Archive for March, 2013

  • Blog
  • March 26th, 2013

Bird Group Flies off the Handle

Hot off the press–Ted just posted this on Facebook.  Audubon caved in and we have our voice back.  It’s an object lesson for Audubon or any other publication that is frightened, even momentarily, by the extremists when it tries to tell the truth.

Trapped, Released But Not Neutered

“I’ve just been informed by Audubon that I am benched for the next issue but will be permanently back in the game the following issue. I knew I had fans out there, but never imagined there were so many and with such strong feelings. Your support went as viral as the emails from Alley Cat Allies. I was touched and humbled. Thanks so much my friends.”

By Joel M. Vance

It’s a clever play on words: “insight” means to shed light on; “incite” means to inspire action.  That latter word has been the title of Ted Williams’s monthly column in “Audubon” magazine for many years.  Often sued, never found guilty, Ted has burst the bubble of many a scam and humbug in the conservation world.  His scathing reporting, always in depth and always insightful (not to mention incite-ful), has earned him membership in the Circle of Chiefs, a group of conservation communicators honored for their contributions to preserving the integrity of the outdoors.

He is the leader of a regrettably small group of conservation communicators who never met a dragon too big to slay.  Ted has the almost unique combination of writing expertise, consummate reporting, and the guts to say out loud what virtually everyone else is afraid to.

No group he has attacked has touched him.  But now he has been fired by the very group for whom he has been the leading spokesperson—the National Audubon Society—and for the most egregious reason possible.  He championed birds (remember, Audubon portrays itself as the leading bird conservation organizationa) against feral cats.  He also reported that Tylenol, the familiar pain killer, also is an effective cat poison.  He didn’t lobby for poisoning feral cats but cat lovers reacted with fang and claw, inundating the Audubon Facebook page with demands that Ted be canned.

Did Audubon stick up for its longtime point guard?  No, it cravenly caved to the feline fanatics who maintain that feral cats are part of nature’s scheme, ignoring that the definition of “feral” is “In a wild state, especially  after escape from captivity or domestication: i.e. ‘a feral cat’. “

My dear friend Bill Clark, perhaps the most fascinating person I’ve ever known, is an appropriate one to comment on the Williams debacle.  Bill is an ardent birder and has led a birding team from his Columbia, Missouri, home once a week to document birds on Department of Conservation areas around the state.  So far the group has visited nearly 1,100 sites.  Bill has birded on every continent except Antarctica and don’t discount the possibility of that.  He volunteered for the Peace Corps when he was in his mid-70s but they turned him down because he has too many joint replacements (at least a half dozen at last count, legacy of a career which includes professional wrestling, officiating all high school sports, race walking, boxing and years as a major league scout for Cincinnati, Atlanta and San Diego.

“I wouldn’t call Audubon the quintessential bird group anymore,” Bill says.  “They advocate for the environment.  They’re political now and field birding is no longer an issue for them.  I’ve chosen not to renew my membership after 30 years.  Missouri Audubon is the birding group for me.”

The Audubon Society of Missouri, which has been around for 112 years and actually is two years older than the national group and is the second-oldest regional Audubon group in the country, has its own problem with National Audubon—one shared by many local and regional Audubon groups.  The money it collects for membership goes to National Audubon and some is refunded for local projects, roughly two dollars per member.

Quail Unlimited has a similar philosophy of “you give it all to us and we’ll give some back”—a policy which led many members to abandon QU in favor of Quail Forever which allows local chapters to keep all money they collect and use it locally.

“The American Birding Association has become the leading bird group for strictly field birding,” Bill says.  His local group, Columbia Audubon, is not affiliated with the national and has some 600 members and their money goes to local projects (needless to say not to lobby for the head of a spokesperson for birds).

It’s worthwhile to see what Ted did that was so awful it led his employers to can him.  His point, in an op-ed editorial for the Orlando Sentinel was that trap-neuter and return programs on feral cats just make the problem worse.  Releasing feral cats back into the environment, even sexually defused, encourages more abandonment and does not stop the cats from killing wildlife, especially birds.  It does not prevent diseased cats from spreading their afflictions (feline leukemia is a virulent killer of cats and there is no treatment).

Ted reported that Tylenol is an effective and selective cat poison.  A group called Alley Cat Allies came unglued, claiming that feral cats “play important roles in the ecosystem.”  But feral cats are not a native species and are an additive factor to the ecosystem, not a natural role player.  They are no less intrusive than starlings, fire ants or any other introduced species that has become a problem.

If you need evidence that they are a problem, a recent study reported by the Smithsonian found that between 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds are killed by cats each year in the United States. A third are non-native species such as starlings and sparrows.  In addition between 6.9 to 20.7 billion small mammals die between cat paws.  Many are rats and mice but feral cats also target rabbits, squirrels, shrews and voles.

It took only one day of bombarding Audubon’s Facebook page with calls for Ted’s head by the cat crazies for Audubon to cave in and fire him.   What a craven outfit! Audubon’s public statement is a perfect example of mis-statement and weasel-wording: “ Mr. Williams described using over-the-counter drugs to poison cats. And because of Mr. Williams’ stated affiliation with Audubon in that original piece, some readers assumed that Audubon was endorsing this approach. We do not. We regret any misimpression that Mr. Williams was speaking for us in any way: He wasn’t.”

It does not claim Ted advocated poisoning cats with Tylenol—he didn’t.  And then Audubon scampers away, like a frightened cat, from any support for Ted.  God forbid that the group would appear to be endorsing the euthanizing of Fluffy, even if Fluffy is a feral, ownerless predator with the talent and time to kill countless birds.

And feral cats are widely considered to be the most efficient predator on wild birds there is.  Bill Clark has five cats, including once, a house pet that brought home a fresh-killed young bird.  “I wrote a column about it,” Bill says.  “I apologized in print for what the cat did, and to birders and bird lovers.  I felt bad for the young bird that never had a chance at a full life.”

We’ve had a house cat gift us with shrews and skinks, but both Bill and I can be somewhat consoled by the knowledge that 70 percent of the wildlife kills are by feral cats, not the household pet.

If it’s Wednesday (that’s birding day, every Wednesday, rain or shine) Bill Clark and his birding crew will be somewhere in Missouri rounding out their entirely volunteer effort to catalog birds on a thousand-plus conservation areas.  Besides the fact that he still writes his columns on a manual typewriter, he doesn’t have time (or a computer) to badger the National Audubon Society with senseless hate mail.

-30-

 

 

 

Read More
  • Blog
  • March 18th, 2013

Fish or Cut Bait

 

Boomer Rafferty tied up the Cruiseliner 450 at his dock and checked to see that everything was stowed properly.  A 100-foot trotline was neatly coiled, but needed hooks replaced; he’d do that later on.  The live well contained a bounty of carp, drum and one whopping flathead catfish, along with a couple of fat channel catfish, one of which would serve as supper for him and the lovely Lola, she of the bounteous bosom and legs up to here.  His libido surged like an ocean wave at the thought of her.

He and Lola shared one major attribute—unbridled lust.  His was almost as visible as sweat on a sultry August day; she kept hers carefully subdued, fearful of Boomer’s volatile temper.  He assumed she was his alone to do with in sickness and in health (although they weren’t married) while Lola felt that the male world was her oyster (and you know how oysters inflame the libido) as long as she could keep Boomer under control.  Once she saw Siegfried and Roy playing with their lions and tigers on the huge flat screen television she had talked Boomer into buying and she saw a distinct parallel between the barely-restrained beasts and Boomer.  When she heard that Roy had nearly been killed by one of the tigers, she shuddered and resolved not necessarily to quit fooling around but to be a hell of a lot more careful about it.

Boomer would dress his fish out later.  After snacking on Lola’s abundant charms.  No matter that he was early off the big river.  He’d had a fine day fishing and would make expenses-plus from selling the fish.  Business was good, life was good, and Lola was especially good.  As an hors d’oeuvre or a main course she was gourmet fare all the way.

“For God’s sake Elvin!  It’s Boomer!”  Lola turned from the window, her body gloriously Reubenesque in the dim light of the bedroom.  But Elvin Jackson was instantly transformed from a devoted sampler of Lola-icity to helpless terror.  He grabbed at his clothes and sprinted for the front door, not even bothering to put on his underwear.  Oh God!  He could only hope that Boomer would delay entering the house until he had gotten out of sight.

Elvin didn’t even notice the sharp gravel and shattered mussel shells that lacerated his feet as he covered the 50 yards between Boomer’s front door and a blessed screen of redcedars that lined the road.  Once he dropped his shorts and paused in terrified indecision, thinking he would just leave them, but then feared that Boomer would find them and make a definitely unwelcome connection.  He scooped up the boxers and continued his painful dash.  Thank God there were no close neighbors to see the naked man clutching his clothing as he raced down the gravel road to his pickup.  Once there he leaped in the cab, his nerves throbbing, his breath coming in panicked gasps.

He’d gotten away with it.  So close!  Oh, so close to discovery!  Never again.  He didn’t care how seductive Lola was, the possibility of Boomer’s terrible wrath was not worth the risk.

The affair had started a month earlier at the River’s Edge pub, a typical sleazy joint on the banks of the Mississippi where commercial fishermen gathered to drink Fall City beer, shoot eight ball and gripe about sports.  It was a guy place mostly, but a few women came, mostly with their men.  The several who entered unattached were skags, shopworn and boozy and definitely the type who only got better looking at closing time.

Boomer had gone on an all-night fishing trip, mostly to run a bevy of illegal fish traps cleverly sunk in the sloughs along the river, while  he assumed Lola dutifully sat at home watching “Dancing With the Stars” on the big television set he had bought her.   Or so he thought.  Actually, Lola watched the Cruiseliner cut an arc in the river as Boomer swung it upstream, and she put on a tube top and short skirt and headed for the River’s Edge and a couple of bumps—she had developed a fondness for a shot of Early Times, followed by a Pabst Blue Ribbon chaser.  The booze loosened her inhibitions, never very tight to begin with.

Lola was the exception among that night’s assortment of skanks but there was no danger that any of the hairy beer guzzlers would hit on her.  Not so long as Boomer lived, breathed fire and carried a keen filet knife in a sheath at his hip.  It was said he could filet a 40-pound flathead catfish or a 260 pound Romeo in about the time it took to describe it.  No one wanted to find out, although many had seen him dissect a catfish with the deft wrist action of a symphony conductor.

After two bumps, Lola’s wandering eye settled on Elvin, black-haired, clean-shaven and bulging of bicep.  He looked more than pretty good to the voluptuous lady, especially in contrast to Boomer who was almost always several beers to the dark side of drunk, reeking however faintly of fish, and with the romantic veneer of a feedlot boar.

Elvin knew better than to make a move on Lola….but what was he to do when she made a move on him.   She intercepted him exiting the men’s toilet, charmingly-named The Boar’s Nest (the Ladies was the Sow’s Secret), and said, “Hi, Elvin.  Everything come out all right?”

“Hey, Lola,” he said, glancing nervously down the dark corridor toward the smoky main room.  Pool balls clacked noisily, the juke box vibrated with the laments of George Jones, and the air was heavy with the yeasty smell of beer.

“You ought to come by and see me some time,” Lola said, her eyebrows semaphoring an unmistakable imitation.  She reached out and took his hand and put it on her bounteous bosom.  Elvin jerked it back as if she were white hot (she was approaching that heat level).

“I don’t think Boomer would like that very much,” Elvin said, swallowing heavily.  “I sure don’t want to make Boomer mad.”

“Well, what Boomer don’t know ain’t gonna hurt Boomer, now is it?” she asked, toying with a curl of chest hair that peeped over Elvin’s open shirt collar.  He found it difficult to breathe as if she had absorbed all the oxygen in the hallway.  She tugged at the chest hair, painfully, and he exclaimed, “Ouch!”  She continued down the hall to the Sow’s Secret, leaving Elvin flustered and gulping air.

When Elvin went back into the main room, flushed and confused he thought he saw Boomer across the room with his buddies—looking at him.  It wasn’t Boomer but, frightened, Elvin spun quickly to the bar and ordered a beer that he really didn’t want.  Anything but meeting any ever-suspicious eyes.  It was as if he had discovered the Lost Dutchman mine but found it guarded by a pride of hungry pumas.  His first instinct was to catch the first bus out of town, but the vision of luscious Lola kept intruding, driving the vision of a Greyhound bus out of his mind.

In the next few days, the more he thought about Lola, the less he thought about Boomer.  What gave the big bastard the right to stake exclusive claim to an unmarried beauty?  What was he?  Man or mouse?  And then he ran into Lola in the Six Pack liquor store where he was replenishing his supply of the most essential food group (a handy six of Budweiser), and once again he was mesmerized by the voluptuous temptress.  Not being of a Biblical bent he didn’t immediately think of Sampson, but he did run his hand through his hair, more in indecisive confusion than in an archaic reflex.

“Hey, big boy!” Lola exclaimed.  “How come you haven’t come to see me?”

“Er, I don’t know,” Elvin said.  “I guess I just don’t want to get crossways with Boomer.”

“Well, I won’t tell if you don’t,” Lola said.  “I get gut lonesome out there by myself all day and Boomer always smells like a dead fish.  It ain’t exactly like living in a perfume factory.”

“How come you hang out with him?” Elvin asked.  “I mean if he’s so gnarly?”

“Oh, he had a kind of animal charm once,” Lola said.  “Like wanting to pet a sleepy lion, you know.  And he didn’t used to stink so bad.  I guess the longer you’re around dead fish the more you start to smell like them.  Besides that, he’s a crummy lover.  I call him Mr. Ten Seconds.  And that’s on a good day.”

And so it started.  Boomer spent long hours on the Mississippi, running his trot lines, tending to nets and peddling his fish.   The big river always soothed him, mellowed his ever-present rage.  Lola treated him like he was scum, teasing him with her sexuality and then dancing away—or occasionally throwing blunt objects.  He wanted to bust her right in her delectable chops, but he was afraid he’d lose it and her—if he didn’t outright kill her.  Somehow he restrained himself, took it out on feebly flopping fish that he never bothered to knock in the head before he slit them open with a filet knife and ripped their guts out.  He felt moderately satisfied, his anger cooled a bit, when he had a pile of steaming fish guts on his cleaning table and a dead fish lying in front of him.

“One of these days,” he promised a defunct carp, whose hazy, dead eye stared up at him from the cleaning table.  “One of these days I’m gonna lay her out just like you.  She’s gonna push me just so far and by God…..”  He ran the filet knife up the fish’s throat, down the backbone, around the dorsal to the tail and worked the filet loose, then deftly slid the knife the length of it, skinning the fish and leaving a chunk of blood-tinged meat.  Smoked it would become a mouthwatering delicacy, fit for the finest gourmet tables.

It was a glimpse so fleeting that he actually doubted his eyes—a naked man darting behind the cedars on his road.  He heard a truck start and looked through a distant gap in the trees to see a familiar red and black Ford 250 pickup.  Could only belong to Elvin Jackson and there was only one reason Elvin would be naked in Boomer territory.  Lola seemed flustered, but answered his pointed questions about how she had spent her day by recapping the plot of “Days of Our Lives” (which, of course, was the same as every other episode of “Days of Our Lives).  Boomer festered like an infected wound, for a week and many a fish suffered terminal wounding from his filet knife.

Perhaps nothing would have happened had he not literally run into Elvin in the hallway of the River’s Edge.  Elvin had his head down, still funked from his near discovery the week before, when he collided with the very object of his terror, a glowering Boomer.  But to Elvin’s amazement, Boomer’s wrathful visage cleared and he smiled (although the effect was more like the curled lip of a hungry timber wolf that has cornered a fawn).

Boomer put a beefy arm around Elvin’s neck and gave him a gentle Dutch rub.  “Hey, little buddy, you want to make some extra money?  I got too many lines out and need some help runnin’ ‘em.  The fishin’s been great.  Give you fifty bucks to help me tomorrow and a couple of fish for the freezer.  How about it?”

Elvin desperately wanted to say no.  The prospect of spending a whole day on the river with Boomer was frightening, but he couldn’t think of a good excuse not to, especially with Boomer’s bicep wrapped around his aorta.  “I guess,” he mumbled, taking a deep breath as Boomer relaxed the pressure on his throat.

“Meet you at the town dock at 5 a.m.,” Boomer said.

“Jeez, why so early?” Elvin asked.

“Early bird catches the worm,” Boomer said.  “Go have a couple of Buds, hit the sack early and don’t be late in the morning.”  Elvin could not have been more apprehensive had Boomer suggested a three-way with Lola.  He trudged to the ratty two-room shack he called home and had more than the two recommended Buds (five in fact) and woke at 4:30 with a headache and a taste in his mouth as if he had been snacking on Boomer’s gut pile.

The dock was deserted.  Boomer’s boat idled in neutral, the engine burbling quietly in the pre-dawn hush.  The river was black, flowing soundlessly past the sleeping town.  Far downstream a tow, already past them, swept its searchlight from bank to bank, seeking the channel buoys.  Elvin thought how horrible it would be to be run down by one of the monstrous barge tows which take a half-mile even to slow down.  He shuddered and hunched into his windbreaker.

Boomer untied the boat and slowly backed into the current, swung the bow upstream and goosed the big engine.  Elvin crouched in the bow, feeling the occasional spray of water pelleting off his rain jacket.

It was unseasonably cold on the river or maybe it was the ice in his guts.  He could have made a long list of places he’d rather be and this would be at the absolute bottom, but he was stuck with this reeking pile of suppressed rage and he’d just have to stick it out, collect his fifty bucks and in future stay as far away from Boomer as he possibly could.  Once again he fleetingly thought of catching a Greyhound to Boomerless, USA.

They ran a couple of trotlines and Boomer once detoured into a backwater and, after carefully surveying the river for the law, raised a couple of fish traps.  There were a few catfish in the traps and several carp and drum on the trotlines.  “You be careful with them hooks,” Boomer shouted to Elvin, who was hauling the trotlines in.  “You get caught and pulled in the river and you’ll go under like a concrete block.  Wouldn’t want nothin’ to happen to you.”  His solicitous leer was like being grinned at by a living gargoyle.

Elvin rebaited empty hooks with chunks of liver and baitfish and finally they were down to one last trotline which Boomer had stretched in the shallows of a slough off the main channel.  They watched as a barge tow tacked slowly downstream, sending a series of waves into the slough that rocked Boomer’s big boat.

“Time for a break, little buddy,” Boomer said.  He pulled a pint of Old Crow from his grimy overalls and uncapped it, took a hefty slug.  He offered it to Elvin who shook his head.  “Oh, come on, little buddy,” Boomer said.  “Loosen up some—what’s life all about anyway but a few belts and getting laid?  Right?”

There was something in Boomer’s tone that was disturbing and Elvin thought maybe he would have a jolt after all.  He reached out and took the pint and felt the whiskey rip a path down his gullet.

“Been meaning to talk to you,” Boomer said.

“What about,” Elvin said and he realized his voice sounded much like Mickey Mouse.

“Oh, just stuff….like how you spend your days while I’m out on the river busting my ass.”  He looked expectantly at Elvin whose guts clenched and turned as icy as the silent river.

“Just doing odd jobs,” Elvin said.  “You know, whatever anybody has.  Some carpentering, pounding nails like…..”  He stopped, aware that he was babbling.  Whatever motivated these questions he didn’t know but he also didn’t want to know.

“This old river life is tough,” Boomer said.  “You ought to be glad you ain’t a river rat like me.  Got to work from can’t see to can’t see and you got to leave your best gal home to get bored and do who knows what with who knows who.  Know what I mean?”

Of course Elvin did, but he wasn’t about to say so.

Boomer sighed theatrically and said, “Well there ain’t much I can do about it.  Spect I’ll just bait up this last line and we can head on in.  Maybe I’ll get Lola to scrub my back. Nothing like a sweet gal to take the stink off.  But then you oughta know, right?  Grab up that line and let’s bait her.”

In a funk Elvin reached under the trotline float and found the line.  He pulled it up and began to work his way, hand over hand toward the first hooks.  He felt the boat shift and glanced back.  He had time for only a brief glimpse of Boomer two feet away, a glittering filet knife in his hand, and the last thing he heard was, “Can’t catch no fish without good bait

 

*                                         *                                         *

 

“Honey, I’m home!”  Lola heard Boomer’s voice at the door.  He’d never called her “honey” before.  He came into the front room where she was watching “Days of Our Lives” and said, “Heat up the grease, baby, we’re having fish for supper.”

She looked at him and said, “You’re all bloody—go take a shower.”

-30-

 

Read More
  • Blog
  • March 10th, 2013

Beware the Ferocious Fungi

 By Joel M. Vance

It was delicious, with an almost meat-like consistency and earthy flavor.  Just like the button mushrooms you get at the supermarket.  I savored the flavor and swallowed the mushroom.

Then my imagination kicked in.

I did survive, of course.  It was a meadow mushroom, cousin of the familiar supermarket button mushroom, gathered from the wild, innocuous and tasty.  Many other mycological misfits have not been so lucky.  Every year across the country some folks die from eating poisonous mushrooms.  Others react to mushrooms that would not affect most people.

            The American Association of Poison Control Centers gets reports of about 10,000 mushroom poisonings annually, of which a quarter are potentially life-threatening.  The Destroying Angel’s Latin name is Amanita phalloides and half a cap from one is enough to kill you.

            There are an estimated 70,000 mushroom species and of those perhaps 250 are edible and another 250 are poisonous.  Many of the rest are unidentified.

            Even shaggy manes or morels, supposedly safe for everyone, have caused reactions in a few diners, though not fatal ones.  Inky cap mushrooms (of which the shaggy mane is one) are excellent eating but if you drink alcohol near the time you eat them you are likely to become ill.  The False Morel contains a chemical identical to one type of rocket fuel and will poison a person unless the mushroom is boiled at a high enough temperature to vaporize the “fuel.”  The Amanita muscaria contains a kind of human rocket fuel—it is the “magic mushroom,” used by some native tribes and by some counterculture types as an hallucinogen.

class=WordSection2>            Lewis Carroll apparently indulged in A. muscaria while writing Alice in Wonderland.  According to mushroom legend, a shaman would eat A. muscaria  and his tribe then would drink his urine– apparently the bad side effects of the mushroom are neutralized by the urine, but what neutralizes the bad side effects of drinking urine?

            There is no North American plant as deadly as the Angel, possibly no animal.  One mycologist claims more people have died of mushroom poisoning than have died from rattlesnake bites.  Certainly the fabled black widow spider is a poisonous piker compared to virosa.

            What makes the Angel so insidious is that it masquerades as other, wonderfully edible mushrooms.  A young Angel may look like a young meadow mushroom or a young puffball, both often described as “edible and choice.”  All mushrooms in an area may not be of a single species.  You could find a little Amanita lurking among a flock of meadow mushrooms. 

                        The poison is protein, composed of amino acids.  More than 95 percent of all mushroom fatalities involve Amanita mushrooms, variously called the Death Angel, Destroying Angel or Death Cap.  The cyclopeptide has two deadly agents, but the effects of neither show up until as much as 24 hours later, too late for a stomach pump or anything short of prayer.

            Death rate is estimated from five to 40 percent or more and even survivors may have permanent organic damage.

            There are a number of treatments, none of which is surefire, and the most dramatic and last-ditch is a liver transplant.  Disregard any old wives’ tales about how you can tell poisonous mushrooms from their peace-loving cousins or how you can de-toxify a lethal one.  None are true. For example, silver coins or spoons do not necessarily change color if a poisonous mushroom is in the pot. 

            One dramatic and disgusting remedy was espoused by Nicander of Colophon who wrote of a potion that contained, among other things, the dung of a domestic fowl, after the downing of which you stick your finger down your throat and “vomit forth the baneful pest.”  I’ll bet!

            Caution is the key word.  Don’t eat unfamiliar mushrooms or any about which there is any doubt.  Discard old or frost-bit specimens.  Better yet, stick with ones you absolutely know are harmless and keep your imagination in check. 

            Remember, the Destroying Angel and the Death Cup were not named out of affection.  They have been proving their right to the names for thousands of years.

-30-
 

Read More
  • Blog
  • March 1st, 2013

Guns, Guns and More Guns

     By Joel M. Vance

             A while back I wrote a column about gun rights to which a reader took such exception that he wrote a rebuttal which appeared as a guest editorial. 

            He was upset mostly, I think, that I would even examine the subject, but also took me to task individually and scared the hell out of me with some of his statements. One in particular was this: “The right to keep or bear arms was not a right to allow people to hunt game or do target shooting.  Rather it was recognition of the essential right that the people had to possess arms so as to attack any government agents who attempted to violate their rights of any types.”

            What does this say to you?  It says to me that the writer has the armed militia outlook where the U.S. Government is the enemy and sniping federal or state police is almost a civic duty.  Sorry, but I can’t agree that the founding fathers would have endorsed slaughter of police, even if the police are off base.

            And they are from time to time—we see cops beating helpless citizens, we see a stupid and misguided Ruby Ridge…but that does not mean that lynch mob mentality should rule.  The Old West never was that cool a place and those today who want to live by the gun are not much more civilized than the backshooters around Tombstone or Dodge City.

            I do believe we have a right to own guns…responsibly.  I’m not stockpiling a million rounds of ammo and a half dozen assault weapons against the day when the black helicopters come over the ridge.  And I think those who have this mindset are dangerous to everything this country stands for.  They aren’t patriots; they are deluded, but more than deluded, they are deluded with firearms and a white heat conviction that it’s moral to shoot ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out.

            The fellow who wrote the rebuttal said that I was wrong when I said it is illegal to own a fully-automatic firearm, that there are more than 250,000 in the U.S., owned by citizens.  According to the NRA there are about 150,000 and those folks have paid a $200 license fee, gone through rigorous background checks and have demonstrated a need to own such a weapon.

            That last part is the most significant.  Aside from open warfare I can’t see a situation where a normal citizen has a “need” to own a fully automatic firearm.  The restrictions are so stiff that your chances of legally owning a full automatic just because you want one are simply zero. 

            I also said that the founding fathers could not have envisioned a full automatic weapon since personal firearms then were single-shot flintlock muzzleloaders. I’ll stick with that.  I’m sure Gen. Washington would have welcomed a few machineguns when he went into battle, but he didn’t have them and he didn’t imagine anyone in the future would have them. 

            It is true, as the critic says, that the Bill of Rights was not, as I said, an “afterthought” to the Constitution.  They were a reinforcement of basic rights, put in the Constitution to sooth concerns by the states and to insure that the states would ratify the Constitution.  My error.   

            My critic says the Second Amendment “is designed to protect your essential, elementary human rights to own, possess, carry (openly or concealed), buy, trade and transfer any type of weapon.”  And I take it to mean that includes rocket launchers, machineguns, or any other weapon of war.  That’s a pretty scary interpretation of the Amendment and one which likely will harden opposition to guns more than it will do any good

            He also says that no one would want to hijack an airplane filled with “armed marshals (citizens).”  Probably not…but would you want to ride on an airplane filled with jittery armed civilians, few of whom would have had law enforcement training and most without gun safety training?

            I think pilots should be armed and I think air marshals and law enforcement personnel riding airplanes should be packing…but to let any militia type on board with a loaded gun is about like letting babies play with daddy’s loaded .45.   

            My original column was to make people think about gun rights and point out that the Second Amendment is not without its own amendments: Al Capone’s tommyguns brought about restrictions on full automatic submachineguns.  You can’t possess rocket launchers.  Hunting has all kinds of restrictions from shotgun plugs which limit the number of shells you can load to bullet sizes for deer hunting. 

            Today’s restrictions on gun ownership have been brought about by gun abuse or by necessity (wildlife management for example).  They shouldn’t penalize responsible gun owners, but should prevent gun abuse.   Any regulations that don’t fit this formula should be resisted and changed.  But by espousing the Wild West law of the gun we’re only asking for more restrictions to include things that no gun owner wants.

            I’m a lifelong hunter and gun owner and don’t want to have the government telling me how I can use my guns for lawful purposes.  But I also oppose the unrestricted use of guns to enforce what someone else perceives to be a violation of “rights.”  Solving irritation by gunfire is as wrong today as it was when the Earp boys met up with the Clantons at the O.K. Corral. 

            I see no point in assault rifles with extended clips.  They are a convenience for target shooters, but that’s not justification enough to allow them.  Short clips work just as well and reloading exercises your thumb.  And the huge loophole by which anyone can buy any gun at a gun show without a background check needs to be slammed shut.

            Fifty years ago I bought a pistol and had to wait two weeks to get it while the sheriff checked me out.  So background checks are nothing new and are a safeguard, although not perfect, against nutcases buying the gun they would use to slaughter a bunch of second graders.

            Identifying potential crazies beforehand is a good theory, but who makes the call?  And how many times have mass murderers afterward been characterized by friends and neighbors as “a quiet guy,” “nice guy,” “never though he’d do anything like this,” etc.?  We must avoid becoming a police state where neighbor is encouraged to rat on neighbor and where the cops have license to lean on anyone anytime. 

            It is a conundrum created by being a nation of guns and I fear there is no solution.  We can only apply Band Aids to gaping wounds and hope for the best.  But the present climate in this country is division and hate and those are poor conditions for a coming together on anything, much less something as divisive as gun regulation.

            Yes, we have to be vigilant to guard our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, but we also have to be aware that it is a precious right and if we abuse it we could lose it. 

-30-

Read More