Up in the Hollow: Setting our sights higher

Since the unspeakable events of Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Americans of all political persuasions have been having a renewed dialogue about the role of firearms in our country. As the shock of that horror subsides, hopefully we will be able to assess this crisis of insane gun violence with the objectivity and wisdom that this moment deserves.

In a nation awash with semi-automatic assault weapons, it will not be easy to get this horse back into the barn. But in my opinion, we can’t start the process soon enough. These weapons were not made for hunting or sport shooting. They were made for killing humans in combat. A lot of us gun owners, who grew up with firearms in our homes and hunting in our traditions, do not understand the obsession that some people have with this kind of firepower. But I sure understand the politics of this. I have personally experienced the attempted bullying and intimidation of the National Rifle Association.

Some years ago, it was my honor to serve two terms in the U.S. Congress. During that period, the hot gun issue had to do with the proliferation of handguns. After the shooting of President Ronald Reagan, a lot of concerned citizens had coalesced behind the Brady Bill, which would require a waiting period for people wishing to purchase a handgun. (This was before “instant checks” were a reality.)

After an incident in our Georgia district in which a mentally unbalanced man bought a handgun with no questions asked and went straight to a food court and fatally shot several people, I announced my support for the Brady Bill. It seemed to me that if a person could wait a few days to get their shirts from the cleaners or get their shoes from the shoe repair shop, that they could wait five days for a Saturday Night Special.

The NRA boys went ballistic. They told me I was “now on the hit list,” and that I could kiss my congressional seat goodbye. With my usual diplomatic aplomb, I told them to put it where the moon don’t shine. The bill passed, I got reelected and I burned my NRA card.

I discovered during that period that a lot of these “gun enthusiasts” were exactly the kind of people that probably shouldn’t be armed at all, not to mention armed to the teeth. Some of them thought they should have unlimited access to any weapon whatsoever: heat-seeking missiles, grenade launchers, bazookas, you name it. The more power, the better. Some of them were “explosion freaks,” and nice guys for the most part, but not the kind of gents you would want to be making public policy.

They are popping up now in the public discourse about banning semi-automatic assault weapons and limiting the size of ammo clips. Although I have a lot of friends who disagree, I believe that the Second Amendment gives me the right to own a weapon. But I don’t need an assault rifle to protect my home, or to go sport shooting, or to go hunting.

And neither does anybody else.

Will our legislators stand up to the all-powerful “Gun Lobby?” Will they show half of the courage of those kids and schoolteachers who faced the Sandy Hook killer? We can only wait and see.

And we can only hope that America restores some semblance of sanity.