Some Americans really love their guns. In order to understand what is happening in this country, it is necessary to comprehend the salience of the gun issue to those who insist it is their right to keep and bear arms. You have to try to get inside their heads -- their way of thinking. Those in favor of gun ownership believe that there is safety in guns. If someone comes to their house and threatens them, they will be prepared. If someone attempts to rob them in the street, they will have a gun. If someone threatens to do bodily harm to a member of their family, they will be able to protect their loved one. Guns are recreational and can offer a way to unwind. Guns stand between individuals and their government who would harm them. Guns are constitutional, backed up by the most important set of rules we have and affirmed by the Supreme Court. As I have often said, if you put a lie detector cuff on the arm of a passionate gun owner and asked him whether he believed all the arguments that appear above, he would say "yes." In most, but not all their cases, these folks truly believe what I have written.
No matter how many polls show that Americans think that there are too many guns on our streets, the gun rights folks really don’t believe in them. In the awful, senseless shooting that recently occurred at Fort Hood, some gun supporters will tell you that the problem was not too many guns but too few. They argue that if more people were carrying weapons, the moment a deranged man started firing, someone else would fire back and take him out. The concept of taking guns away from the population is perceived as patent nonsense; namby-pamby garbage that only misguided, silly people believe in. States like Florida that allow overzealous, sometimes racist people to "stand their ground" against a perceived threat are part of our jurisprudence.
Take the case of a child who, thinking a gun is a toy, injures or kills himself or a friend. I can say there are just too many guns and you might argue that the gun should have been under lock and key and the real guilty parties are the parents who didn’t see to it that the guns were stored away. We may argue that we don’t need assault rifles, and the gun enthusiasts respond that if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
It is terribly important to remember that the people who own guns really believe in what they are saying. You can intellectualize and argue with them and tell them they are wrong until doomsday and they will think that you are misguided and dangerous. While polls show that Americans want gun control, always try to remember that most Americans have other concerns that are at least as important to them as guns. Many, if not most, gun owners will see this issue as number one on their political priority list. They will rally in front of state capitols; they will run to the polls and vote for or against a candidate on this number one issue. While no one wants to admit it, guns are part of the ideological fabric that makes up the great conservative wing of thought in this country. To the gun control folks, all that stands between them and chaos is their weapon.
When we get politicians like Andrew Cuomo on this issue, they become public enemies to the Second Amendment folks. No matter how many tragedies we witness, how many children we bury, and how many communities are destroyed, the gun lobby has a mindset that will not be changed. It really doesn’t matter what I think. I just find it very dangerous and very sad.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.