The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newport, Connecticut re-ignited our nation’s simmering conflict between those who insist on having guns and those who insist on taking them away, the stereotypical dispersion pitting right-wing gun advocates against left-wing conscientious objectors. The reality being a little less simplistic, a little less well-defined, most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle.
For the record, I am socially liberal (some would say extremely liberal) but I believe in the 2nd Amendment and all the cliches about guns, e.g.: “A man with a gun is a citizen, a man without a gun is a subject”. I like the feel of guns, the way I like the feel of scuba gear and ski equipment. I enjoy target shooting, but even with two layers of ear protection it cranks my tinnitus up to an “11” for a couple days. I plan to fill out and submit my application for a Concealed Carry Permit as soon as the Illinois legislature finishes re-writing our gun laws, as ordered by a federal court. At this writing, they have about 166 days left to do so.
The Army (yes, that Army) taught me to disassemble, clean and reassemble an M-16 rifle (technically it’s a
carbine) quickly and quietly and to shoot it with a fair amount of accuracy. The M-16 is a very cool weapon (always say weapon”, never “gun”) to hold and to shoot. My plan to smuggle one home about 40 years ago was foiled, but that’s a story for another day. In retrospect, that was a wretched idea on many levels, possibly one of my worst. It’s certainly not a weapon I need to protect my home and my family in a pre-apocolyptic world.
Leading up to Wayne LaPierre’s 90-minute diatribe on Friday in which he essentially told America not to pay any attention to the man behind the curtain, news flashes announced that the NRA (National Rifle Association) would be “breaking its silence” for the first time since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I didn’t even realize they were keeping silent or that they were expected to comment. The AMA (American Medical Association) didn’t comment. Will they be breaking their silence?
Seizing upon the classic strategy of a strong offense being the best defense (not sure against what he was defending) LaPierre, Executive Vice-President and CEO of the NRA blamed everything from rock music to music videos and video games for the shooting at Sandy Hook. The man who, after the Oklahoma City Bombings referred to federal agents as “jack-booted government thugs” who wear “Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms” called upon the government to station armed guards in every school in America.
When you’re hammer, you spend your time looking for nails. For the head of the NRA, the solution to just about any problem is going to include arms and ammunition. Forgetting for a moment that there are somewhere between 130,000 and 150,000 primary, secondary and advanced level educational institutions in the public and private sectors and that providing vetted, trained and armed guards at each of them would be a practical and financial impossibility, you really do have to ask yourself if that idea has either appeal or efficacious potential. I think most would agree that the concept of turning our schools into armed camps has neither.
In the Internet Age anything written more that 30 minutes ago is suspect of being out-dated and/or obsolete. Over 200 years old, the 2nd Amendment was written in the aftermath of a revolution, when the American people (there actually was an “American people” at one point in our history) might realistically need once again to rebel against the oppression of tyranny. Today, not so much. Back then there were no police and a standing army was still an iffy proposition. Although Switzerland still relies on a conscripted militia and requires them to maintain their government-supplied weapons until they are released (age 30 for enlisted men, 34 for officers), the Swiss government no longer allows them to keep ammunition at their homes. Either way, Switzerland is country of 7 million people and her system of defense may not be applicable to one approaching 350 million.
Forgetting the militia stuff, though let’s focus on the right to bear arms. Clearly, and through no fault of their own police can’t be everywhere. I have a responsibility to my family. I have the right to defend them, myself and my home. You can call it God-given or constitutional or anything you want to call it, but no one is going to come into my home and hurt my family. No law can or will change that. That’s where the “cold, dead fingers” thing comes into play.
I feel reasonably well-equipped for my self-appointed role as protector of my home. A gun that could automatically fire 3 rounds a second would more likely than not increase the possibility of someone in my house incurring “friendly fire”. Not my objective.
Nor is it any hunter’s objective, or should it be. I don’t know how those guys go out and shoot nature’s beautiful, innocent animals, but if they pump as many rounds into them as Adam Lanza pumped into those 6- and 7-year olds in Newtown, Connecticut, the meat and trophies for the den wall would be destroyed. No one needs a high-powered, automatic assault rifle.
Chances are no amount of gun control or armed guards is going to stop random outbreaks of armed violence amidst a civilian population. That doesn’t make doing nothing the best option. While I believe that reasonable adults have an inalienable right to bear arms, I also believe that we should act like reasonable adults and make all reasonable efforts to keep lethal weapons out of the hands of the criminally-inclined and mentally or emotionally impaired.
We should reinstate a ban on assault weapons without cleverly-worded loopholes and exclusions. Background checks should be possible from a national data base including all felons, gang members and those flagged by mental health professionals as potentially dangerous to themselves or others. And yes, that same background check should be required at swap meets and gun shows as well as at licensed gun dealers. We’re reasonable people. We should act like it.