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  • November 1st, 2013

To Gun or Not to Gun

By Joel M. Vance

If there is an enemy of gun control in this country, it is not the liberals but the extreme right wing whose intransigent opposition to any hint of gun control turns off the vast majority of uncommitted citizens.  Case in point: A nut job named Joel Gilbert suggests that President Obama was behind the massacre shooting at a theater in Colorado to strengthen his perceived campaign to ban guns.

This is so patently insane that most will snicker and turn to the comic strips, but it’s an uncomfortably common mindset among the far right.  Every time there is a mass shooting, the right looks for a conspiracy, usually that the left will use it as an excuse to ban guns.  The old bumper sticker “I’ll give up my guns when they pry them from my cold, dead hands” is the mantra of these folks and there even is a program on, of all places, the National Geographic Channel, about survivalists who believe deeply that they’ll go down in a hail of government-fired bullets.

I’m a gun owner with two deer rifles, a .22 and a bunch of shotguns.  I’ve been a hunter almost since I was big enough to squeeze the trigger.  I am strongly opposed to gun regulations that interfere with hunting and even with target shooting.   But there have been restrictions on gun ownership and use for decades.  You can’t own a fully-automatic weapon without complying with many regulations.  You are restricted on caliber and ammo for many hunting uses (steel shot, three shells only, etc.).

But the horrific massacre of tiny children in a Connecticut elementary school should trump politics and should quiet the conspiracy nuts.   The bottom line question is whether there is a way to prevent such insanity.  I doubt it.  Not until there is a way to predict human behavior and identify the potential mass murderers before their addled minds snap.

How do you do that without a widening net that snares the mildly disturbed along with the dangerously deranged?  The Connecticut shooter has been described as “mildly autistic.”  There are enough folks in the country in that category to make it not only impractical but immoral to cram them into institutions or medicate them to zombies on the proposition that they might go berserk some day.

The more questions about how to proceed, the more there are.  We got a taste of armed insanity in 1966when Charles Whitman climbed the bell tower at the University of Texas and picked off 14 people after having killed his mother and wife.  An autopsy revealed a lethal brain tumor.   Would we have to monitor all people with brain tumors, both malignant and benign, to make sure they aren’t going to derail?

Since Whitman we have had Columbine (12 students and a teacher) and Aurora (12 dead, 58 wounded) and the Virginia Tech rampage that saw 32 dead, 17 wounded.  That incident sparked new calls for strict gun laws and President Bush signed a bill strengthening the federal gun laws.  The gun lobby argued that had teachers and presumably every student been armed they would have cut Seung-Hui Cho down before he killed anyone.

I once got into an argument with a fellow who maintained that allowing airline passengers to carry guns would lessen the chances of a 911-type hijacking.  The armed passengers would, he maintained, shoot the hijackers and all would be well.  This kind of warped logic also encourages the arming of teachers, a prospect that appalls our high school English-teaching daughter.

Gunslinging arguments are why we have concealed carry laws in a majority of the states, with varying regulations and restrictions, including my home state Missouri, and why we have Florida’s infamous Stand Your Ground law which has resulted  in white guys shooting two unarmed black teenagers.  Gun advocates argue that such laws have lessened gun-related crime but the evidence is murky.  However such laws have not increased gun crime either, so take your pick.  If anything the issue demonstrates the peril of enacting rigid gun laws without evidence to back them up.

There will be more gun massacres as long as there are mentally deranged people who have access to guns.  The fact that in Connecticut the guns used apparently were legally bought dramatically illustrates the problem—that regulation is no guarantee against the unthinkable.

I just finished a wonderful book One Summer, America 1927 by Bill Bryson which includes anecdotees about a number of bomb attacks in the  title year that make the United States sound like Iraq at its worst.  There was one that slaughtered a number of school children.  It also was a year when an uncomfortable number of citizens were calling for the sterilization of “undesirable” people so they couldn’t breed more undesirables.   Some of the advocates for forced sterilization were prominent educators and other sterling citizens and some of the “undesirables they wanted cut were basically not them.

The point is that irrational acts are always possible and are always impossible to prevent.  Strict gun laws won’t do it, but those who oppose any reasonable restrictions or who advocate a shoot ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out mentality are no friends of reasonable gun ownership and use.

A current gun-related incident involves a cop who shot an eight year old boy who was carrying a toy assault weapon.   Whether the cop acted appropriately or not is still being investigated, but it’s reported that the time between noticing the kid and shooting him was about 10 seconds.  If you remember,  Deputy Sherriff Barney Fife was limited to an unloaded gun with one bullet buttoned in a shirt pocket—forced him to think before he loaded up and squeezed the trigger.

Gun owners operate with the philosophy that the armed citizen is the best defense against lawlessness while gun control advocates lobby for a complete ban on guns, forgetting the all-too-true argument that “when guns are banned only criminals will have guns.”  Prohibition certainly didn’t stop folks from drinking up, and drug users today have no problem finding something to snort.  Likewise the criminally-inclined never will lack for shooting irons.

And what’s to prevent a deranged legal gun owner (military or police) from opening fire?  Remember Nadal Malik, an Army major who killed 13 and wounded 29 in a shooting spree at Ft. Hood.   He is, of all things, a psychiatrist.  And if you are tempted to say, “Yeah, but he’s Muslim,” that plays into another set of prejudices.  The very next day after the Connecticut shooting, a certified security guard, who was trustworthy enough to have gotten a registered gun 10 years ago shot up a mall without hitting anyone.

Gun control is, like any other contentious aspect of human life, controversial and ultimately unsolvable.  Just as pro-life and freedom of choice advocates will butt heads forever, so will those who hate guns and those who love guns disagree.  Just as long as they don’t try to solve their problem with a Trampas Walk, we’ll live with the situation (for those who didn’t grow up thrilling to classic Western movies, the Trampas Walk was when Gary Cooper or a similar hero walked up the middle of Main Street to face the bad guys in a climactic shootout which the good guy always won).

But the difference between High Noon and reality is that sometimes the bad guys win.

-30-

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4 Comments

  1. Bill McCully

    November 4th, 2013 at 7:01 am

    Reply

    An excellent and well balanced piece. I am a lifetime member of the NRA and I remember a time when that organization stood for training, gun safety, and promoted the shooting sports. They still do those things but its lost in the noise about “gun control”. We have to have some regulations.
    We will never stop the nuts from these terrible crimes but for heavens sake we can require mandatory training for gun ownership and we can hold people accountable.
    What sickens me is the kid that finds a pistol in a nightstand and kills himself or another child becasue some knucklehead won’t put up a gun. This is preventable and we need to stop it.
    Unfortunately we can’t do much about the damn idiots that shoot up schools and theaters. A review of our history will show that gas cans and matches kill a helluva lot of people too if someone chooses. Then of course we can talk about the wonderful cocktail of cell phones and automobiles thats a newfound way of killing innocents. Finally, we could, as a nation, Left and RIght, do something about the damn drugs that are poisoning our youth. As bad as the firearm situaation might be, its a pauper compared to the drugs.

    • joelvance

      November 10th, 2013 at 3:07 pm

      Reply

      Hi, Bill,
      Thanks for the comments which echo my own thoughts. Unfortunately the tunnel-visioned gun lobby won’t think that way and trashes any viewpoint that they think conflicts with their views. I’ve belonged to NRA a couple of times and even wrote a column for American Hunter for a while, but they’ve left me behind with their set-in-concrete opposition to commonsense. We’ll never stop crazies from gun violence, just as we’ll never stop hoodlums from using them in crimes. But we can educate responsible gun ownership and use (and that’s why I joined NRA the first time–when they still emphasized gun safety training). Anyway, thanks for your good thoughts. Gives me hope.

  2. Jo Schaper

    November 24th, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    Reply

    Here is a question which is getting me in trouble lately:

    How old should a kid be before they get an air rife? a BB gun? a .22?
    a 20-gage?

    Having seen all these photos of 6-7 year olds who allegedly got 10 and 12 point bucks during the youth season, –well when you do that at age 6, where do you go from there?

    I don’t care if a parent is crazy enough to take junior or junior miss still in diapers to the tree stand with them “for the unarmed experience.” That’s up to them. I mean how do you determine to put a gun big enough to kill a large buck in the hands of a 6 year old?

    I got called down by some “hunting women” for even questioning the question.

    • joelvance

      December 1st, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      Reply

      Hi, Jo,
      Been a while since I had a kid I wanted to introduce to guns, but it is) mandatory for a kid to have hunter safety training before they get a hunting permit (must be 11 or older to take the course and must be certified to hunt). That puts the minimum age at 11. But they can hunt if accompanied by a licensed adult. Doesn’t stop Dad from providing his six year old with a shooting iron. You probably know the Jean Shepherd story/movie about Ralphie and his Daisy Red Ryder BB gun (“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”). I got one when I was about 10 and pinned my cousin in the outhouse by shooting through the half-moon cutout, the BBs rattling around inside. He yelled loud enough that his mom came out and confiscated my gun. Not much commonsense in a kid that age, but the safety training helps. One thing about the little kids and their deer hunts is that they legally must be accompanied by an adult who presumably has more sense than they do. I still think that gun safety is understressed by too many hunter Dads. Our boys went with me, gunless, on many hunts before they got guns and were able to learn by example before they took the safety course. Today they are exemplary gun handlers, thanks to that lifelong indoctrination.



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