Blog entry

Hey, I Want To Fly an F-14
Why An Ordinary Citizen Shouldn't Be Allowed to Fly A Fighter Jet For Fun...Or Own a Semi-Automatic Rifle For That Matter

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It’d be great fun to fly a big, expensive machine that could reign terror down from the skies. At least, that’s how it plays out in my head. Now, I know that this is not going to happen for a number of reasons, even though I am credited with being the best helmsman in the galaxy.

So what does this have to do with gun control? It’s simple, really. Remember when Richard Reid, the so-called “Shoe Bomber,” attempted unsuccessfully to blow up a plane using explosives hidden in his shoes? No one was terribly surprised when the TSA began requesting all of us to remove our shoes as part of the security inspection process. Millions today are willing to be inconvenienced in order to make it that much harder for dangerous people to terrorize our air travel.

In a similar vein, in the wake of the Newton, CT shootings, it’s unsurprising that we might want to reassess the way in which guns are sold and acquired. There’s a problem, and sometimes it takes something truly traumatizing to galvanize us into some sort of action.

One conversation that we should not be having, however, is whether the government has the right in the first instance to “control” guns, or as I prefer to think of it, to regulate them. We have a long standing tradition of permitting the use of potentially dangerous items or practices, so long as there are rules, or even licenses, required. Think about it. We require salon aestheticians to get a license in most cases simply to give a manicure. This license may be relatively easy to get, but we require it. That’s because there are health and safety issues involved, and, after all, we don’t want just anyone doing your nails. We also require everyone who drives a car to carry a license, to have their vision checked (curses for that), and to pass a driving test. That’s also because we recognize that a car is not only a convenience, it is potentially a dangerous thing when operated unsafely. It could kill or injure other people.

In fact, the more dangerous the thing, the harder generally it is to get a license for it, and the more rules there are around it. Pilots need to train extensively before they can fly, and for good reason. Doctors require more difficult licenses than manicurists. And so on.

So it isn’t any great stretch for we as a society to say, “You want to use a gun? You need to hold a license and abide by the following rules.” In fact, it’s common sense. Guns certainly shouldn’t be treated as any less dangerous, or less in need of regulation, than vehicles, medications, or anything else we know has both uses and perils.

Nor is it any surprise that, when it comes to very dangerous things, we simply don’t permit people generally to own or operate them. Ordinary citizens can’t buy Stinger missiles, even if they want to use them solely to hunt and destroy whole herds of deer. There is always a limit to our freedom. Even our most conservative Supreme Court in decades has acknowledged this: while the Second Amendment does guarantee the right of a private citizen to keep a firearm for, say, home safety, it is consistent with the Second Amendment to regulate such usage and to place reasonable limits upon it.

The choice is a societal one, always. Do we want citizens to be able to obtain semi-automatic rifles, which in the wrong hands have proved very, very deadly, simply in the name of more awesome firepower for gun enthusiasts? Or can and should we ban their use, just as we have with many, many other things whose social utility is outweighed by the danger they present?

Critics will say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Yes, people with guns, so the humor goes. But there is deep truth to this. A fighter jet sitting on a military base tarmac presents no danger to us, but a 75-year old actor with the keys to it very well would. Here’s an idea: maybe we shouldn’t allow him anywhere near it.

George Takei

P.S. If you’d like to start a petition permitting me as a private citizen to fly an F-14, I’m not opposed.

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