The picture on the front page of yesterdays News & Observer was more than an illustration of a Christmastime retail transaction. There, on a wall in a Wendell gun shop, were some heavy duty guns, which appeared to be military-style assault rifles. A customer stood in front of the wall examining an AR-15 assault rifle.
Across North Carolina and the United States, gun shops reported business beyond brisk. But, some retailers muted the availability of assault-style weapons. Such is the confusion in our feelings about firearms.
Weapons of the type that Adam Lanza used to murder 20 schoolchildren and six school staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., were flying off the shelves, along with ammunition magazines capable of holding 30 rounds or more. Lanzas large magazine enabled him to keep firing without reloading.
The question that came to the minds of other Americans was, Why? These types of weapons are not for hunting, and theyre not antique collectibles. Theyre intended for military use, but they have become wildly popular despite large price tags.(The AR-15 being looked at in Wendell cost over $2,300.) Thus, the only explanation of their potential use would be for personal protection. Thats a lot of protection.
And against whom? The Joneses next door? No. Against the government, when President Obama sends in the troops to confiscate all citizens weapons? That fanciful notion may indeed be on the minds of some. But it seems, from the interesting explanations of shoppers, that there is a fear of something even they cant really pinpoint. A threat of some kind.
The real threat
We know some threats: a military assault weapon and other high-power guns in the hands of disturbed people who shouldnt have them. Four times in his first term, the president has gone to places where gun violence took innocent lives.
The latest tragedy seems to have spurred a call to action. Avid hunter Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, top-rated by the National Rifle Association as a pro-gun sort of fellow, says its time to talk about guns. There is a movement afoot to reinstall a ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004 after 10 years. That should be done immediately. After all, the ban did not bring an end to gun-buying or collecting or result in a government assault on freedom.
Large ammunition magazines should be banned, period. They have a use in war, but not in a law-abiding society.
And Manchins right in suggesting that its time for discussion. The United States has more guns in the hands of private citizens than other countries where gun violence is not as serious a problem. More guns, less regulation. Does that make sense?
And then there are folks like those in the Asheville Tea Party, who to benefit the groups political action committee, are raffling off a semiautomatic rifle and a handgun. Its hard to put into words the insensitivity and outrageousness of this act. This is nothing short of shameful.
The gun culture in the United States facilitates violence. It makes a disturbed person a highly dangerous person. It indulges the fears of people, who are spending their hard-earned money on powerful guns, that theyre under threat from the government or from groups that mean them harm.
We need to regulate firearms, but we also need to find out where these fears are coming from, and how they might be confronted without violence. Are the assault weapon fanciers, for example, uncomfortable with the fact that America is becoming more diverse in population? Are these stockpiles of weapons somehow seen as a protection against that change?
President Obama must seize this opportunity to protect citizens not just through new laws but to help them understand the reasons for them. Firearms advocates and those who believe in more limits need to understand each other, and seek common ground in the nations best interest. The children of Newtown deserve no less.