Guns in the ground

Calls for change are empty rhetoric iwhen it comes to gun laws

Jaime O’Neill is a retired teacher, gun owner and regular contributor to SN&R

I currently own four handguns. That puts me two guns below the average gun owner in this country, where six guns per owner is the “norm.”

Over the course of my life as a shooter, I’ve probably let loose more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition, propelling enough lead through the air to sustain a fairly significant battle. I’ve shot everything from muzzleloading black-powder guns, long and short, to semi-automatics in calibers from .22 to .54, and shotguns from 4.10 to 8 gauge. In addition to the four handguns I still own, I once had five rifles and a shotgun, but those pieces were stolen from a storage unit some years ago. I’ve never replaced them, because I no longer hunt.

In all my years of shooting, I’ve never fired a round in anger, never hurt anyone intentionally or accidentally, and I am grateful beyond words that no fellow human being’s blood is on my hands, or on my conscience. I am grateful, too, that it has never been necessary to protect my home and family with a firearm.

The United States of America has the largest number of handguns in private hands of any nation in the world. There are more than 200 million firearms floating around out there, some registered, many not. The year before the nation lost 3,000 people in the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, more than twice that many people died due to gun violence. Pick a random year in this century, say 2005, and you’ll learn that just more than 7,500 Americans were victims of handgun homicide during that 12-month period. Of course, that doesn’t count the far larger number of suicides committed with the aid of pistols.

I believe hunters, sportsmen, target shooters and other hobbyists should have the freedom to own and shoot guns. But I do not believe that anyone needs semiautomatic weapons—neither rap stars, nor drug dealers, nor high-school kids, nor crazy people. I don’t believe the original intent of the framers of the Constitution was to create a society as inimical to the general welfare of its citizenry as this one has become. I don’t believe that a heavily armed populace is much of a deterrent against the prospect of a tyrannical government. I don’t believe that a rabble armed with .22 pistols, or Glocks, or AR-47s is likely to pose much of a threat, or mount much resistance, to any government backed by U.S. military might intent on oppressing its people. And I also don’t believe that the framers of the Constitution would nod in wise assent toward the people who are so recklessly recommending Second Amendment remedies for any of the problems we are currently confronting. I don’t believe those bewigged and bestockinged men in Philadelphia more than 200 years ago were trying to form a democratic Republic only to have it overthrown by armed dissenters inflamed by demagogues and television personalities anxious to give their viewers “a good show.”

Wherever you might choose to point blame for the latest mass killing—the one in Tucson, Arizona, that took six lives, and truncated 14 more—there is no escaping the fact that our gun laws make it pretty easy for crazy people to commit mass murder. From Columbine to Fort Hood to the subway shootings on Long Island, the murderous beat goes on even as the weaponry grows more deadly.

In his eloquent address at that oddly discordant memorial service in Tucson, President Barack Obama appealed to the nation to live up to a vision that would honor the 9-year-old girl who was killed there. Perhaps in keeping with the president’s call to that vision, we might try to imagine a country where a child can go stand in a supermarket parking lot on a sunny Saturday morning without fear of dying at the hands of a madman armed with a semiautomatic weapon.

But everyone knows that calls for change are just empty rhetoric in the context of gun laws. We’ll never have a country that honors fallen children enough to protect them from drive-by shootings, or political crazies, or drunken accidents in the houses where they live. Obama’s call to honor that 9-year-old girl will go unheeded, as such rhetorical flourishes always are, forgotten almost before the echo of the gunfire dies or the blood is washed from our streets or classrooms. Neither Obama, nor any other national political figure, has the audacity to hope for sane gun laws so long as the NRA “targets” anyone who suggests modification to the current laws that seem to have been written by the insane, and for the insane.

Most of the gun owners I’ve met over a lifetime as a shooter are simply grown men playing with toys. American children must die every year because these grown-ups simply won’t submit to any restrictions on the toys they can have, or how those toys can be played with. But I would happily surrender my guns if doing so would allow a few kids to grow up, find mates, have children of their own and grow old watching the thousands of sunrises and sunsets denied to little girls like Christina Green.