Can We Talk About Guns Now?

Sorry for the incoherence, but I just don’t know what can be done about gun violence in America. If some new disease was killing tens of thousands of people each year we’d be doing something about it, just as we do with existing diseases. Traffic accidents kill a horrific number of people but we’ve been working on making cars safer and the numbers of deaths and injuries are starting to go down. We work ceaselessly to make life safer, to protect one another from harm. But when it comes to gun violence we do squat. Maybe because we’ve allowed things to come to such a pass it’s now virtually impossible to do anything.

Even if gun control laws were passed tomorrow, how would they be enforced? And even if they were enforced, what about all the millions of guns that are already out there? Would I voluntarily turn in my own guns? No, of course not, and neither would you. But we are responsible citizens, not the ones who shouldn’t be allowed to have guns. Or so we’d all say.

In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings, where so many small children were killed, we might be coming to a point where it’s socially and politically possible to adopt restrictions on assault and military-style weapons, and that will help a little … but not, I fear, a lot. After hearing all day yesterday that the Newtown shooter used a military-style assault rifle, today I hear that in fact he was armed with regular, plain-jane handguns.

Suppose politicians do grow a spine and move to impose sensible gun restrictions: does anyone think the NRA and its gun nut minions will stand passively by and let it happen? The NRA is, as of this moment, still silent, but the tools who parrot the NRA line are all over Twitter and Facebook, making the same old excuses for doing nothing to address the problem, even refusing to acknowledge there is a problem.

If we’re not going to adopt reasonable restrictions on gun ownership, can we at least put restrictions on the crazies? Well, we probably can’t pass a law banning gun sales to crazy and autistic people because that would hurt gun sales. The NRA isn’t just a gun-owners’ lobby, it’s first & foremost a gun industry lobby. No, that’ll never fly. But you could ban crazy and autistic people … literally round ’em up and throw ’em in prison for life. After all, who would step forward to protect them? A few mental health professionals and members of their immediate families? Who’s afraid of them?

Either way, whether it’s controlling guns or controlling people who shouldn’t have guns, it’d be a massive government intrusion into the lives of Americans and a fatal shift in the balance of power between the state and the people. But in my judgment, rounding up the crazies has a better chance of happening than rounding up the guns. Guns have a constituency. Crazies don’t. And besides, who wants to stand in the way of a good witch hunt?

Just imagine the price we’d pay for that, though. Who decides who’s crazy? Who determines which autistic kid might grow up to be a soulless killer and which one might grow up to be a Bill Gates? Imagine something like the TSA only infinitely worse, massive and pervasive at all levels of society, with poorly-educated agents poking their noses into our everyday lives to decide which of us are good citizens and which of us are defective. It’s the stuff of dystopian fiction. Or North Korea.

We really have an intractable problem here, folks, and the Supreme Court didn’t help matters by changing the meaning of the 2nd Amendment. We’re not helping by carrying water for the gun industry and the NRA, parroting the same old excuses and setting the stage for future mass shootings. We willingly give up personal freedoms in order to obtain drivers’ licenses and drive on public roads. Why are we so unwilling to accept any restrictions on gun ownership?

Sigh. The Newtown shooter stole the guns he used, they say, by way of making yet another excuse for doing nothing. I have guns at home. When I’m not actually carrying them, I keep them in a locked gun safe. It’s the least I can do. But you know what? I’m willing to do more. Let’s talk about it.

Mr. President, I’m nobody. I write a blog maybe 200 people read, tops. You need to take the lead and get this conversation started. I’m listening.

© 2012, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.


1 comment to Can We Talk About Guns Now?

  • DickHerman

    Paul, please forgive the long post. I have three beautiful granddaughters, 3, 6, and 7 years old, and I am still in a state of shock and despair over Newtown. The loss of those children is just too real for me. For what it is worth, here is what I wrote to my son after the Aurora, Colorado, shooting. The last line still screams at me.

    July 28, 2012

    Never ask an old man, who happens to be a novelist, what he thinks about the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. That’s asking for an unwanted barrage of emotional verbiage. With that warning, I will try to be concise.

    The massacre is still so fresh that any objectivity I can bring to the discussion at this time is filtered by grief and despair. So what do we know? A very disturbed young man armed himself with semi-automatic weapons, entered a theater, and, at last count, wounded fifty-nine people and killed twelve more. I can’t get past that last number – twelve innocent people murdered simply because they were too close to a psychotic killer. That is wrong, totally and absolutely, and it isn’t the first time it has happened. As responsible citizens, we must ask, How do we prevent it from happening again?

    But for some reason, people are not asking the right questions, or are looking for the magical cure. There is no single magical cure, and I certainly don’t have any answers at this point. But we can start by looking at the obvious – the means the killer used. Consequently, I raised the issue of semi-automatic weapons with a few of my friends. The immediate response from most was that it is a Second Amendment issue, and that we have the right to keep and bear arms to defend ourselves. Fair enough, but Justice Scalia clearly limited that right in his opinion for the majority delivered in 2008, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose . . .”

    If self-defense is the issue, we need to discuss the difference between defensive and offensive weapons, which are designed to cause mass harm. For an untrained civilian, or a veteran like me, grown rusty over the years, a short-barreled shotgun is a much better defensive weapon than an assault rifle, which, by definition, is primarily an offensive weapon.

    Further, talk radio has exploded with the conventional wisdom that the Second Amendment enables us to defend ourselves from a tyrannical government. Unfortunately, that argument ignores the role of the individual. Hamilton addressed this issue in No. 29 of the Federalist Papers. He argued that standing armies “are dangerous to liberty” and that a well-regulated militia (that should sound familiar) is “the most natural defence of a free country.” That point is that the individual defends himself from a tyrannical government as part of a well-regulated militia, not as a free agent armed to the teeth.

    We also need to examine our right to bear arms in the total context of our liberties and freedoms. The Declaration of Independence is the bible in this regard: all men are created equal with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
    The Constitution is the user’s manual on how to insure these rights, and the right to keep and carry weapons never trumps the right to life, which is exactly why we have limited the right to bear arms.

    So the basic question remains, How do we prevent another Aurora? We start by having a rational discussion addressing all elements of the problem, which includes the right to keep and carry weapons capable of creating mass harm. In my book, fifty-nine wounded and twelve dead constitutes mass harm, and I despair at our inability to stop it. It will happen again.


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