Published December 17, 2012
It’s a beautiful thing, hand-carved out of tiger-eye maple that I painstakingly finished over several weeks and polished to a high gloss. The brass is like old gold. The barrel, browned and aged by hand, is the color of chestnuts. It feels right in my hand, and I suppose that’s only natural since I made it myself, fashioning it out of pieces I inherited from my father when he died.
It’s one of three guns I own, all of them hunting weapons, all of them used and used often for that purpose. But this one is special to me. Maybe that’s because, in some ways, it is a tangible link to my father, to my past, to my traditions.
All the same, I would gladly break it apart, burn the stock and melt the barrel if I thought for a moment that doing so would prevent one more atrocity like the savage, insane slaughter of innocents that took place last Friday at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Yes, I’m a gun owner and an avid hunter. I’m also a father of four children, the youngest of whom is just a year older than many of the babies massacred in their first-grade classrooms.
And maybe it’s because I am all three of those things, a gun owner, a hunter and a father, that this massacre hit me so hard. I’m 54 years old. I’ve lived through a number of national calamities, but never before —not during Sandy or Katrina or 9/11 or the assassinations that rocked this nation through my childhood in the 1960s, have I been brought to tears by any of them. Until now. Never has one hurt, angered or motivated me as much. Maybe it’s because I am who I am that I feel a special obligation to speak out now, at last, to demand that this country finally adopt reasonable and effective gun control laws, that we restore the assault weapons ban and that we bring an end to these atrocities.
In fact, in a nation where such violence has become all too common, it may be that only people like me can make a difference. It may be that it is up to us, people who use and respect weapons, to build momentum for the kind of changes that we need to make to, if not prevent another Sandy Hook or Columbine, another mass slaying in a movie theater or mall, at least make them a bit less likely.
It may be that the time has come for people like me to stand up and say that the National Rifle Association, the powerful lobbying arm of the gun manufacturers, does not represent me. Of course neither does New York City Mayor and noted gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg.
I agree with Mayor Bloomberg that there has been a tragic abdication of leadership on the part of our elected officials, from the lower reaches of our state governments to the White House, up to and including our current president, who only now seems to recognize just how much we lost when we allowed the assault weapons ban to lapse eight years and thousands of innocent lives ago.
But I also realize that in a nation that has been so thoroughly fractured by special interests, where rural Americans like me have been pitted against urban and suburban Americans in a fake culture war, that all the good intentions of the mayor of New York City or a progressive U.S. senator from California will not be anywhere near enough to move the needle toward responsible gun legislation. As much as I respect Mayor Bloomberg, having as point man in this debate a guy who has also launched a life-and-death struggle over 32-ounce Slurpees is unlikely to win many hearts and minds in the heartland.
No, if this nation is going to do what’s necessary, it’s going to require responsible gun owners to stand up and say “enough.”
The truth is, there are comparatively few hunters, I believe, who feel the need to stalk deer using high-powered assault-style weapons, and most, if you asked them, would tell you that if you need a 30-round clip to bring down a 160-pound buck, you shouldn’t be hunting in the first place.
Now, it is certainly true, as the president said in his moving speech at Sunday night’s vigil in Newtown, that the issue of gun violence is complex, that no single law or package of laws is going to eradicate it. It is an issue that is fraught politically, sociologically and even psychologically. We are a culture that has become inured to violence, and one that has become accustomed to ignoring serious challenges.
The truth is, many responsible gun owners in this country recognize that fact. We realize, in the Newtown case for example, that reasonable laws, while not a panacea, would have made a difference. There is nothing in any of the reporting thus far in this case that suggests, for example that Nancy Lanza was anything other than a perfectly law-biding citizen. And there is therefore no reason to believe that had the .223 Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle and the extended magazines she owned still been covered under the assault weapons ban, she would have obtained them, or kept them where Adam Lanza could get them.
Furthermore, there is nothing in any of the reporting to date that suggests that Adam Lanza, as disturbed as he apparently was, would have obtained them otherwise.
I could make a similar argument in several of the other high-profile shootings recently. I won't.
Instead, I'll just say that in this one singular case, a reasonable assault weapons ban, like the one we used to have, would likely have spared most if not all 26 of those lives, that most of those 20 babies would still be alive for Christmas. As a gun owner and an avid hunter, even one of those lives would be enough for me to forgo my supposedly inalienable right to own an assault rifle and an extended magazine.