On the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, I did not attend any vigils or ceremonies to honor those killed, because the ones I knew of were organized by gun-control activists who likely would have considered my presence an unwelcome intrusion. At the same time, however, I did not attend any pro-gun demonstrations or events yesterday as I considered many of these opportunistic, if not insensitive.
My lack of participation in any of the forementioned exercises, naturally, has no impact in what has turned into a cold civil war over firearms in America, with both sides digging in deep and refusing to budge.
I learned a few interesting things on DU over the days, weeks, and months that followed Sandy Hook. For example, I was told that the Second Amendment was only enacted to protect slaveowners, that Nazi Germany was actually a gun-owners paradise where you could buy any firearm you wanted (if you were a white Aryan male), that women who owned semi-automatic firearms actually had tiny penises, and that I was a "freak" with "blood on my hands" if I dared voice objection to anything that the gun-control movement demanded - which meant that I'd have to agree to not only bans on "assault weapons" and high-capacity magazines, but also mandatory insurance for gun owners, "one-gun-a-month" laws, and a Federal permit as a prerequisite for owning a simple squirrel rifle. For starters.
But gun-control activists weren't the only ones to double-down on craziness. We are all too familiar with last month's armed protest in Arlington, Texas over members of Moms Demand Action holding a luncheon at a local restaurant, which many of us interpreted as outright intimidation. An overabundance of "open carry" demonstrations finally convinced Starbucks to change its attitude towards guns in its coffeeshops. And there has been too much support for George Zimmerman and his perversion of Florida's "Castle Doctrine" laws that allowed him to murder Trayvon Martin and get out of jail scot-free, at which point he continued to draw attention to himself with his impulsive and violent temper.
In the national scuffle, the one piece of legislation that might have done some good - an improvement of the Federal background check system, proposed in the bipartisan Toomey/Manchin bill - met an ignominious death on the Senate floor.
For all this talk about the need to have a conversation on gun legislation, nobody is talking to each other. And it's getting worse.
Ginny and I could talk about it, though. She supported most forms of gun control, while I opposed them. But our dinner conversations remained quite civil. Not that we weren't capable of pushing each other's buttons, but our love and respect for each other overcame that. And I was probably responsible for more of the button-pushing, but that was purely by accident. When your wife gives you "the stare," that's a clear warning that your argument is heading off into the weeds.
So we learned how to talk with each other. And we even learned to make each other think about our respective positions. Voila! Conversation achieved.
I'm not afraid to ruffle the feathers of my fellow gun owners with some new ideas now and then. Eric Liu contributed an interesting opinion piece for CNN regarding the concept of "gun responsibility" in support of improved background checks. It's a concept that, if presented correctly, could possibly coax people on both sides of the debate out of their bunkers long enough to talk about background checks and finally get something done on Capitol Hill - after the 2014 elections, of course. But while some fellow Democratic gun owners are leery that this is just another repackaging of the old gun-control paradigm, I see it as possibly illuminating a new way forward.
This isn't about compromise on either side. This is about the need to talk, the search for new ideas. I believe in talking.
We need a new civility in America over the gun issue, and it should begin with each of us.
One of these days, maybe you'll take a trip into the back country or the wilderness, seeking to get away from the city for just a little while. You may find yourself an hour's drive away from anything remotely resembling a town. In some parts of America, if you come across a four-way intersection with a traffic light, a dollar store, and a Dairy Queen, that qualifies as a metropolis by local standards.
I've been in a few areas like that, checking to see if I have enough gas in the tank and any bars on my cellphone before launching myself into yet another hunt for a ghost town or a forgotten cemetery. And sometimes along the road, I'll see the carcasses of these huge feral hogs left to rot in the sun. These poor fellers are built like tanks, and they can sometimes be quite aggressive. If they charge at your car in the middle of nowhere, you're in serious trouble.
Out there, open carry isn't such a bad idea.
My home, however, is in a fairly large city where the downtown area is intersected by two interstate highways. We have a decent network of paved roads, ample hospitals and medical clinics, plenty of restaurants and coffee shops, and even a few bookstores that aren't choked with romance novels and religious writings. My city also boasts a large and reasonably competent police force as well as a sheriff's department.
And I look at some of these people who have been engaged in open-carry exercises in order to prove the point that you can openly carry a gun without society going all to pieces, and while I understand where they are coming from, it seems that the stubbornness and gratuity of their demonstrations has quickly become counterproductive. Here we have a guy toting an AR-15 through a JCPenney, and some other guy lugging an AK-47 into his local Staples.
Guys. Come on.
While I'm all in favor of a workable and competent CHL system, I tend to like the idea of people coming together to build and sustain a society that doesn't require all of us to be strapped 24/7. If you are far removed from city limits and testing your own endurance out in the boonies, then by all means, sling that AR-15 around your neck and do what you gotta do. But here in the city, I look forward to the simple pleasures of taking a walk in the park if that's what I'm in the mood for, then retiring to a good Tex-Mex restaurant for some chips and queso followed perhaps by some good enchiladas (how's the mole here, dear server?) and, ideally, a night on the town with good friends with whom I can discuss politics, play a few card games, or just enjoy each other's company.
About a week ago, however, as I was stopped at a gas station before heading home for the night, I found myself watching a heated argument between two guys, and it looked like it was going to come to blows at any second. So I stepped between them and broke it up - with nothing more than a flashlight. Nobody got hurt, no weapons were drawn, and everybody went on their merry way. Could one or both of the antagonists have been packing? Perhaps. But that was a chance little unarmed me was willing to take.
I like the whole "Renaissance man" concept of ordinary Americans broadening their horizons in the sciences and the fine arts. As my wife's great-great-great-great-granduncle Ben Franklin once opined, "There are three Things extremely hard, Steel, a Diamond, and to know one's self."
But if you really want to master your own self, you'll know there's a time when you just need to put down that gun.
"She was standing out in a park with her friends in a neighborhood blocks away from where my kids...grew up, where our house is. She had just taken a chemistry test. And she was caught in the line of fire because some kids had some automatic weapons they didn't need," she said. "I just don't want to keep disappointing our kids in this country. I want them to know that we put them first. That, you know, our rights and our privileges take a back seat when it comes to the safety of our children in this country."
Mrs. Obama, I love you. Everyone on DU loves you. But I'm sorry - it's time we had a little talk.
It should go without saying that no child should have to worry about being gunned down by gangsters or criminals of any stripe. A child needs to feel some measure of safety in the neighborhood where she lives and plays with her friends. That's a no-brainer. We were all kids once.
But when someone hints that freedom of speech, the right to keep and bear arms, and the right to a trial by jury can be endangered by calls to "keep our children safe," a phrase from the late, great George Carlin comes to mind - child worship.
Now, I realize that Carlin and I hold widely divergent opinions on gun control, no argument there. But one reason we all want safe neighborhoods for our kids to grow up in is because children won't stay children forever. They grow up and become adults. And when that child's corpus callosum finally matures and that person is entrusted by society to vote, to serve on a jury, to own a firearm, and to enjoy more alcohol than the occasional sip of wine at Mass, we want to have some reassurance that this person is ready to take on the responsibilities of an adult.
Part of the reason people like me harp on our Constitutional rights so much is because the Constitution treats us like adults. It was drafted by some folks who were already figuring this "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" shit out. It's been tweaked at times, sometimes unwisely so (re: 18th Amendment). But it still retains the potential to be tweaked, as long as the rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution are preserved. Rights, Mrs. Obama. The sort of thing that adults require in order to make our form of society work. If it weren't for our rights, the government could encase us all in bubble-wrap, forbid us from using scissors with pointy ends, outlaw the consumption of alcohol (and soda, and coffee, and...), and treat us all as though we had just stepped into third grade. And the government could justify it all "for our safety." And the safety of our children, no doubt, provided some of us find a way to strip off enough bubble-wrap to reproduce.
We want kids to laugh, love, and thrive. More importantly, we want them to grow up into adults with some measure of character and responsibility. That way, maybe they can help solve a few of the lingering problems that we jackasses cannot. As adults. Preferably, as Democrats. But most definitely with rights.
Okay, off my soapbox for now...