Wednesday April 24, 2013

A few weeks before Newtown I was talking to a pro-gun friend of mine. I said I thought the 30-round pistol magazine used by the guy who wounded the congresswoman and killed six others in Arizona was ridiculous. Those things are a sort of novelty "toy" for a small number of shooters. I said no one needs one of those things for personal defense. If you can’t get the job done with 10 rounds (legally allowed in this "highly restricted" commonwealth), then maybe you should just shoot yourself. Can anyone cite one case where an innocent civilian died at the hands of a bad guy because the civilian ran out of ammo after 10 rounds?

My friend looked at me and said "You know what? You’re right. I don’t need one of those things. But I want one."

A crucial aspect of the gun debate is exactly that conflict: need vs. want. Supporters of more regulation come down firmly on the side of allowing only the firearms that people really need. There’s a lot of emphasis on hunting, as well as the argument (quite legitimate, as even my gun-loving friend conceded) that personal defense does not require exotic, militaristic weapons.

Gun proponents, on the other hand, are adamant about their right to have whatever kind of firearm they desire, and as many as they want. Why should the government interfere with my recreation? I’m no criminal. Whereas pro-regulation people are invested in the practical, reality-based fact of gun violence and the possibility of tangible solutions (laws), the pro-gun side tends to be much more abstract. It’s not so much about guns per se as it is about "liberty" and "the Constitution" and "big government." Once you get into that realm, concrete ideas become irrelevant. Paranoia that there is a secret plan to confiscate all firearms seems to be rampant, fueled by a general hostility toward the idea of government. It’s like the wacko 9-11 "truthers": how can you argue rationally with paranoids? You can’t.

I like guns. I like to shoot. I’m a lifelong gun owner and hunter. And I do worry about bureaucrats who have never held a gun in their lives and are hostile or just plain scared of guns being the ones creating oppressive regulations that punish responsible gun owners.

Paranoia aside, there are certainly people who would like to ban all firearms, period. I oppose that, so in a sense you could say the NRA is looking after my interests. And yet I’m a gun owner with an intense dislike of the NRA. Its approach to the problem of gun violence conflicts with my core values regarding citizenship, common sense, and honesty. Trotting out fear and paranoia at even the humblest, common-sense proposals-such as universal background checks is disgusting: "Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But we’ve decided not to do anything about the people, either."

I’ve never taken a safety course on how to operate my vacuum cleaner, but 45 years ago my father required me to take an NRA class on gun safety before I could hunt with the adults. The effort to get as many guns as possible into as many hands as possible without regard to who is getting them is shameful.

The NRA derives its power from its ability to tell followers how to vote. There is no greater power in a democracy. But the robotic obedience on the part of NRA members is another violation of my core values as an American: independent, critical thinking.

I certainly consult various viewpoints and authorities on issues, but nobody tells me how to vote. I wish that was an attitude shared by more gun owners.

ARNE WALDSTEIN

Housatonic