Friday, April 20, 2007

Too many guns

A friend called me today, and in the course of conversation she asked if I'd heard about the gunman that had barricaded himself in at NASA (and has now killed a hostage and himself). My reaction was, what else can happen in this country? Why is our country so likely to have these incidents?

I hadn't written about Virginia Tech yet because it is still so fresh in my mind. I can't even imagine the horror the surviving kids went through, seeing their friends and classmates slaughtered, and the grief experienced by the parents of those killed.

And today is the anniversary of Columbine. I remember where I was when I heard about it- we were on vacation in Ireland. A shop owner started talking to us about it and we got into a discussion about guns. European countries, including Ireland, all have stricter gun control laws than we do here in the U.S. In many countries, handguns and automatic weapons are completely banned, and the recent shootings have sparked a wave of criticism of the American penchant for guns.

I have no problem with shotguns for those who live in rural areas and are either isolated and need something to protect themselves, or do use them to shoot pests on their farms. But I don't see any reason the ordinary citizen needs to carry a handgun or assault rifle.

I do understand the spirit behind the Second Amendment. I know that the Bill of Rights was written shortly after the United States won its freedom from a tyrannical England and there was fear of Big Government becoming oppressive again, and people wanted to know they could take up arms against their oppressors if need be.

Maybe that is still a consideration today. We don't want all the power to be in the hands of the authorities. But that still doesn't mean we need to stockpile assault rifles and carry handguns around with us, or let just anyone own a gun.

What I do not understand is the rabid support the NRA and other pro-gun groups show for virtually unlimited gun ownership. How is it to the advantage of the law-abiding gun owners to support the right of any idiot to buy a gun? Don't they realize that every time one of these nutcases takes up arms and blows away a bunch of innocent people, that it makes guns look bad, and them look bad by association?

I was amazed that some pro-gun proponents actually believe that if the students in the classroom at Virginia Tech had been armed themselves, that this would have solved the problem and prevented the deaths. I can just see all of them opening fire and the shootout that would result during the ensuing panic.

We need to have stricter background checks for the purchase of any type of gun. Apparently in Virginia the law prohibits anyone who had been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital from buying a gun. The gunman, Cho, had not been in a mental hospital. But he had been sent involuntarily for psychiatric evaluation. Shouldn't that be enough? That authorities were so concerned about his mental state that they sent him to psychiatric care?

Nowadays in many cases, in-patient care is not encouraged or paid for by insurance and outpatient care is the only choice for a troubled person. If someone has gone for outpatient psychiatric care, at the very least the gun laws should ensure that further investigation be done to find out why before letting the person buy their gun and blithely go off with it.

And of course, if the guns Cho bought had not been handguns, but shotguns that could not be concealed, he would have been seen with them and perhaps disarmed before he could do harm.

Yes, our rights are important. But rights have to be earned. Not everyone deserves a gun. We can do better than this in this country, and we must.


Martie said...

I agree that people don't really have a need to carry around handguns and assault rifles. The men in my family have always had guns for hunting purposes. They purchase a liscense and abide by all the hunting laws in the state where the live. All of them actually eat what they kill.....true hunters.

Guns don't kill people, people kill people...but if guns were harder to purchase and carry, maybe, just maybe so many people wouldn't be killing people!

Mauigirl said...

Exactly, well said. And I am fine with true hunters, especially those that eat what they kill. I had an acquaintance years ago who went bow and arrow hunting for deer and I used to eat the venison myself.

As you pointed out, if guns were harder to purchase and carry, so many people wouldn't be killing people. The problem with the "guns don't kill people" argument that so many trot out, is it is disengenuous - it leaves out the fact that other methods of killing are a lot more difficult. Sure, people can kill each other with knives, but at least there can be a struggle and the victim can escape if he or she is able to fend off the killer. And it requires less detachment on the part of the killer. They have to be right there, touching the victim, looking the victim in the eye. Most of the time a gunman is at a distance and it relieves the killer of that sense of connection with his victims, making it easier to pull the trigger.