The renewed clamor for gun-control legislation was inevitable. It would have come to the forefront with or without the shocking school massacre at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Conn. That American tragedy simply played into the hands of longtime gun-control advocates and catapulted the issue to the political fast track.
Weeks before Sandy Hook, the re-election of President Barack Obama, who once smugly derided those of us who “cling to our guns and our Bibles,” pre-ordained that the flickering flames of this national debate about the Second Amendment would be fanned anew. It has just come sooner, rather than later.
As law-abiding sportsmen and recreational shooters, or simply as nonsporting citizens who cherish the constitutional right to bear arms for self-protection, what should our role be in this complex national conversation that has understandably taken on a new urgency?
As a sportsman and a veteran journalist who has come to harbor a deep distrust of most mainstream American media, my first response to the Newtown horror was to deliberately turn my back to the bewildering news din, to pray some, to try to put out of mind the seemingly sick state of our troubled culture and battered national soul.
But playing Ostrich does not come easily to me. In time I had to face it, to look and to listen. What I see and hear in the aftermath of this unthinkable killing rampage is a frightening void of cool heads from among our national leadership at all levels.
One of the few pundits that I had grown to trust, Bill O’Reilly, has performed pathetically on this issue. Perhaps bereft of meaningful solutions — like the rest of us — he has stooped to an accommodating, pandering, lapdog assertion that goes, “Gee, maybe we can stop this national nightmare by banning assault weapons, period.”
You would think that Bill, a self-avowed intellect, would know that the only difference between an “assault weapon” and my Remington 1100 semi-auto shotgun is the way it looks. Sadly, O’Reilly, who nightly boasts about his sacrosanct mission to pursue truth, is only furthering public and media ignorance about firearms.
Equally troubling, Obama, in urging Congressional conservatives to go his way on tax increases, incredibly invokes the Newtown tragedy in the same breath, as if there was a relationship between murdered kids and Bush tax cuts.
When Wayne LaPierre, head of the NRA, suggested that it may be time to place an armed police officer in our public schools, FOX News commentators Charles Krauthammer and A.B. Stoddard agreed that this suggestion was “laughable.” Although the NRA spokesman was predictably booed and hissed by the mainstream media for his observations, his rhetorical question hits home in the heartland and is not seen as humorous: “Why is a gun good when it protects the life of a president or a police officer in the line of duty, but bad everywhere else?”
Why is LaPierre’s suggestion laughable? Armed police officers do regular duty in Utah schools. In Israel, public school teachers are also armed.
During a newspaper assignment in Israel in the 1980s, I interviewed a number of Israeli housewives who kept Uzis in their broom closets and were trained in their use. In societies such as Israel, where imminent personal danger is a way of life, the level of threat dictates the level of response.
Face it, America is changing, and with it the level of threat to all of us wherever we live. Haven’t we seen enough armed attacks on “soft targets” in benign settings like schools and theaters by deranged sociopaths to realize this? Evil has a foothold in our mores and our way of life. The suicide-prone sociopaths go after kids in schools. Murdering young innocents in a place of learning: It is the ultimate outrage. An easy way to end it all and go down in “a blaze of glory.”
Perhaps the president is right. A national conversation may be needed. It may help us to identify the causes of our spiraling social decline, whether it be Hollywood violence, video games, parental abdication, inferior mental health care, inadequate laws, spiritual emptiness or, yes, even guns.
Meantime, though, beneath the thoughtful deliberations about our social decay, the threat level remains unabated in a freedom-loving society that finds itself daunted by uncertainty and its darker side. Ironically, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook killings, the clamor for gun control will surely spawn more and more gun-buying Americans.
Can anyone really argue convincingly that responsible gun ownership has no place in the America that must live in the shadow of neighborhood nightmares like Sandy Hook or Columbine?
V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” and former information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.