In My Words — Abortion and Guns: These Terrible Twins Need More Legal Help

In this column distributed by the Elon University Writers Syndicate, Professor Rosemary Haskell makes the case for a similar legal approach to regulating both abortion and guns. The column was published by the Greenville Daily Reflector and the Greensboro News & Record.

By Rosemary Haskell

This country’s laws governing abortion and those governing the ownership and use of guns have often been posed as ideological mirror images.

Supposedly, liberals want abortion to be legal and very accessible and firearms control to be much more restrictive. Right-wingers are thought to want more restrictive abortion laws, or its legal prohibition, and fewer legal limits on weaponry.

Professor of English Rosemary Haskell

These cartoon-like pairings now come into focus yet again. Just as the Supreme Court considers a case that could lead to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, yet another school shooting, this time in Oxford, Michigan, plus other local and routine youth killings show how easy it is for juveniles to get their hands on deadly weapons.

It strikes me that the laws that make abortion easily available and the laws I wish we had on the books to ratchet back gun use might be productively presented simply as ways to contain human frailty and mitigate suffering.

Abortion may well be wrong, but the law that makes it widely available assuages so much human misery and prevents so much present fear, pain and suffering as to be indispensable. It could be a case of wrong but legal, like quite a few other human actions.

We need termination to be legal because, well, mistakes happen, and we’re all prone to foolish and irresponsible behavior. Episodes of the television series “Call the Midwife” about pregnant women in London’s poor East End in the 1950s and 1960s remind us what forbidden abortion used to mean. Let’s not return to the cruel and dangerous backstreet terminations that were endured then mainly by the poor and the very young.

What about gun laws?

To work around the Second Amendment dispute, could we consider that more restrictive gun laws and the diligent enforcement of those already in place as a means of protecting ourselves and others from our own wrong-headed actions, just like abortion accessibility?

The Second Amendment sounds like a noble sentiment: defend yourself against your enemies, including the government or your next-door neighbor. Power to the people! But look at where we are now, when the absence of or indifference to gun laws designed to keep us safe generates so much collateral damage.

It seems so obvious that our society’s inability to legislate weaponry has failed our young people, especially our young men. What were we thinking when we made it possible for teenagers Kyle Rittenhouse and Ethan Crumbly to get their hands on lethal weapons? Now these two, among countless other young American men, will have to live out their lives with the crippling guilt and sorrow of having been able to so easily kill other people, at an age when they should have been listening to awful music, avoiding their homework, playing video games and chasing girls.

And think of the families of those youngsters who pull the triggers. It’s easy to blame parents and to boil with righteous indignation over the adults who leave their own guns on kitchen counters and, if reports are accurate, even give weapons to “troubled” teenage sons. But those parents, too, need the protection of laws which, when properly enforced, might make them get serious about keeping guns safely stored and away from anyone under 18.

Anyone who has ever lost his temper, punched the wall, wanted to kick the cat — and that’s all of us, I’d say — is capable of firing a gun. I want laws that will make it much more difficult for that gun to be in my hand, and, particularly, in the hands of the young and the restless.

If you want to kill someone, you should have to go to the kitchen drawer, find a knife, and then get right up close and personal to your victim. It should, at least, be somewhat difficult — inconvenient, even — to deprive someone else of his life. Guns, especially semi-automatics, make it all too easy.

Second Amendment enthusiasts will say that further gun restriction is wrong. Well, yes. So is abortion, we might argue. But legislation can help us get beyond these black-and-white absolutes and recognize that the laws can be there to make our lives more livable. They can allow us to be frail and flawed, but without paying a catastrophic price.

Abortion and guns: the terrible twins. Let’s give them the legal attention they so obviously need.

Views expressed in this column are the author’s own and not necessarily those of Elon University.