to it.

Because of political realities, Quinn's ban on assault weapons almost assuredly will fail. And that's a shame.

But if it gets us talking about the issue, perhaps that will lead to a greater success in the future.

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