Guns are dangerous, but people are more so

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I don’t know anything about guns. I have no fascination with them, and no particular interest in them.

Perhaps that stems from an incident when I was 12 years old and shot my best friend Stephen Folster in the base of the skull with a CO2 pellet gun that we were using to hunt sparrows in the now vanished woods on Filors Lane near Annie’s Snack Shack in Stony Point, N.Y.

We had been walking on an overgrown deer path through a tangle of branches and brush — with the older and larger Stephen leading the way and me bringing up the rear, foolishly holding the pistol with my finger on the trigger and the safety in the unsafe off position. Suddenly my hand caught on a branch and the gun discharged immediately behind Stephen, who fell to the ground with an exclamation that I cannot repeat here.

Up till then, guns had seemed pretty cool, but when you have just shot your best friend in the head from about 12 inches away, they are considerably less cool. Fortunately, after Stephen’s stream of obscenities halted long enough for me to check his hairline for a puncture wound, we were both immensely relieved to discover that what at first looked like an entry wound was actually just a raised red welt where the pellet had bruised his skin.

Once that sense of relief set in, of course, the stream of obscenities from Stephen resumed and lasted most of the day. I was properly chastened.

In my now somewhat foggy memory, it seems that I only went sparrow hunting one other time after that traumatic incident, and quickly learned that I no longer had the stomach to hold a gun.

On the other hand, I had no such compunction about walking with Stephen in the woods while he carried the pellet gun. He, after all, had done nothing irresponsible. I was the guilty party, and my self-imposed punishment was that I would be banned from possessing firearms for the safety of those around me. Stephen, on the other hand, knew what he was doing, was a better shot than me, and — were sparrows part of the normal suburban diet — would have made an excellent provider.

Guns, in other words, were not the problem; I was the problem.

Which brings us forward 45 years to the raging debate about gun control that has ensued in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

It is remarkably tempting to blame guns for the killings instead of blaming Adam Lanza — because guns are still around and Adam Lanza is dead and gone.

But there is one very easy way to prove that guns are not the problem — not the essential problem, that is. Adam Lanza had three guns on the day he killed 27 people. The guns did not even belong to him. They belonged to his first victim, his mother. It is unlikely that he could have killed 26 people at Sandy Hook if he had not had at least one of those guns when he walked into the school. But there is absolutely no doubt that those guns could not have killed 26 students and teachers if Adam Lanza had not been there with them. No matter how you look at it, Adam Lanza was the essential ingredient in the massacre, not the weapons he chose.

This can be demonstrated in any number of ways. Though a semi-automatic weapon is deadly and powerful, it is by no means the only way to kill a large number of people. A shotgun can do a huge amount of damage; so can a bomb. The most deadly attack on schoolchildren ever in the United States occurred in 1927 when Andrew Kehoe, the school board treasurer in Bath Township, Mich., detonated a bomb in the local school, killing 38 children. He later killed several more people including himself by blowing up his truck.

So far as I know, there were no calls for bomb control following this attack. People realized that they were dealing with a crazy man who just happened to know how to build a bomb. It was the crazy man who was the problem, not the bomb. The same thing applies to Timothy McVeigh, of course, who killed 19 children in the Oklahoma City bombing, being fully aware that he was leaving a truck full of explosives directly outside a day-care center in the Murrah Federal Building.

What society needs to realize is that we have a lot of crazy people out there — crazy or evil — and that a lot of them are just as smart as Andrew Kehoe, Timothy McVeigh or Adam Lanza. They can build bombs, or turn ordinary weapons into semi-automatic ones or find new creative ways to kill people that you and I would never think of in a million years.

You also have to realize that on the day when Adam Lanza and his guns walked into that school to take innocent life, there were literally thousands of guns in Newtown, Conn., that were not harming anyone. That’s because they were in the hands of responsible people, or at the very least people who were not crazy or just plain evil.

Guns are dangerous, but only in the hands of dangerous or irresponsible people. Guns also represent safety when they are in the hands of those who know how to use them correctly, and those whose hearts are pure.

But now, it appears that Sen. Diane Feinstein, Rep. Nancy Pelosi  and numerous other legislators are intent on shaming those responsible people who have guns, rather than focusing on trying to find ways to make society safer by making sure that crazy people get treatment and evil people go to jail — before they make their suicidal last stand.

It does not take a great deal of study to discover that the condition of humanity includes a dangerous streak that is and always has been present. There were no guns in 18th century Malaysia when the natives there would run amok, using machete or knife or sword to kill everyone in their path. There were no guns in olden days either when tribal people would invade each other’s villages and kill men, women and children. There were no guns in the 12th century when Norse poets told of the crazed killing sprees of those whom they called berserkers.

Madness and murder are part and parcel of the human experience. So too is law and order. It is the object of law to extend our liberties by ensuring our safety by placing restrictions on madness, murder and mayhem. When law itself restricts our liberties in order to ensure that the world is safe for madmen, then something has gone seriously askew.

Indeed, when society is clearly full of people who are crazy or evil, depriving people of the right to bear arms is also to deprive them of the right to self-defense. This is doubly true when the government itself “has a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny,” as Thomas Jefferson described an earlier threat to liberty.

Indeed, the notion of the government ordering law-abiding citizens to come forward to be fingerprinted and indexed suggests that it is not guns that represent the biggest threat to our security, but rather the violent dismantling of the U.S. Constitution that seems to be under way.

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