In my view, it is truly truly unfortunate that we seem to be utterly unable to have any kind of rational discussion about America and guns. Granted, there are some who seem willing to entertain serious discussion. However, it is frequently hard to hear their voices over the shrieking of the fringes on both sides.
First, a disclaimer: I cannot claim to be a lifetime gun owner because I did not get my first one until I was 11 years old. I started shooting in competition shortly thereafter. I have been a gun owner and shooter since that time. As a kid, I was a junior member of the NRA. It was a shooters’ and hunters’ organization at that time, not a lobby for gun manufacturers, which, unfortunately, it seems to have become. When I belonged, members could get inexpensive ammunition and could purchase, inexpensively, army surplus 30 – 06 caliber rifles for big game hunting. I shot in lots of competitions sponsored by the NRA. Somewhere in my garage I have a whole box full of trophies and medals my mom hung onto for me.
We really do need to have a serious discussion about firearms, their ownership, and their use. There is, approximately, one civilian-owned firearm in circulation in this country for every man woman and child in the United States. Every year, about 75,000 people in this country are killed or injured from gunshot wounds, some accidental, some self-inflicted, and some very, very intentional.
“GUNS DON’T KILL PEOPLE, PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE” is a perfect slogan for the anti-gun-control folks. It is absolutely correct, and it completely misses the point. The same thing could be said about knives, axes, hangman’s nooses, and on and on. A gun, lying on a shelf, won’t hurt anyone. Someone has to pick it up, load it and aim it (or drop it) to cause it to shoot. Similarly, knives don’t jab themselves at people nor do they jump up and cut people’s throats. It requires a human hand on the knife to do any of those things.
The problem is that guns make terrible injuries to yourself or others so easy. If you use a knife on somebody, you have to be willing to get right up next to them, and stab them so that you get their blood all over you. You can shoot them from 10 feet away without any close contact. You don’t have to touch them, smell them or feel their blood with a gun.
Last summer, people were killed in Siskiyou County under circumstances where it only happened because a gun was available. A number of families had gotten together on a pretty summer afternoon to have a birthday party for one of the dads at a mutual friend’s house. A male relative of someone in the group showed up drunk. He continued to drink, and finally sucker punched another participant because he misheard or misunderstood something that guy had said. Several of the other men at the party grabbed him, subdued him and kept him restrained. Part of the problem is that he arrived on a motorcycle and was going to have to cross roughly 20 miles of steep, winding mountainous road to get home. He was obviously in no condition to operate a motorcycle, especially over that kind of road. After a couple of hours, he got to the hidden key for the motorcycle, started it up, and got away. Unfortunately for everyone (including himself), he did not crash.
He went back to his home in Yreka, got a gun, got into his car, and headed back over the mountain. He walked into the party and shot and killed two of the participants, including the birthday boy. Two women went to a birthday party with their families and went home widows. A bunch of kids went to a birthday party with their families and went home without a dad. A third family will have a dad but he’ll be in prison. All because he was drunk, wildly angry, and had access to a gun.
The idea of placing some restraints on rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights is nothing new. The First Amendment guarantees the right of free speech; yet it was held long ago that the First Amendment did not give someone the right to start screaming “fire” in a crowded theater that is not, in fact, on fire. Our discussion needs to be about how we protect the rights conferred by the Second Amendment to the Constitution without allowing someone to do the equivalent of starting a panic for no reason. In my view, these efforts have been thwarted by unreasonable positions on both sides
The pro-gun folks claim that any effort to control guns is but a first step to disarming the population. That, of course, is ludicrous because the “disarm the population” bus left town a long long time ago. There are more than 300 million civilian owned firearms in this country. Any effort by any government which tried to seize those is simply doomed to failure. First, it would create the biggest black market ever seen in this country, resulting in no controls at all. Further, the population would not put up with it. I don’t see an army of citizen soldiers marching other citizens off because they own firearms. And even if they managed to get half, that still leaves over 150 million guns in the population.
The anti-gun folks claim that the framers of the Second Amendment never anticipated technology and its changes. They were protecting the right of people to keep single shot smoothbore inaccurate muskets. That also is foolishness. Rifling was invented about 200 years before the second amendment was signed. But the anti-gun people claim, “they didn’t have guns to kill a bunch of people at once like we have now”. These people should go look up grapeshot. Grapeshot was used before and during the Revolutionary War with devastating effects on massed infantry. Mortars that rained projectiles down on defensive positions had been known for a long time before the Revolution to the point where 50 years or so before the second amendment was signed they start replacing simple projectiles with explosive devices in the mortars, essentially raining the other side with hand grenades.
And then there is the modern NRA. I don’t know if Charlton Heston sold them out to the gun lobby or simply was the spokesperson who announced the sale. The notion that we solve the issue of kids being shot in our schools by bringing more guns into the schools is insane. Even trained police officers miss their target 75-85% of the time in fire-fight situations. Do you want your kid in that room? Or in the room behind the officer or the criminal? Sheetrock does not even slow bullets down much. Trained police officers armed in our schools carry a real potential for disaster. Vigilantes, such as suggested by the NRA would be far, far worse.
And don’t forget, the bad guy shooting back will certainly have had even less training than the police officer, and will probably really be spraying shots around. If we are going to do anything, doesn’t it make more sense to concentrate on keeping guns out of schools than to be talking about bringing more in?
The attempt to ban so-called “assault rifles” is silly. They are simply semi-automatic rifles put into cases so that the owner can think of himself as Rambo. High volume magazines are a different kettle of fish. Why does someone need 13, 17, 20 or 50 rounds in a magazine? Unless, of course, he wants to kill as many people as possible.
The notion that people need these high volume magazines for self defense is laughable. The first thing the Sandy Hook killer did with the gun with the high capacity magazine he stole from his mother was blow her face off with it as she lay in bed. The last time a woman successfully defended her home against invaders using a gun, it was a good old-fashioned shot gun; probably the best defensive weapon a homeowner can have. You are way less likely to miss the intruder and if you do, the projectiles are not likely to go through a wall into your kid’s adjoining bedroom.
Dugan Barr has practiced law in Redding since 1967. He has tried more than 200 civil jury cases to verdict. He is married and has five children. The offices of Barr and Mudford, LLP, are at 1824 Court St. in Redding and can be reached at 243-8008.