Ford: Gun rights we can live with

steve.ford@newsobserver.comJuly 28, 2012 

Readers of Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows” are allowed to overhear the Water Rat advise the Mole, who admits to being a lifelong land-lubber, that “there is nothing – absolute nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Many Americans would add: “unless it’s messing about with guns.”

There’s plenty of honest pleasure to be derived from all the perfectly legal things one can do with firearms.

The sport of target shooting – an Olympic event, in several different formats – rewards practice and discipline.

Hunting, as a test of outdoor skills and a touchstone of tradition, has its place if done with proper regard for safety and conservation. Although it isn’t for everyone. I’ve shot just one animal, a fox that my father spotted near our house in rural Fairfax County, Va., and decided to use his shotgun on.

When the fox didn’t drop, my father handed me the gun and told me to find him and finish him off. There was snow on the ground. I followed the tracks and the blood into the woods and found the fox in some underbrush. Heroically I let him have it. Then I pulled him out and took him home. We cut off his bushy tail and tied it to my bike’s handlebars, where it remained for longer than it should have. I was 11 or 12.

Firearms themselves, as objects of craftsmanship, can inspire the collector and put him in touch with long-running themes in our nation’s history.

Who can doubt that the independence-minded colonists’ access to guns and skill at using them aided our revolution? And the right to keep and bear arms, although arguably tied to the existence of a citizens’ militia, is not in dispute.

Too bad that messing about with guns gets so many people killed.

Yes, those doing the messing too often are criminals. Too often they’re people who are so many bubbles off plumb they shouldn’t be allowed to mess with a water pistol, let alone the kind of firepower that James Holmes carried into that Colorado theater to unleash bloody mayhem.

The impulse to take responsibility for protecting one’s own life and property, and that of one’s family, is powerful. It leads people to build their own personal arsenals, to obtain the permits needed to carry concealed handguns in public, to resist efforts to make gun ownership less convenient.

It also seems to veer into a kind of paranoia, a heightened sense of grievance and resentment toward those who suggest that the balance between individual gun rights and overall public safety needs tweaking.

Even the reporting of basic factual information about patterns of gun ownership can provoke a reaction that would be comical in its hysterical fervor if it weren’t chilling as an example of how irrational some gun rights advocates have become.

WRAL-TV learned that lesson recently when it posted an online, searchable data base showing how concealed carry permits are distributed in the Triangle.

The database allows for searches by street name – listing carry permits associated with a given street, but not showing permit-holders’ names or specific addresses.

The main objection was that if someone with a permit lived on a street with only a few houses, perhaps just one, the location of a weapon could be deduced. Not inconceivable, but anyone thinking of burglarizing such a house might want to contemplate looking down the business end of an unconcealed firearm carried just far enough to blow him away.

As The N&O reported last week, WRAL reporter Mark Binker was subjected to a barrage of bullying from a gun rights group called Grass Roots North Carolina. More helpful, in the aftermath of the Colorado horror show, would have been an honest effort by the group to help square the undeniable rights of gun owners with the equally undeniable need to exert more sensible control over the firearms marketplace.

Holmes stockpiled huge amounts of ammo, bought online with zero regulation. He bought a 100-round magazine for his semi-automatic rifle. No, no, no. The Second Amendment leaves a world of room for laws that would make it harder for someone to commit the atrocity that Holmes committed.

The suggestion has been made, for example, that bulk ammo sales be limited to people who are members of shooting clubs or ranges. (A suitably cautious range operator turned down Holmes’ membership application.) That would not infringe on underlying gun rights and it might curb episodes of mass murder by homicidal loners.

Firearms aren’t going away, whether for sports, personal security or war. But we can do a much better job of keeping them and their ancillary gear away from people who are nothing but a menace to the rest of us. Gun rights folks: Get off your power trips and help figure out how to make this a society where guns are less of a danger to people who maybe just want to see a movie.

Editorial page editor Steve Ford can be reached at 919-829-4512 or at steve.ford@newsobserver.com.

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