Monday August 27, 2012

RICHMOND

All we have to do is stop selling guns to people who are potentially violent or totally whacky. Then our gun troubles would be over -- only the sane and sensible would be armed to the teeth, ready to shoot only when it was sane and sensible to do so, whenever that might be.

People get training for all sorts of things, from muscles to job skills, so training must be the key to success. Gun show salesmen, gun shop owners and anyone else who sells weapons that shoot would be trained to recognize the dangerous and the demented and be authorized to "just say no" when such folks ask for guns or ammunition.

If we'd instituted these bans years ago, we would have avoided James Brady, Simon's Rock, Columbine High, Aurora. And we would have saved any number of wives, husbands and state troopers. The no-gun people could be registered, just like sex offenders.

You'd know if one lived next door.

The other problem, of course, is that the unstable and the vengeful may well live in a household of otherwise sane people who love and own guns, including assault weapons (which civilians don't need at all). It's a little harder to police access to guns that are right there in the cupboard or nightstand drawer.

Time and again, we've been told that guns don't kill people. It's people who kill people, right? That well-worn chestnut is just one of the dodges employed by the National Rifle Association as it works constantly to convince everyone that all Americans should be allowed to have weapons and secrete them in their belts, purses or pants pockets.

The NRA and its adherents cite the Constitution all the time. Most of us don't read that document often, some of us have never read it at all. But the men (all men, plus frequent, unsolicited advice from Abigail Adams to her husband) who created the Constitution pulled it together as part of the evolution of a new nation. It's doubtful they considered it eternal. Very soon, the Bill of Rights was added (and included the amendment that gun aficionados cite as giving them the right "to bear arms.").

When the Second Amendment came into being, the new nation had little in the way of an army. The community militias existed, however, and had been in place since the time of the Pilgrims in Plymouth. In the same way that volunteer fire fighters drop everything when the alarm sounds, these men grabbed their muskets and rallied to protect their villages from enemies that included, at different times, Indians, Frenchmen and Redcoats.

But even if it seems that everyone had a gun, the Founding Fathers had their rules, and they were quite rigid. As sentiment built for the American Revolution, gun ownership was denied to free blacks, slaves, criminals and non-criminal men who had not signed on to the idea of throwing the British out. As a practical matter, of course, families had guns to shoot deer, turkeys, pheasants and other animals and birds for the dinner table.

With guns comes ammunition. Those who see nothing wrong with an individual buying 6,000 rounds argue that people at shooting ranges need a ton of bullets, so they want no restrictions on how many one can buy. Perhaps some new law is needed so ammunition can be sold in units at the range, the way you buy tokens for a bucket of balls at a golf driving range.

The NRA, of course, doesn't want any new laws unless they add guns. And Congress is so fearful of NRA censure that it cannot begin to think about what is right and safe. The fact is that other countries don't give their citizens the freedom to arm that we have, and they have fewer bullet-ridden bodies, grieving families and ruined lives.

We're fast moving back toward the Wild West, which is better left to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood on late-night TV.

Ruth Bass is a novelist and free-lance writer who lives in Richmond.