Looking for Balance

There’s an old story that a president, many years ago, told his aides that what he really wanted was a one-armed economist.  “Because,” said the president, “every economic adviser tells me, ‘On the one hand this, but on the other hand that.’ Decisions would be much easier if they only had one hand!”

I don’t know if that story is true or not, but it does illustrate an important truth: there are rarely simple answers when it comes to public policy.  As a fictional president once observed, “There are very few days with an absolute right, or an absolute wrong, and those days almost always involve body counts.”

This principle of complicated public policy may be no where as true, as it is when it comes to gun control.  So, rushing in where angels fear to tread, let me offer a few thoughts, which are probably worth about what you’re paying to read them.

First of all, let me begin by stressing – absolutely – that I support the Second Amendment.  Period.  That’s non-negotiable.  As I and others have observed, it’s only because of the Second Amendment that the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments have any teeth.

I grew up with guns.  I respect guns, but I don’t fear them.  I also don’t love them.  As far as I’m concerned, guns are tools, no more, no less.  Like any tool, if you’re going to own one, common sense dictates that you know how to use it, safely and prudently.  Like any tool, people who haven’t been around one, are likely to be dangerously fascinated by it, and likely to do stupid things with it.  And like any tool, if you need one, you need one.  Probably right then.

A hammer makes a lousy screwdriver.

All of that to say, I am not a gun-hater.  But neither would I call myself a gun nut, whatever that means.  (I kind of suspect that a gun nut could be defined as, “someone who owns one more weapon that me.”)

The fact is, good intentions to the contrary, gun laws almost never work.  This was given tragic and sad proof just last week when Chicago teenager Hadiya Pendleton, 15, was murdered after school.  She was standing under a shelter in a park during a rainstorm when a gunman came in and shot her dead.  Young Miss Pendleton was an honor student and a majorette, and just the previous week had taken part in the inaugural parade.  Police think it may have been a case of mistaken identity, but they don’t know.

She was Chicago’s 42nd murder victim of 2013; there have been more since.  Last year, there were 506 murders in Chicago, many – although certainly not all – involving a firearm.

This is tragic – of that, there can be no doubt.  But I would point out that Chicago already has some of, if not THE, most restrictive and severe anti-gun laws on the books, and those laws did NOTHING to prevent this killing.  Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said, “We have a responsibility to see a stop to this.  And all of us are responsible.”

Sorry, your honor, I gotta call bullshit on that.  Yes, we live in a violent culture.  Yes, there are lots of guns in the hands of lots of criminals.  But the responsibility does NOT lie with the even-more millions of law-abiding citizens who freely exercise their Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.”  The responsibility lies with the gunman who pulled the trigger and ended a young and promising life.

I can remember when the assassinations of President and Senator Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s led to significant gun control legislation.  That legislation was driven then by the same thing driving the voices call for gun control now – raw emotion.  Passing legislation based on emotion is heady wine; it makes you feel really good for a while, but it leaves you with a terrible hangover the next morning.

Again, I ask – how many laws did the shooter in Newtown break?  Killing one’s own mother, at the top of the list.  I understand the emotion that wants to “do something” about these types of senseless crimes.  But making criminals out of legal gun-owners is not the answer.

On the other hand…

The NRA is so full of crap their logo ought to be brown.

There was a time when the NRA was a reasonable organization, dedicated to serving its members and educating the public on gun safety and gun ownership issues.  In my opinion, this is no longer the case.  Now, it’s about getting more and more people to sign up.

Back when I was in professional politics, there was one rule that I learned: If you want to understand something – anything – in politics, follow the money.

Am I the only one who’s figured out that the more the NRA can scare you, the more memberships it can sell?  The more they hype the hatred against President Obama, Rep. Pelosi or Sen. Feinstein, and scare people by talking about legislation that they KNOW is not going to pass, the more they can move people from annual to lifetime memberships.

People, do yourselves a favor – quit listening to the NRA, turn off Fox News, go outside, get a breath of fresh air.  You’ll thank me later.

First of all, nobody – NOBODY – is seriously proposing any type of national gun registration or gun confiscation.  The “horror” stories you hear about ATF agents busting in on some supposedly law-abiding citizen in the middle of the night usually have another side to them – like the guy was selling fully automatic weapons to gang-bangers or something.

Secondly, I remember back in the 90s when Congress did pass a ten year ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity clips (for all the good that did).  The Republic still stands, and the Second Amendment survives.  And similar legislation now under consideration does not stand a snowball’s chance in Houston of passing.  So all of you reposting that stupid meme that says, “When they come to get my guns, I’ll give them the bullets,” post pictures of your grandkids instead.

The only people enjoying this debate, other than the new member division at the NRA, are gun dealers and ammo manufacturers.  They can’t keep up with the demand, and they are jacking up the price to exorbitant levels, because people are panicking.  Follow the money.  The more scared you get, the more money they get.

If I were someone who did a lot of target shooting as a hobby – which I enjoy, by the way – but if I did a lot of it, I’d be really annoyed at the idiots who are buying up ammo by the case, and tripling the price.

Here’s another thing: the current fascination with “assault weapons” really bothers me.  I may be wrong, but it seems to me that many of the people owning these rifles have watched too many violent movies.  Have the integrity to ask yourself this question: why do you want that particular weapon?  Its styling and accessories reveal that it has one purpose, and one purpose only.  Not hunting.  Not target shooting.  Not looking cool on a wall.  Its function is simply to kill people.  Personally, I wouldn’t mind if they banned the damn things, but I know that’s not going to happen.

Sometimes I think they honestly see themselves as a Rambo or John McCain figure.  Or they’ve seen “Red Dawn” a few too many times.  Too many violent, first-person shooter games, where you can blow away as many bad guys as you want. pause the action while you go get a Coke and microwave some Hot Pockets, then come back to the mayhem.  Shooting without thinking.  Killing without consequences.  It’s no wonder we’ve go so many mass shootings in this country – we’ve raised at least two entire generations of gun-toting children who think it’s a game.

Okay, this column is already longer than I meant for it to be.  If I didn’t offend you, I will try again some other time.  Meanwhile, please consider this: In my opinion, we don’t have a gun problem in this society, as much as we have a relationship problem.  What I mean is, when we see violence as the answer to any problem, when we lose our empathy for others, when we place our personal gratification ahead of loving our neighbor – then we have lost our sense of being in relationship with others, and they become only targets.

And that does scare me.