August 2012
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Honesty, please, in the gun debate

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

I swore I wasn’t going to do this.

But on July 20, I woke up to again find my state in the headlines. Another coward, another killing spree, more lives needlessly lost, more innocent people injured, physically and otherwise. Columbine, Part II, this time, at a theater in Aurora, where a gunman murdered people who just wanted to see the new Batman flick.

It was inevitable the crime would spark the age-old gun-control debate. I was going to keep my mouth shut. People seem to have their minds made up — and I want to remain welcome at family Thanksgiving.

It is time, though, to be honest. So, here goes.

The National Rifle Association didn’t cause this. The Second Amendment didn’t cause this. The Tea Party didn’t cause this. The Batman franchise didn’t cause this. A gun in and of itself did not cause this — guns are inanimate objects, much like cars, in which thousands die each year.

A person, alleged to be James Holmes, caused this. Law-abiding gun owners and constitutional rights should not suffer because of what he is alleged to have done.

But honesty cuts both ways.

The carnage was greatly facilitated by the choice in weapons. The suspect didn’t use a knife, a crossbow, nunchucks, brass knuckles, a baseball bat or rocks. He criminally misused firearms and tear gas. Law-abiding gun owners should have the decency to acknowledge that fact — and its full implications.

And another bit of honesty: You cannot legislate away psychopathic behavior. The layman usually cannot anticipate when another person is unburdened by the conscience that guides others; neither criminal nor non-criminal psychopaths come labeled for our convenience. You cannot assume, “Wow, Wally, if only we had monitored everyone who shares the same passion as our latest psychopath, we coulda stopped him!”

The idea is absurd on its face, improbable, yet I saw it suggested on a supposedly objective Denver newscast the evening of July 20. An anchor complained that gun-owner registries are illegal in Colorado, and if only there had been one. . .

Also making the rounds: The idea that if theater-goers had been armed, the carnage would have been minimized. In fairness, if I were trapped in a confined space with a madman opening fire, I would feel better if I had a gun in my hand. But what good it would do in a dark theater crammed with panicking people, with tear gas raining down, is another matter. A crack shot, I am not, and I wouldn’t stake my life on anyone else in the room being a marksman in those conditions, either.

If there is such a person, is he single? If this person is a woman, does she need a new BFF? Because that is the person I am going to the movies with. Heck, it’s the person with whom I would go on a walking tour of Pakistan.

My own absurd fantasy is that I would have gone all lioness and made the gunman my gazelle if I had been there. The reality is, I wasn’t there. Had I been, I probably would have proven more ungulate than leonine: a deer in the headlights.

And don’t forget, this man was wearing body armor.

Gun rights and gun control are polarizing issues. The nattering of extremists on either side of the issues should not be allowed to dictate our response to mass shootings. Honesty should drive that response.

• There have been no “gun grabs,” and there’s little to indicate that any are on the horizon, but there has been an uptick in mass shootings.

• Guns facilitate terrible crimes that would not be half as terrible if the criminal had no access to guns. AR-15s are hella fun to shoot, but they wouldn’t be my first choice in any situation other than open warfare.

• Maybe if we policed ourselves through common sense a little more, gun-haters would lay off a little bit. Common sense, in light of the Aurora tragedy, would mean taking a firm stand in support of the victims, ideally in unity with gun-control advocates despite our differences, rather than panicking, or insisting against the face of logic that if only our friends and neighbors had been packing heat, they could have survived.

• It takes a person to pull a trigger; the NRA is right about that.

• Most guns are legal. The Second Amendment plays a key role in preserving the rest of the Bill of Rights, including the right to complain about guns.

• If you wouldn’t dream of a “registry list” for everyone who buys other legal products, such as alcohol (which also is misused and facilitates crimes), stop pushing a gun-owner registry list. And consider what good such a list would do when there is not a law enforcement agency in America with the resources to monitor it. Also carefully consider what right law enforcement has to watch anyone in absence of probable cause.

• People who would spit in the face of God by committing cold-blooded murder won’t be deterred by any gun law. And finally: Mass shootings — though they are horrible, prompt fear, and attract a lot of attention (as they should) — remain comparatively rare events. Honesty and collaboration from all of us can help keep them that way.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is a journalist and gun owner in Montrose, Colo.


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