I enjoy shooting guns. A lot. And I feel fortunate to have grown up around guns – and hunters – in my family and in my neighborhood. Hunter safety was part of my Boy Scout training. I was introduced to my first .357 Magnum in college. Before coming to Hawaii 33 years ago, I was the hunting-fishing editor at the San Jose Mercury-News. And every Father’s Day weekend, my son Kai and I head to the Koko Head gun range for the annual public shoot. We buy lots of scrip and stand in lines to shoot an amazing array of weapons – shooting skeet with shotguns, and at targets with a variety of pistols and rifles, including an Uzi and an “elephant gun” with a recoil that can separate a shoulder. My favorite is the AS-15, a semi-automatic with which I routinely pop a target 300 yards downrange. Kai especially likes firing a Desert Eagle pistol.
Call me late to the dance, but I’m now joining the rising chorus of voices demanding federal reform of our gun laws.
The demonic slaughter – and there is no other word for it – of 20 innocent young children in Connecticut makes it impossible to do otherwise. Call it the tipping point.
As a staunch First Amendment guy, I hesitate to mess with the Second Amendment.
But our Constitution is a historical document. At the time of its writing and ratification, pistols could fire just one shot at a time. Likewise for flintlock rifles, the best weapons of the Revolutionary era, which required a steel ball be jammed into the barrel and gunpowder poured into the firing chamber and tamped down, then a fuse lit. An adept man fighting for his life might get off one shot per minute. (You can see it on YouTube.) And guns were crafted one at a time, not mass-produced and sold in big box stores alongside baseball gloves and Boogie Boards. You could not order guns and ammo on the Internet.
And at a time when America was mostly agrarian and nobody put meat on the table that had come home in clear plastic wrap, guns were essential for self-sufficiency and survival – and self-defense, because there have always been predatory humans who rape, steal and kill. Plus there were bears and wolves roaming about.
Fast-forward through America’s many wars – starting with the not-so-civil Civil War – each one producing huge forward leaps in gun technology. And deadliness.
So that now in modern America mentally unstable young men can possess high-powered military weapons with clips that allow them to shoot 100 times before reloading, and that can be done in the blink of an eye.
Here’s what the Second Amendment, ratified in December 1791 along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, actually says:
“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
Banning the sale of certain combat weapons does not infringe upon this right.
Neither does banning the sale of clips that hold more than a few rounds.
Nor does banning the sale of hollow-point bullets that penetrate, tumble and explode, inflicting maximum injury.
Nor does requiring more stringent background checks on would-be gun buyers.
Statistics can be twisted, but these are straightforward: The 20 children killed in Connecticut are among the 6,000 American children who annually die from gunshot wounds. And last week Bloomberg News reported that deaths from guns in the United States are roughly equal to deaths from automobile crashes – slightly more than 30,000 – and that by 2015 the number of deaths from guns is expected to exceed those from car crashes.
This is a civilized culture? This is American exceptionalism? This is as good – and safe – as America can be?
Clearly, something needs to be done.
And smarter gun laws need to be part of a package that includes better mental health care and supervision.
The tide seems to have turned on this issue, better late than never, and we need to hold the president and Congress accountable.
And if they are unable or unwilling to craft smarter, safer gun laws – firearms is a billion-dollar industry in the U.S., after all, and that can pay for a lot of lobbyists and pad a lot of campaign coffers – and the insane and deadly status quo continues … well, I’m thinking about buying a tank, and have my eye on a lightly used M-1 Abrams.