Is there anything more disturbing than last week’s horrendous school shootings in Michigan?

How about the fact that this was the 28th eruption of gunfire in U.S. schools in just the past year alone? This one was worse than most, of course. But there have been many far more terrible ones over the decades. Which has to give rise to the question: Is this really who we are?

Permit me to offer a little personal background, much of which is adapted from a column that appeared in this space 15 years ago, after another such atrocity.

I grew up with guns back in Missouri. Our house, and the houses of most of my childhood friends, always seemed to have a .22 rifle or shotgun leaning in a corner somewhere. I hate to think now how many poor English sparrows I killed in my youth with my trusty Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. In my teen years, I was a crack shot with my Remington Model 514 single-shot bolt action .22, dispatching many a gray squirrel to critter heaven. (And my mom wouldn’t even cook them.)

At various times over my earlier years, I’ve owned: a British Army .38-caliber breakfront revolver; a Ruger Single-Six revolver with extra-long Buntline Special barrel; a Ruger semi-automatic .22 pistol; a Stevens single-barrel 20-gauge shotgun; a Winchester 12-gauge double; a sweet little Ruger 10-22 carbine (do you see a partiality to Rugers here?); and two muzzleloaders, one a .45-caliber Kentucky rifle I made from a kit and the other an inline .50-caliber job of modern design.

(Attention potential thieves: Before you get any ideas, I hasten to add that you won’t find any firearms in our house now. I like to think I outgrew them, though I sometimes miss having them around — not because of their lethality so much as the sheer pleasure in owning and handling such nicely machined little works of the gunmaker’s art.)

I’ve blown away rabbits, quail, pigeons, snakes, turtles, bullfrogs, ducks, one pheasant and one deer — or two if you count the one poor doe that I dispatched with a bow and arrow. I fired a lot of rounds through M1 rifles in my Army days, and I still suffer a hearing loss in my left ear, which I’ve been told probably comes at least partly from all those long-ago muzzle blasts.

So. When the subject turns to gun control, you’re not talking about some liberal nervous Nellie here who’s clueless about guns and therefore hates and fears them. Yet here’s one former firearm fancier who would happily see the National Rifle Association collapse of its own paranoid weight.

That once-respected NRA, which started out as a legitimate sportsman’s organization (and of which I was a proud member for several early years), has long since morphed into some kind of evil and irrational and obscenely powerful special interest group.

As to the Second Amendment to our Constitution: In too many cases, it is now being put to purposes far different from those our Founding Fathers envisioned.

It would have saved us a lot of trouble if those beloved Fathers had been a little more precise in their language. But I think the meaning is still pretty clear, despite too many commas and capital letters: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

There are no prefaces like that at the beginning of any other amendment, outlining its purpose. The Founders had recently defeated the British with militias consisting of citizen-soldiers who brought their trusty deer rifles with them from home. They wanted to preserve that capability.

But over the years, militias turned into State Guards, which turned into the National Guard, which now arms itself with fully automatic, government-issued weapons — with nary a flintlock from anyone’s bedroom closet anywhere in sight.

We control the right of citizens to operate other objects they own, from automobiles to garden pesticides. I find it hard to argue with those who ask why firearms should be in a special, sacrosanct category at this point — when it’s been well over a century since the American frontier was declared closed. Most of us live in urban areas now, with few Redcoats to be found.

I can think of no reason why I should have a right to own, say, a fully automatic assault rifle, which is useless for hunting or target practice and has only one purpose: to mow down a lot of people as quickly as possible. I also find it hard to deny that such weapons — or semiautomatic handguns — should be kept out of the hands of certifiable nuts. Not to mention disturbed teenagers like the one in Michigan.

Admittedly, I remain a bit ambivalent where gun controls are concerned. All I ask is that we approach the subject with the rationality of post-industrial urban dwellers and not pretend that we’re still out in a log cabin somewhere, watching out for black bears and waiting for someone in a powdered wig to call out the Minutemen.

Steve Bouser is the retired editor and Opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at bouser@email.unc.edu.

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