Americans are an optimistic people. All evidence to the contrary. We believe that nearly every problem can be solved if we just try hard enough, enact enough laws (or rules) and spend enough money.
There’s some truth to that. Can’t put a man on the moon without burning through many piles of cash. And the air is a lot cleaner, isn’t it? But some issues seem to defy solutions.
The tragedy in Newtown, Conn., last Friday looms large in the national mind, even today. All life is precious, but to see elementary school children … it hurts the heart, even from 3000 miles away.
On Facebook and Twitter and a hundred (thousand? million?) online venues and in personal face-to-face conversations, we’ve been arguing about this, with much of the discussion centering around gun control.
In my view, the gun control issue is surrounded by more myth than the King Arthur legends. Half of the posters are claiming that the gun culture produced this massacre, and the other half argues that if more people had guns, the killings might not have happened at all.
Guns are evil. In today’s urbanized society, the danger from grizzly bears and rattlesnakes have pretty much been curbed, although some coyotes in Westminster seem to not have gotten the memo. We have guns, now, to shoot each other.
But perhaps they are a necessary evil. We sometimes need weapons to keep the criminal and the crazy at bay. Law enforcement and military clearly need them. That’s comforting if you have a police officer or a Marine fire team standing watch outside your domicile.
However, that’s rarely the case. As a friend once remarked, “When seconds count, the police are minutes away.” Maybe help will arrive in time. Maybe not. I’d like to have the option to defend me and mine if it came to that.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to go blasting away at someone tying to boost my car or even my living room couch. But if lives are at stake, it’s a different story.
Of course, here’s the other problem. Let’s say you arrive at that moment. A Bad Person is in your home about to Do Something Awful. Realistically, what are the chances of you (that is, Me) grabbing the gun case, unlocking it, loading the weapon and firing it accurately at this home-invading nimrod at 3 a.m. when I have a quart of adrenaline coursing through my system?
Thankfully, I’ve never been in that situation. But here’s an example which might apply. As a military reservist, several years back I took part in a field exercise called IEF training. That stands for Initial Entry Force, as in the first grunts to enter an area ravaged by earthquake or flood, and possibly infested with armed looters.
We were carrying not actual rifles, but replicas that fired plastic bullets. Still, it was all taken very seriously, and none of us wanted to embarrass ourselves , so we were primed emotionally as we advanced slowly toward what was the old Navy housing (now used for the Military Operations in Urban Terrain drills). I was toward the back of the formation, where all good public affairs types belong.
The squad leader yells out “Sniper! Down!” and we all hit the ground. The troops in front begin laying down suppressing fire and so do I. Sort of. What actually happened was as I hit the dirt, I got all tangled up in the strap of my M-4. By the time I got loose, found the safety, and thumbed it off, I was able to get off exactly one round before the call to “cease fire” came back. One shot and I didn’t even know what I was shooting at.
Now, that’s an in a “practice” situation in which I was – in theory – prepared for a possible hostile encounter. Imagine how much more flummoxed I might have been if it had been real, or taking place downstairs at zero dark thirty?
We imagine ourselves as John McClane, but in reality most of us would be lucky to do better than Barney Fife. So, it’s probably true I might not win a gunfight, but at least I’d have a chance. Maybe with a firearm I can chase a bad person away without having to actually shoot. It will probably be more persuasive than a homily on human kindness.
If I appear to be on both sides of this issue, that’s because I am. Banning guns is not only impossible, it’s unconstitutional. Look how successful we’ve been in stopping the gun trade. There’s a huge grey market in weapons. You’d be bailing an ocean with a teacup.
On the other hand, how can sit idle when these things happen, as they did in Newtown? In America, mass killers don’t use knives and crossbows; guns are the killer.
A problem without a solution. One that will fade in this news cycle, inevitably. Until the next time.