Only a fool bothers to write about guns in America. However polarized Congress may be today, firearms define a public fault line where passions bubble furiously along both sides of the divide. It’s nearly impossible to propose a middle course that doesn’t invite vituperative attacks from both gun nuts and their opponents. But, after the recent slaughter of schoolchildren in Connecticut, only the latest of many similar incidents reaching far back beyond Columbine, I am willing to play the fool. To remain silent would be, to some degree, to become complicit in the next massacre of innocents.
My father, although a Roosevelt Democrat, was a life member of the National Rifle Association. Their circular red decal appeared in the back window of every car he ever owned. My brother and I were visiting the shooting range before we entered school. We hunted regularly as boys, and the U. S. Navy completed my education as a shooter. I own two guns today, my grandfather’s .22 caliber ‘varmint’ rifle and a pistol I’ve never fired that belonged to my Dad. It has a gunlock through the chamber and resides in a locked strongbox. Neither of these guns was in my home while my children were growing up in Denver. My grandfather was murdered with his own pistol trying to be a ‘good guy’ when I was 3 years old.
Anyone who has followed political debate in this country over the past few decades is all too familiar with the belligerent snout of Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and media spokesman for the National Rifle Association. His appearance on Meet the Press following the Sandy Hook shootings was beyond bizarre. As spittle accumulated in the corners of his mouth, not only did he appear to be foaming mad, but what he was proposing felt utterly deranged — bat guano crazy — “a good guy with a gun” in every American school! That was his solution. And, he was, oh so generously, willing to help Congress find the $7 billion dollars (probably closer to $15 billion) he claimed would be required. How lucky could we be?
If there weren’t enough police officers available, he suggested we recruit retirees to offer their services. Perfect — the overweight, slow, clueless and hard of hearing into the breach! How often each year would pranksters (hopefully) or malefactors (worst case) seize guns from these paladins while pushing them into locked storage rooms? Since shooters have taken to tricking themselves out in full body armor, would the NRA’s “good guys” also tromp through school hallways in full Kevlar, brandishing Glocks and automatic rifles like something out of a Terminator movie? That should make our kids feel really safe.
I must confess that firing an automatic weapon is a real kick in the butt. It’s also damned scary. Only a lunatic believes these weapons serve any purpose other than the swift extermination of fellow human beings, with the emphasis on swift. The argument that they are required to defend us against our own government is ludicrous. When the day arrives that a President can successfully convince both houses of Congress to seize our guns and then command the American military to search for them, presumably with an assist from drones and Hellfire missiles, we will be facing far larger problems than our family firepower.
I happened to visit Berlin shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the demolition of the Berlin Wall. Gypsy merchants were peddling piles of Russian military equipment at bargain basement prices. Another American tourist was thrilled to purchase a night sniper scope for less than a hundred dollars. He kept urging me to grab one for myself, while I wondered what it must be like to live next door to someone who thought he needed such a thing. I bought a red Special Forces beret with a hammer and sickle insignia for two bucks instead. It’s great for costume parties. The NRA long tried to convince Americans that Communist governments confiscated guns, yet, in the aftermath of the crack-up of the Iron Curtain dictatorships, everyone past the age of 14 seemed to have his or her own personal Kalashnikov. Where did they come from?
With several million assault rifles already in the hands of American gun owners, and no practical way to ever retrieve the bulk of them, we will probably have to live with a continuing pattern of sporadic gun violence. But, that doesn’t mean we have to keep selling more. Nor does it mean we need to allow the sale of large capacity magazine clips. In a world of digital communications, where our National Security Agency can sweep billions of e-mails for key words in order to identify terrorist cells, surely we can track the purchase of multiple guns, armor and large quantities of ammunition headed to the same address. Such searches would likely prove an inconvenience to a handful of honest citizens, yet, if they prevented just a single massacre, a price well worth paying. No dragnet will catch every madman, but there is no excuse for not trying.
Even in the American West, at a time when virtually every adult wore a gun belt, pistols were checked at the door to theaters, bars, gambling dens and whorehouses — these business owners apparently unaware of their possible infringement of constitutional rights. It was simply common sense not to mix alcohol and guns, passion and guns, losers and guns, arguments and guns. Trying to keep firearms out of the hands of the demented, and off our college campuses, and out of our schools strikes me as simple common sense. Killers with assault rifles are usually not attempting to settle family quarrels. The first person they kill will be that ‘good guy’ with a gun!
Miller Hudson served two terms in the state Legislature (1979-1983.) Most recently he was director of the Colorado Association of Public Employees and now works as a public policy consultant.