Guns as entertainment

Jan 16, 2013 at 6:00 am

In response to the horrific Sandy Hook tragedy, meaningful change to our nation’s gun culture is finally a possibility. Americans who live in constant fear of gun violence have cause for optimism for the first time in a decade.

There are many reasons for optimism. Perhaps foremost among them is the simple fact that we are still talking about the Sandy Hook tragedy a month after it happened. Unlike previous tragedies, America isn’t sweeping this one under the rug.

Another hopeful sign is that many leaders and other luminaries, including Mayor Greg Fischer and more than 800 mayors nationwide, have called for stronger gun laws. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Louisville Rep. John Yarmuth have been especially eloquent in their leadership. Perhaps most telling of all, both coaches Rick Pitino and John Calipari have called for a ban on assault rifles.

Another hopeful sign is that the actual, commonsense restrictions being proposed are becoming part of the public dialogue. Instead of engaging in the disingenuous all-or-nothing debates of the past, sensible people are listening to proposals and nodding in agreement that military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines have no place in private hands; that the gun-show and Internet loopholes should be closed; and that creative, reasonable solutions can prevent future tragedies while allowing citizens to own guns for hunting, target shooting and self-defense.

Even the NRA’s response to Sandy Hook helped to draw attention to the need for gun reform, when millions of parents began to think deeply about the sinister prospect of armed guards in every school in America.

I’ve followed Second Amendment issues closely since Michael Carneal shot eight students in Paducah in 1997. Like everybody else, I’ve watched in horror as subsequent mass murders have played out in America’s schools. I’ve written columns advocating the reforms of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, including those commonsense reforms mentioned above.

But Sandy Hook caused me to think deeper about our violent culture and examine my own response to these tragedies. If I expect gun owners to engage in the self-discipline necessary to change our culture, I must also engage in the self-discipline to set aside the ranting and open my heart to their views. That is the least we can all do for the families and classmates of those women and children who were murdered.

And so I’ve tried harder to understand the point of view of those who oppose gun restrictions. There seem to be four primary “rights” gun owners demand: protection from an over-reaching government, personal protection, hunting and target shooting.

The “well-armed militia” argument would make some sense to me if our military weren’t so far ahead of our gun culture in its technology. No matter how well-armed our civilians are, they can never compete with drones, tanks, attack helicopters or nukes. Personal protection seems similarly untenable, because studies show that victims in the home are 18 times more likely to be family members than criminal intruders. Simply put, if someone is going to be shot in your home with a gun you own, it is far more likely to be you or your family than the bad guy.

While I have no interest in hunting or target shooting, I respect the rights of trained, law-abiding people to do them. What I don’t respect is anybody who shoots an animal with a semi-automatic rifle. I see no need for such weapons, whether for hunting or for target shooting.

In the post-musket era, regardless of whether a gun is for hunting or for the pure fun of shooting, it seems to boil down to a form of entertainment. And although I don’t choose to do it, I have no problem with guns as entertainment — to a point.

Imagine for a moment that another form of entertainment, say, tennis, involved equipment with ever-more-lethal technology. You started out in the ’70s playing with a wooden racket. You moved on to metal and graphite technology, and finally Wilson came out with a laser racket that let you hit a perfect ace every time. The only hitch: In the wrong hands, it would enable any madman to kill dozens of children in seconds. Would you be willing to go back to your old graphite racket?

A preposterous analogy, perhaps. But if we truly want to change our culture of gun violence, it’s going to take all of us, and it’s going to take self-discipline from gun enthusiasts and gun-control advocates alike.