07/23/2012 02:27 pm ET | Updated Sep 22, 2012

From the Great Outdoors to the Outdoor World

For most of the last month I was blissfully perched beside Adirondack lakes observing nature's laws through a long lens. The photographer's eye can glimpse the logical-but-harsh habits of the wild: osprey diving with talons extended to spear unsuspecting perch; fish in death throes thrashing wildly in predators' claws or herons' beaks or going down the throats of loons. Hawks sit on high branches while choosing their lunch menu from the small things crawling in the fields beneath; foxes prowl closer to the ground hungrily chomping on some hapless furry creature while already looking for the next bite. A mother merganser hurries her chicks across the river to get to the marsh before the eagle circling overhead decides to have a baby duck snack.

Violence in nature is all about sustaining life. The laws of nature require some animals to kill other animals in order to eat, to live, to protect the young, to mark the turf where broods mature.

Humans turn nature's laws upside down. Animals kill each other in order to sustain life. People kill each other to destroy life, aside from the truly genuine acts of self-defense. Human intellect supposedly gives this species the ability to use reason instead of physical power; but when the intellect breaks down into the myriad forms of murderous psychosis, human beings become the most lethal animals on the planet.

In his masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick used the symbol of the bone morphing from food source to primitive tool to murderous weapon to intergalactic spacecraft as he introduced his meditation on human intellect and existence, itself. Kubrick's vision suggests that the ability to manufacture weapons, not just use simple tools, may be the real line of demarcation between humans and other animals.

As I drove down from the Adirondacks I heard the news about the shooting in the Colorado movie theater. My mountain karma vanished quickly in the overwhelming backwash of this latest example of wanton human destruction.

On the way home I stopped at Outdoor World in Arundel Mills, part of the Bass Pro Shops chain. I buy some of my outdoor gear at this store, which is endlessly fascinating; after three weeks on the water I needed some stuff for the kayak.

Sadly, however, I was not surprised to learn that James Holmes, the suspect in the Colorado shootings, legally purchased two of his guns at the Bass Pro Shops in Denver. (Bass Pro Shops has issued a statement indicating the Denver store did everything correctly in terms of background checks and federal rules.) Outdoor World, dedicated to hunting and fishing, has a section that is like a theme park for recreational weapons. Along with buying some thermal socks, tie-downs, Tevas and tarps, or maybe a $50,000 boat for a bit of fishing, I could also select from a range of rifles, pistols, crossbows and other lethal weapons as well as stocking up on plenty of ammo.

On a rainy weekend afternoon, the store was packed. Sure, not everyone was looking at guns, but frankly, it's hard NOT to look at them when they're so openly displayed.

We are free to purchase guns and ammo with fairly modest background checks; in some places it's harder to buy cigarettes and beer at the local convenience store. We stand shoeless and shaking in airport security lines while darkly frowning agents with blue gloves manhandle our luggage and demand that we spread our arms wide. But in many jurisdictions now we can drive down the street with rifles in plain view. I must wear a seat belt but am free to brandish my assault rifle. We banish smokers to the curb for fear of the lethal effects of second-hand smoke while the guy on the next bar stool packs heat.

Are we really this stupid?

Seriously. There can be no good justification for the lack of real gun control in this country. Hunting? Oh, please. Whether humans should kill animals for sport is a topic for another day, but how many people who are out there building arsenals really have a taste for venison?

Self-defense? Tell that to the people mowed down in Aurora or any of the other vast killing fields in this nation. Most people go to the theater for entertainment, not target practice. This nation has spent untold billions chasing after shadowy terrorists from abroad when the most lethal terrorists of all are right here in our neighborhoods filling their apartments with mail order ammo and extraordinarily easy-to-obtain weapons of civilian destruction. People find it increasingly hard to go to school, a shopping mall, a theater or workplace without having fearful thoughts of the terrible things that might happen because somebody could have a gun.

Government in a free society is supposed to protect everyone's freedom. Sadly, our legislators and leaders seem to accord more freedom to the gun folk than to those of us who expect them to enact laws that will protect the common good. The utter spinelessness of the political responses to the Aurora shooting is only notable for the fact that it is not surprising in the least.

I agree with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on this point: President Obama and Republican Candidate Mitt Romney owe this nation more than sorrowful words and averted eyes. Real political leadership must have the courage to stand its ground in the face of overwhelming evidence of the violence that goes along with unfettered access to an astonishing array of weapons. Why do we allow the National Rifle Association to call the shots?

And where are the pro-life voices on this issue? Religious leaders must demonstrate far more consistency in their vigorous denunciation of threats to human life.

Humans can live in the wilderness quite safely so long as they don't provoke the wildlife. Sadly, in what we call civilization, we live in greater fear each day of the unprovoked human attack.

Guns do kill people, and the more guns available, the greater the mayhem.