Biggest threats to gun freedom: Rigid denial, firearms fetish and the NRA

What gun-owners know: Guns are dangerous

Mike Scanlon | Rio Grande Digital

I’ve been a gun-owner most of my life. As a 13-year-old, I hiked the foothills and streams of northeastern New Mexico alone and unsupervised with a .22 revolver strapped to my hip, often carrying a .22 rifle as well. My parents were confident that I knew enough to be responsible and safe. I did, and I was.

Mike Scanlon

Mike Scanlon

I learned about guns at an early age. I learned how properly to clean a gun, how to safely load a gun. I learned about velocity and trajectory and the invisible gaseous burst that envelops a gun when the trigger is pulled. I learned never to shoot at something unless I knew with absolute certainty what was behind it. I learned never to aim a gun at something I didn’t intend to shoot and never to shoot something I didn’t intend to destroy. I learned not to kill anything. I learned that guns are not toys, and that “showing off” with a gun easily could cause a deadly accident.

I don’t claim to be a gun expert — far from it. I have no interest in being one. Most of my friends would be surprised even to know I have guns. I’m a gun-owner and sometimes target shooter, and that is my perspective on this topic.

As a youngster, I developed keen target skills. Even still, I have a liking for guns — the weight and balance, comfort of the grip, smoothness of the action, quality and detail of the frame, accuracy of the sights, the recoil that every firearm instantly delivers when the firing pin strikes a live round, the smell of gun powder. I own multiple guns of various makes, styles and calibers. I’ve owned handguns, rifles and shotguns and even an assault rifle that I no longer have. I’ve never had an accident, and I’ve never hurt anyone. I’ve never gotten into trouble with a gun.

So naturally, I’m concerned about the current threat to gun-ownership. That threat lies hidden in stubborn, disingenuous denial of the very first, most obvious — and by far, the most important — fact I learned about guns long before I fired my first round: Guns are inherently dangerous.

Anyone who won’t acknowledge that simple, indisputable fact has no business with a gun. Period.

The changes announced this week by President Obama, though significant, go only so far. A Congressional consensus is needed to improve gun safety and protect the rights of gun owners.

More sweeping changes to US gun laws will be coming. As a gun-owner, I understand the need for those changes. As a gun-owner, I want to participate in writing them. Many gun-owners — if not the majority — support some restrictions. There’s also a very loud, angry and aggressive resistance to gun regulations. How many of those people are paid by the gun industry lobby is anyone’s guess.

Organizations like the National Rifle Association and some of its followers disregard — and actively deny — the fact that more firearms in the hands of more untrained, inexperienced or unhinged people translates to more accidents and more violent deaths. They always react the same way: By calling for more guns.

As it has been, violent gang members, desperate junkies, people with mental illness — literally anyone — could legally buy a gun at a gun show or from a seller on the street. A presidential executive action that puts the brakes on some of that doesn’t solve the problem — by a long shot.

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Rigid and unyielding to reasonable demands for even meager gun control, the NRA started out as an advocacy group for sportsmen, but morphed into the political arm of the gun industry. The organization gave away “life memberships” so it could claim broad grassroots support, even though many of its members probably don’t know they’re members. Many prefer to keep their distance from the organization. Undoubtedly, some percentage of the members it claims no longer are living. At one time, if you bought a fishing lure, you got a free NRA life membership.

Politicians in some districts depend on the gun lobby for support. So they’ll vote against restrictions every time.

To many gun-owners, however, the gun-lobby rhetoric is like fingernails on a chalkboard. It’s so shrill and devoid of logic or reason, it’s grating. And it’s arguably the biggest threat to gun freedom.

Last year, when foreign terrorists were beheading people on video and a white supremacist shot up a Southern church, I saw at least a dozen Facebook posts from people who’ve never touched a gun asking friends to recommend a gun to buy. Most common response: A 9-millimeter semi-automatic. Nothing was mentioned about safety, training or instruction. No one tried to discourage them or caution them. Just buy it, load it and shoot.

Gun sales, we are told, tend to spike in the wake of high-profile shootings. Gun danger snowballs. Well-meaning parents, determined to protect their kids, plunk down their Visa card for a 9-millimeter Glock semi-automatic and four boxes of 124-grain jacketed hollow-point shells. Because that’s what the gun shop sold them or someone on Facebook recommended. But they’ve seen “Dirty Harry” twice, so …

They take it all home, load the clip, rack a cartridge into the chamber and leave the gun, hammer back, on the coffee table while they await the bad guy. [It could be a very long wait.] Then, the 4-year-old picks up the gun and shoots his 6-year-old sister in the forehead. As the greatly expanded projectile and numerous free fragments instantly blow out the back of the girl’s cranium, they continue — at 1,000 feet per second — through the wall, into the nursery where the baby is sleeping. That’s what hollow-points do. And a semi-automatic gun uses the recoil energy to chamber the next round, so the gun is ready to fire again. Their Facebook friends should have told them about that.

The best-case outcome is if the parents can get the gun away from the kid before anyone else gets hurt. A lifetime of guilt and anguish for that child and his family underscores the obvious fact that, once fired, a bullet cannot be unfired. Guns are dangerous.

Nearly as frightening are those who must have a gun to deter government tyranny. To see how that works, look at the May 5, 2011, death of a US Marine Corps veteran in Tucson.

“Jose Guerena, 26, a former Marine, was sleeping after the graveyard shift at Asarco Mission mine about 9:30 a.m. when his wife woke him saying she heard noises outside and a man was at their window. Guerena told his wife to hide in a closet with their 4-year-old son, his wife has said. He grabbed an AR-15 rifle and moments later was slumped in the kitchen, mortally wounded from a hail of gunfire.”

Killed by a police SWAT team that fired more than 70 rounds, poor Jose never got to fire a single round. And no, the police didn’t find the marijuana they were looking for.

Or maybe you’ll get a concealed-carry license because you never know when you might be a hero for winning a shootout with a crazed gunman at Walmart. You could be on the 10 o’clock news. Are you faster and more skilled than the bad guy? Want to bet your life on it? Your heart is racing, your hands are shaking. You draw your gun, chamber a round, take aim — sorry, you already got shot. Your gun made you a priority target. The gunman spent six months planning that. You just found out about it five seconds ago.

Or maybe you could go to Home Depot and shoot at fleeing nonviolent shoplifters who pose no threat to anyone. Or get cut off on the freeway and show the offending motorist just how mad you can be. And someone gets hurt, and your life is changed forever. You’ll never sleep in your own bed again.

You hear noises downstairs in the middle of the night. So you shoot and kill your 15-year-old daughter who’s sneaking in from an unauthorized meetup with her boyfriend. Your preteen son can no longer endure the bullying at middle school, and he knows there’s a gun in the nightstand by your bed.

All these things have happened and continue happen with sickening regularity.

If accidents and rage killings weren’t bad enough, there are those who have a gun fetish that compels them to go shopping at Target with an AR-15 slung over their shoulder — just to show fellow shoppers how badass they think they are. Seriously, folks, that makes some people uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable.

Bring your gun to school any day, every day at Texas universities. What could possibly go wrong? Welcome the new year by emptying a full clip into the air, and you never even wonder where those bullets came down.

The chances seem to be growing that police officers on a routine encounter will shoot civilians because they have to assume everyone is armed. Children with toy guns are not exempt. Or people with cell phones, game controllers or TV remotes. After all, police officers are trained to believe that the most important part of their job is being able to go home at shift’s end and have dinner with their families — your own dinner plans notwithstanding.

And so, while groups like the NRA call for universal gun-ownership, the unarmed masses clamor for tighter controls. Rightly so. What is certain is that this trend of gun violence, accidental shootings and good-guy-versus bad-guy delusional fantasy nonsense cannot continue. Remember: Toddlers are killing people.

In order to protect our Second Amendment rights, if I were writing a new gun law, it would look something like this:

  • All guns would be licensed to individuals. Gun shops, online vendors and sellers at gun shows would issue licenses after conducting thorough background checks, and documenting proof of insurance and basic gun-safety training. If you want to sell your gun to someone else, you’d have to go to an authorized gun dealer to transfer the license. Possession of an unlicensed gun would be a felony.
  • Gun licenses would be valid for five years and renewable for five years at a time. If you’ve been convicted of a crime involving any kind of violence or if you’ve had an avoidable firearm accident in the last five years or if you’ve been diagnosed with mental illness, your license would not be renewed. You would have to wait until five years have passed since the incident and/or show proof that your mental illness has been successfully treated and resolved.
  • If any gun license is denied, all your gun licenses become invalid, and you surrender your firearms to a local authority, which keeps them for a year until you either qualify for a license or arrange to sell your guns. A license denial could be appealed to a state court in your jurisdiction. Licensed gun stores could sell arms on consignment for their unlicensed former owners.
  • When a gun-owner dies, his or her guns must be surrendered or transferred to someone eligible to hold the necessary licenses.
  • You wouldn’t be able to buy ammo without a current, valid license for the gun for which you’re buying the ammo. If you want to buy .223 ammo, you’d have to have a license for a .223-caliber gun.
  • An individual would be limited to 4,000 rounds of ammo a year — that’s 1,000 rounds during any three-month period — for each licensed gun. If you needed more ammo than that, you could legally buy more by collecting your spent brass and returning it to the store.
  • Reloading equipment and supplies could be sold only to licensed gun-owners.
  • All firearms would have to be covered by liability insurance. Current proof of insurance would be required to get or renew a license.
  • It would be a felony to sell, give or loan a firearm to an unlicensed person.

I can comply with all those things and still keep my guns and maintain my gun-owning lifestyle. Most serious gun-owners can too. The fact is — contrary to the NRA’s foolishness — not everyone should be able to have a gun.

If you think those ideas are too restrictive, suggest something better. Or just keep denying. Every controversy has a tipping point in the shift of public opinion. It’s not a stretch to imagine all guns being banned, and no one — no matter how knowledgeable, experienced and responsible — will be able to own one.

After all, guns are dangerous. It’s a fact.

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