February 2011

FEBRUARY 2011: He Says, She Says - Gun Control

Author: Keith Kelson & Jean Wharton | Photographer: Photography by Anne

Gun control is one of the more divisive issues in American politics. I have a healthy respect for guns, and I have no problem with any law-abiding citizen owning a gun. You’ll notice that I said law-abiding. If you’re a convicted criminal or are mentally disturbed, you shouldn’t be allowed to purchase or legally carry a firearm.

That said, I do believe that there are certain guns that shouldn’t be in the hands of the civilian population. I might get some flack from the gun collectors, but I believe if you take the semi-automatic handguns and rifles off the market, the gun control debate would be less heated.

I grew up here in the South Carolina Lowcountry, and I remember plenty of folks who actually hunted to help put food on the table. Deer, rabbit and duck were the animals usually hunted by the local men, but from time to time, you’d hear about them hunting wild pigs as well. I don’t recall any local gun collectors; if there were any about during my childhood, they flew way under the radar. I’m positive that no one during my childhood was using a semi-automatic handgun like a Glock to put food on the table. More often than not, modern semi-automatic handguns and rifles are used for hunting people, and that’s simply unacceptable.

Now, most politicians don’t really want to touch the issue of gun control for fear of alienating prospective voters, but they ought to cowboy up and tackle the issue head on. It’s really simple: Ban the manufacture and sale of semi-automatic handguns and assault rifles. Unless you’re a member of law enforcement, in the military or a super secret agent like James Bond, there’s no need for any civilian to own a semi-automatic handgun or rifle.

I’m well aware that gun control is a slippery issue. On the surface it seems that the only deterrent to the criminal element in society is to be better armed than the criminals. That arms race will always be won by the criminals. No matter what you do, short of hiring a small battalion, the criminals are always going to be slightly ahead of the average citizen. Being criminals, they don’t have to worry about trivial things like laws, a sense of honor and fair play. It’s one of the perks of being a criminal—that and the fact that they don’t pay income taxes or have to stand in long lines to get into the hottest night spots.

There is no easy answer. Guns are weapons that are dangerous in the wrong hands. Waiting periods and background checks can only do so much, as there’s just no way to conduct accurate mental health checks on every customer wanting to purchase a gun. A person could also suffer a mental breakdown days, months or years after legally purchasing a gun.

I am all for having better regulations in place for who can sell guns, and I would eliminate the pawn shop owners from gun sales or re-sales. You’re either going to be a gun dealer or own a pawn shop—not both. I don’t want to sound like an elitist, but the average pawn shop is filled with more criminals on a daily basis than the average casino in Vegas on a Friday night. Criminals and guns make a bad combination, and when you throw in a profit motive, you’re just asking for trouble. Regulating who can sell guns legally is a step in the right direction.

I worked security for a number of years, and I have friends and family members in law enforcement and in the military. I’ve yet to hear any of them recommend that civilians carry semi-automatic weapons. A quick glance at the so-called “shooting rampages” that have occurred over the last decade or so reveals one thing in common: a semi-automatic weapon. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to look at that data and see that it’s not a coincidence.

I believe that every law-abiding citizen should be able to protect himself, but just like you can’t drive a Formula One race car on the streets, there should be a limit to the kind of firearms available to the general public. The lawmakers need to step up to the plate and do the right thing for the country.

I don’t own a gun and have zero intention of ever owning a gun. I did not grow up in a home where guns were present, and I have never fired a gun. I have no way of knowing how to go about getting a gun. Can I buy one? Do I have to have a special license? Am I allowed to keep it in my apartment? I am uneducated when it comes to the process of owning a gun. Now that I’ve acknowledged my ignorance, I’ll give you my opinion. Is it too easy to own a gun? Yes. Is there much we can do about it? No. If you can buy a gun at Wal-Mart, it is beyond our regulatory control.

Our founding fathers considered gun ownership a right, second only to being permitted to speak freely; more important than our right to not house troops without our consent and our right to have a trial by a jury of our peers. If James Madison were to ask me today which of the 10 amendments I’d give up, I think that bearing a firearm would be the first on my list. Not because I don’t think that people should own guns, but I personally haven’t benefited from a gun. (Well that’s not true. In my meat eating days, I did enjoy some venison hunted by a friend.) Free speech is the only amendment I actively taken part in, and I would have a greater issue being censored than giving up the right to bear arms.

No matter your point of view on the constitutional right to own a gun, we as Americans have to admit that we have an embarrassing epidemic of violence in our society, much of which is gun related. As I write, the news in the background is updating me about the shooting of an Arizona congresswoman and several others—shooting which occurred in broad daylight at a very public venue. Beaufort County has suffered in the wake of recent fatal shootings. If guns weren’t so readily available, would either of these news-making events have occurred? Probably not, but access to firearms is only part of the problem. The alleged shooter in Tuscan obtained his gun legally, yet was deemed mentally unfit to enlist in the military. That seems like a pretty glaring loophole in the system.

Everyone who owns a gun should certainly be required to obtain firearm education—basic gun safety seems like a given. But not all handgun owners (of which there are hundreds of millions) are considering safety when purchasing a gun. “Gun safety” seems like a contradiction in terms. Like many things in our society today, we’ve have veered so far from the point of origin that we no longer recognize the path we have taken. Americans can be horrified by gun violence and pray for peace, but we are not going to repeal the Second Amendment.

As a teacher, my solution to this problem (and so many others) is education. Responsible gun owners should teach their children the same. An even better solution is to create a world in which people use their restraint as a weapon—giving children platforms and outlets to express anger, fear, hopelessness and rage so that they grow up cultivating nonviolent resources they can put to use in their own defense.

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