Taming our gun culture

In the aftermath of the Connecticut shootings we’re learning more about our society’s gun culture and the appalling dearth of services for those with mental illness.

Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, as always intelligent and thoughtful, says he supports most of the reforms on the table: restricting assault weapons, certain kinds of bullets and closing the gun show loophole on background checks. He says he likes the idea of weapons buybacks, but the sheer volume of guns in circulation mean only a sliver would be captured.

Noting that most mentally ill people aren’t violent, Brooks said, “We have to give parents with violent children an easier path into the counseling system—something less drastic than calling the cops. Let’s limit access to guns, but let’s also try to close some of the dark holes in our society where the solitary and disturbed spiral downward.” I agree.

In the face of such enlightened commentary, the NRA and its gun-toting members are circling the wagons. But are they protecting gun rights or gun manufacturers’ and dealers’ profits? And are they defending “armor-piercing” bullets designed to kill cops. Deer and elk don’t wear bulletproof vests.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose strict gun regulation policy tamed New York City, says the NRA’s political clout is overrated. Using his own money, he backed five candidates against NRA-supported choices and won four races.

In “Party Identity in a Gun Cabinet,” statistician and Times columnist Nate Silver Silver cites a “rhetorical shift” in public discourse on gun policy. “Gun control” is used less often by media; “gun rights” more often. It should be remembered that when the framers wrote the 2nd Amendment, there were only muzzle-loaded muskets. They never dreamed of semi-automatic assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition clips.


Interestingly to me, Silver also cites stats showing Republican gun ownership is more than twice that of Democrats. He seems to suggest a difference in culture. But could the difference be that more Democrats live in large cities while Republicans gravitate to rural areas?

I grew up in a safe, quiet neighborhood and never saw a gun close up. My father, a Republican from the Midwest whose father hunted ducks, married a Democrat from St. Louis. Politics weren’t discussed. We were part of the Hollywood culture where smoking and drinking were rampant but not gunplay.

When I married a WWII veteran and discovered a .45 automatic under his pillow, I was horrified. He said it made him feel secure, and insisted I learn to shoot. Raised in a family of Democrats, he switched parties when he became a landowner. I’d supported Eisenhower but opposed the Vietnam War, becoming more progressive and less aggressive. The difference in cultures was profound, but I learned why people who live out of town must rely on themselves.

When we moved to the ranch, he gave me a shotgun and a rifle and insisted I carry a pistol in my truck when hauling horses (in case of accident). Fortunately, I never had to use them.

Once, when driving through Malibu Canyon at night, three boys tried to force me off the road. Sleeping on the back seat, my dog responded by jumping up and snarling in the rear window. The teens did a fast fade. The gun was in my glove box, but using it could have had horrific consequences.

Some arguments in the current debate defy logic. Arming schoolteachers? Since most rampage shooters are ready to take their own lives, why would the threat of weapons in schools deter them?

My rancher children (staunch Republicans) have inherited my guns, but they’re rarely used. My son needed to dispatch a rabid dog and a way-too-brazen coyote, but he’s given up hunting. I’ve had to euthanize suffering animals when veterinarians were too far away. But I haven’t the heart to kill anything anymore. I relocate spiders, even tarantulas. Still, there’s a .22 revolver with bird shot shells in my garden bucket to defend children and puppies from rattlesnakes. It’s maternal instinct to defend the young and helpless.

So how much does fear drive our reactions to mass shootings and other dangers? How might fear, or revulsion, strengthen the gun culture or propel us toward understanding instead of revenge?

I’m old enough not to worry about my own safety. My turn is coming and I can only hope to go gracefully. Would I take a bullet so a child might be spared as those brave Connecticut teachers did? I hope so.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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