The aftermath of the slaughter of nine innocent women and men in Charleston has inspired a powerful national discussion. Most of it is centered on the Confederate flag -- what it means or doesn't mean -- and racism -- what it is or isn't.
The discussion is hot. My blog post on the Confederate flag has generated nearly 400 comments and counting. Many are angry rebuttals of my sharp view of the meaning of this hateful symbol. I suppose this post will draw similar responses -- or worse.
When are we going to have an honest conversation about guns in America? While I vigorously disagree with the Supreme Court's most recent interpretation of the Second Amendment, I'll concede that the right of individuals to bear arms is, for now, the law of the land.
Dylann Roof allegedly killed nine people. Yeah, yeah, his gun didn't do it. But he didn't do it with his bare hands either. The easy availability of guns is turning our democratic republic into a banana republic. President Obama had the temerity to mention gun violence in his response to the tragedy and conservative opportunists jumped, once again, to criticize and discredit him. A particularly boneheaded legislator in South Carolina implied, not too vaguely, that Dylann Roof's victims were partly responsible for their own brutal deaths because they weren't "carrying" during Bible study. Just like the kids at Sandy Hook would have been saved if all early childhood teachers carried 45's. The logical extension of NRA propaganda is that Americans won't be truly safe until everyone carries a weapon everywhere.
Among the distorted arguments against gun control is the emotional allusion to individual safety and security. It's nonsense, of course, because homes with guns are significantly more dangerous than those without. But you can't convince the 2nd Amendment zealots. Some Americans seem unable to get a good night's sleep without a loaded weapon within easy reach. (My therapist wife might be helpful.) The same folks, or an overlapping subset of the guns rights lobby, feel a compelling need to remain armed against government tyranny. They seem to think a platoon of like-minded paranoids armed with assault weapons is a good match for the United States military. Can they spell "Drone?" I know where I'm placing my bets when the revolution comes.
But I'm tired of arguing.
I don't own a gun. Never have, never will. But I held and fired many weapons while an Army officer in the late 60's. I know exactly how they feel in the hands, how easy and irreversible a pull of the trigger. Nearly 50 years later I can recall the contour of the stock, the smell of the oil used to clean the barrel, the sharp recoil as a weapon fires.
I watched tracer bullets form a crystal necklace in the sky at a nighttime firing range. I watched bullets from a .45 caliber pistol explode holes in a paper silhouette. I thrust a bayonet into a straw mannequin dressed like a Vietnamese peasant. Many, many times I imagined what it might be like to kill a human being. I never had to do it and never will.
As a citizen sick to death over guns, and gun rights, and Second Amendment absolutists, and the NRA, and Stand Your Ground and every other machismo position taken by gun fans . . . I offer a compromise.
We peaceful citizens will support a completely unrestricted right for you to keep as many handguns, semi-automatic rifles, AK-47's or other killing machines in your homes as you'd like. No safes, no trigger locks, no registration, no restrictions. You're on your own as far as the safety of your own family goes. I suppose you don't believe that guns kill more people by suicide or tragic accident than they protect from evil bad guys. Maybe in your world there are more evil bad guys than in mine. But you really have no need to take your guns to the grocery store, do you? If you have the absolute right to own all the weapons you want, can you stop brandishing them for the cameras?
And to the survivalists, supremacists and tyranny paranoids: You too can fill your remote encampments with weapons and ammunition to prepare yourselves for whatever threats you've concocted in your imaginations.
If the rest of us concede the unimpeded right for you to have an arsenal at the ready, will you stop open carry legislation? Will you reverse the idiotic laws that allow guns on college campuses? Will you stop parading your rifles around parking lots and playgrounds full of small children? Will you agree that reasonable regulations that keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill or career felons might be good for all of us?
Yes, I know that Dylann Roof's gun purchase was legal. Perhaps no regulation would have prevented him from attaining a weapon. But is it possible that this disturbed young man felt entitled to take things into his own hands because of our gun culture? Was his irrational fear and hatred of black folks fueled by others who arm themselves against largely imaginary threats? Can any reasonable person deny that such tragedies are more likely when the surrounding culture screams, "Arm yourself! Stand your ground! Danger is all around!"?
Just what would it take to convince you to bring the United States into the civilized world?