Perspectives on a Problem
Is it the best time or the worst time to debate gun control in the immediate aftermath of a gunman killing innocent schoolchildren?
A mentally ill young man used guns to kill little children, an unthinkable tragedy. There is no debate about whether the killer’s murderous actions were evil. What he did was certainly criminal. We have laws against murder. We have a commandment against it as well. Still, murders occur too often, in spite of the laws and commandment.
Mental illness of some as yet undefined sort is the cause of the crime. As a nation, we can, I suppose, do more for the mentally ill. We could do more, perhaps, to identify potentially violent people in order to stop them from harming others if not help them with their illnesses. We do not have a law or commandment that “Thou shalt not be mentally ill.” Even if we did, it would not stop mental illness. Rather than a law against being mentally ill, which is futile, we can have legislation about improving how we deal with those who might be a danger to themselves or others.
It is easier to focus on objects rather than persons. It would be easier to control who gets guns than who gets to be mentally ill. Certainly it is easier to pass laws than to stop crime or mental illness.
We have in the Bill of Rights to our Constitution a guaranty of “the right to bear arms.” See the Second Amendment. It cannot be ignored, but it is not an absolute right. It is not intended to promote crime. It is intended for protection of our citizens.
I have some things to say that will alternately please and offend each side of the gun control debate.
First, I will remind the gun control advocates that even banning guns altogether will not prevent evil acts of killing. My wife taught a middle school student who used a hammer to bash in the heads of his mother and grandmother. Timothy McVeigh used a van rented from U Haul to kill dozens with a bomb. We have daily killings with knives. Recently, in China there were horrible multiple murders at a school — by a person using a knife to slay his young victims. We do not talk about outlawing hammers or vans or knives. It is clear that it is the person using those items who is the criminal, not the items themselves. It is more like drunk driving. Cars are not illegal. They are useful. The crime is operating a motor vehicle when drunk because that is dangerous to others. Also, we do not have anything in our Constitution about the right to transportation via motor vehicle. Therefore, it is even more perilous to curtail a constitutional right than a mere convenience.
The debate about gun control would take a different turn if a citizen bearing arms had protected victims of violence. What if the Aurora theater shooter had been shot by a movie goer shortly after he started shooting innocent unarmed people? What if the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School had shot the killer rather than bravely lunging at him unarmed? Then one person would be using a gun to protect people from a person using a gun for evil purposes. The Second Amendment is for that purpose of protection.
Having said all that, I acknowledge that guns are more efficient weapons than hammers and knives. The shooter in Connecticut would not have killed so many if his weapon was a hammer because it would be easier to overpower and stop him. On the other hand, a car bomb driven into the school or a plane crashing into the school would have been even more destructive.
I also note that automatic or semi-automatic guns are more dangerously efficient than weapons which require pulling the trigger for each shot and reloading individual bullets rather than using ammunition clips holding many bullets that can be fired in seconds. The military-type assault rifles are not meant for hunting, but can be used either for mass killing or protecting from mass killing in order for it to be a fair fight. Executing unarmed first graders is obviously not a fight at all. However, the Founding Fathers contemplated a citizen militia when including the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment. The idea is that citizens should be armed in order to protect themselves and also protect our nation from enemies. I add that protecting ourselves and others from well-armed murderers might justify citizens being armed with military type weapons. Decent citizens are wary of how criminals might use such weapons for evil.
Similarly, our country is wary of other nations who want to develop nuclear weapons and other “weapons of mass destruction.” Why? Because we don’t trust how they will be used by others. The more destructive the weapon, the scarier it is. We all get that, even without being scholars of the history of military weapon development. The U.S.A. tries to prevent other nations from possessing nuclear bombs because the more who have such weapons the more dangers exist that they will be misused. We argue against proliferation of such weapons.
I understand and probably agree with the arguments against proliferation of dangerous weapons. I am an NRA member and a SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) member and gun owner. As the U.S.A. trusts itself to possess nuclear weapons as a deterrent against our nation being attacked, I trust myself to use guns for recreation or, if necessary, protection. I sure don’t want mentally ill people to have access to guns like I do. I sure don’t want criminals to have guns, nor do I want terrorists to fly airplanes into buildings or use car bombs.
The problem is that we don’t know who is a criminal until the crime has been committed.
We live in a world with many law-abiding people and some evildoers. We are literally engaged in a war between good and evil.
The children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School were victims of evil. When President Lincoln dedicated the cemetery after the Battle of Gettysburg, he urged his listeners to “highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…” Let us, the living, highly resolve that the little children who were murdered in Connecticut shall not have died in vain. Let us do what we can to make our country a safer place. May God give us wisdom to make changes that are sensible and effective. They won’t be easy or simple.
Decades after the Pow Wow
If you look in the archives of this site for my post on August 19th, you will see a blog called Pow Wow. In it I describe fond memories of playing under the bleachers at the Macy Pow Wow in Nebraska when I was a little boy.
Now I want to tell you the rest of the story. It is a statistical improbability that of the few people who find my Shootin’ the Breeze blog on the internet, someone who read it was present at the event about which I wrote. It is not amazing that many people have heard of the Macy Pow Wow and that many have attended. What is amazing is that of the very few little boys with whom I played there, one would read it and contact me.
Orville posted a comment that he might be one of the kids whom I described as having made friends with me under the bleachers. He wrote:
“Hi….maybe I was one of your Indian playmates. I am from Macy and spent a lot of time under the bleachers and throwing knives. It was good to grow up on the Omaha Reservation. Good post of your memories.”