Happiness is a warm gun?

Friday, December 21, 2012

We all recall the tragedy Jan. 8, 2011, when U. S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 other people were shot during a public meeting in Tucson (six dead, 13 wounded); or the mass murder at the movie theater in Colorado this July 20 (12 dead, 58 wounded); or the massacre at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Aug. 5 (six dead, four wounded); or the disgruntled gunman who on Sept. 27 killed five employees of the company in Minneapolis where he'd worked for a dozen years before losing the job.

A quick look online yields further tragedy, perhaps buried under yesterday's headlines, although we doubt the victims have forgotten.

* Oakland, Calif.: A former student at a Christian college fatally shoots seven people and injures three in April 2012.

* Copley Township, Ohio: A man in a family dispute uses his handgun to shoot and kill his girlfriend and six others in August 2011.

* Geneva, Ala.: Eleven victims, ages 18 months to 74 years old, are killed by a lone gunman in a violent family feud in March 2009.

* Omaha, Neb.: A 19-year-old man shoots nine people at a department store in December 2007 before cops kill him.

* Blacksburg, Va.: A student at Virginia Tech kills 32 classmates and wounds 25 before committing suicide in April 2007.

* Red Lake, Minn.: A 16-year-old boy kills 11 people, including his grandfather and his grandfather's girlfriend, in a shooting spree in March 2005.

* Columbus, Ohio: A deranged fan shoots a Pantera guitarist at a concert as he performs onstage, then fires at fans, killing four people in December 2004.

* Columbine, Colo.: Two senior students invade their school in April 1999, killing 12 students and one teacher and injuring 21, before committing suicide.

The list goes on.

Last Friday morning, 27 people were killed in a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Among the fatalities were 20 children, six adults, and the shooter.

We live in a culture of violence, whether we like it or not. It is as much a part of our national character as baseball or cheeseburgers. It is not something to excuse or rationalize. It is a cancer.

We also live in a gun culture, based on the 2nd Amendment, which for 221 years has been roughly interpreted to mean we get to have guns if we want them. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia, and to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.

If you did not read the list of the dead above closely, pause now to do so. We'll wait.

With great power comes great responsibility, and the power to own and use a thing that can snuff out a human life as easily as swatting a fly isn't something everybody ought to have access to. Period. It is not the gun that is at fault; it is the thought processes of the person pulling the trigger. Right?

Having said that, we can only hope for a solution that will help keep guns out of the hands of madmen.

But is it very likely? Many good people come from families and traditions that value hunting and conduct themselves at all times responsibly and within the law. Many people keep firearms as a means of protection. That is absolutely their right, correct? We live in a dangerous world.

The thing is, the gun lobby in this country is very powerful, so much so that debate on the subject is generally stifled except for the few news cycles following something like what happened to all those children last week. People will debate it for a few days or weeks. We know all the arguments: Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Or, if you take away everybody's guns, the only people who have them will be the criminals. Or, the first thing that dictators always do is take away everybody's guns. Etc. Etc. Etc. ...

Fine. Here, then, is the challenge, not only to the gun lobby, but to everyone who believes our right to keep and bear arms is inalienable, like freedom of speech and the press, or unreasonable search and seizure, or the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment:

You solve it. You want guns? Fine. It's your right. But read back through that list of dead people one more time and figure something out, because this is horror. For every victim, how many people's lives are shattered? A dozen? Thirty? More?

Because you're blowing it, you all. Something is very wrong, and there has got to be a way to keep this from happening over and over again.

Virtually every item on the Bill of Rights has been limited by the courts under certain circumstances. Maybe that's wrong too. But it's hands-off on gun control. Why?

Sure, there are laws in place dictating who can or cannot buy guns, making automatic firearms illegal to own, etc. Obviously these laws are not working very well.

Fine. So figure out some way so that every other month we don't have to wake up to some new nut who's snagged his mom's semi-automatic and gone and killed a bunch of 7-year-olds for no good reason except he's got snakes in his head and nobody ever got around to dealing with them. So he takes measures into his own hands.

The ball's in your court. You fix it.