This column originally appeared May 2, 2007, in the wake of the Virginia Tech mass shooting, which was carried out by a disturbed man and resulted in 33 deaths. (The writer also touched on the subject in a different column on Aug. 28, 2016.)
There are three thorny subjects that I wish would go away because I still don’t know where to come down on them.
One is abortion rights. Another is capital punishment. And the third is gun control.
I grew up with guns. Our house back in Missouri, and the houses of most of my childhood friends, always seemed to have a .22 rifle or shotgun leaning in a corner. Sorry, but I shot a lot of sparrows with my trusty Daisy Red Ryder BB gun back then. And 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.
Over the years, I’ve owned a British Army .38-caliber breakfront revolver, a Ruger Single-Six .22 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, and two muzzleloaders, one a .45-caliber Kentucky rifle I made from a kit and the other an inline .50-caliber of modern design.
(Before you get any ideas, potential burglars, I hasten to add that you won’t find many firearms in my 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 shot rabbits, quail, pigeons, snakes, turtles, bullfrogs, ducks, one pheasant and one deer. I fired a lot of rounds through M1 rifles in my Army days, and I still suffer a partial hearing loss in my left ear, which probably comes from all those muzzle blasts.
When I turn the subject to gun control, you’re not talking about some liberal nervous Nellie here who’s clueless about guns and therefore fears and hates them.
Yet here’s one former gun fancier who would happily see the National Rifle Association, which started out as a legitimate sportsman’s organization and has now morphed into some kind of evil and irrational and obscenely powerful special-interest group, collapse of its own paranoid weight.
Nor do I believe the Second Amendment is being put to the purposes that the Founding Fathers envisioned for it.
Those Fathers could have saved us all a lot of trouble if they had been 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.”
No other amendment has that kind of preface about its purpose. The Founders had recently defeated the British with militias consisting of citizen-soldiers who brought their trusty deer rifles with them. They wanted to preserve that capability. But over the years, militias turned into State Guards, which turned into the National Guard.
We control the right of citizens to operate other objects they own, from automobiles to garden pesticides. I don’t know why firearms should be sacrosanct at this point, when it’s been well over a century since the American frontier was declared closed. Most of us live in towns and cities now, with few Redcoats or wild animals around.
I can think of no reason why I should have a right to own a full-automatic, large-magazine 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. Outlaw them. Keep them — and all guns — out of the hands of certifiable nuts.
Philosophical concerns aside, I do have my doubts about the practicality of putting effective controls on firearms in a nation that is already saturated with nearly as many of them as there are people. I also confess to entertaining a fantasy or two about what might have happened if the first Virginia Tech professor that the shooter encountered when he came through a classroom door had a little heat packed into his desk drawer and knew how to use it.
So, yes, count me among the ambivalent where gun laws are concerned. All I ask is that we approach the subject with the rationality of post-industrial urban dwellers and not play like we’re still out in a log cabin somewhere, watching out for black bears and waiting for someone in a powdered wig or buckskin coat to call out the Minutemen.
Steve Bouser is the retired editor and Opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.