I doubt if I can say much that is startling about the current gun control debate or the American love affair with guns--except for this chilling fact: there are reportedly 300 million guns in the U.S., about enough for every man, woman, and child.
Do we feel safe yet?
The obsession with guns and the paranoia of the NRA (National Rifle Association) in recent years is a bit of a mystery to me, having grown up in an apparently innocent time, the 1950s, when guns were only part of my fantasy world.
I played with guns, imagining myself to be a cowboy, like the ones I saw in movies and later on TV, but I knew no one who actually owned (or admitted owning) a gun. No one in my family was a hunter. When I got to high school, there was, among all the various student groups, a Rifle Club, but I paid no more attention to that than to my cousin's BB gun.
I lived in a Midwestern city, St. Louis, with plenty of crime, but I have no memories of seeing actual guns, except occasionally on the holster of certain police officers. No one I knew talked about, collected, or used guns.
Was I being cheated of true masculinity?
In any case, the gun-soaked culture of violence of recent decades, stoked by increasingly violent movies TV programs, and video games, continues to alarm and surprise me. This is especially true of the sale of military weapons, which have nothing to do with the legitimate right of self-protection or hunting, both of which are covered by the Second Amendment.
What bothers me most is the fear that grips people, terrified of what they imagine to be a federal takeover of their right to do as they please, whose fear turns into hatred. So last week we found the right wingers calling Obama a fascist, tyrant, king, and worse because he proposed some sensible, legal guidelines on guns.
Even after the horror of Newton, Conn., where 20 kids were killed last month, millions of men and some women in this country still resist any common-sense effort to curb the availability of handguns and assault weapons, which all too often are bought and used by those least capable of responsible action. They are terrified of change and a supposed loss of freedom, as if the president were intending to confiscate their gun collections.
It seems to me that the extremism of the NRA and the Tea Party anti-Obama folks will backfire (no pun intended): their madness will be seen for what it is by the majority, and background checks will be mandated, even if the cannot be universally enforced. Common sense will prevail.
Clearly, something must be done by the federal government--and in a calm, civil manner that overcomes extreme fear with a concern for the common good: the safety of children in their schools, of workers in their offices, of any of us in public places. And a realization that we have long had more than enough guns for our own protection and sport.