People up with which Blawgletter grew adored guns. They loved to look at them, handle them, clean them, buy them, hunt with them, display them, target-shoot with them, sight them, sell them, talk about them, load them, unload them, compare them, oil them, swap them, put scopes on them, make ammo for them, and nickname them.
They also treated firearms with respect. They tended to anyway. People looked down on the few who didn't hold in awe the power to kill and maim of rifles, shotguns, and pistols. You called those folks trashy -- or, in our love-the-sinner but hate-the-sin world view -- called those folks' disdain for the safety of others trashy.
(We've had a love-jones with guns ourselves, by the way. Just above here you can see our first firearm -- a 20-gauge Harrington & Richardson single-shot, with which we bagged a Fair Number of fowl, including dove, duck, and quail, and dusted many more skeet. Boy Scouts gave us safety training, in part courtesy of the National Rifle Association. And one of our all-time favorite books, Shooter's Bible, provided many hours of browsing enjoyment.)
The people we grew up with felt something close to the same way about cars and truck -- from big ones to little ones, fast ones to grandmaws, rag-tops to pickups, and on and on. But the great majority, while seeing nothing wrong with car- and truck-love, had the same dislike for reckless conduct on the road. Trashy conduct.
Threat to safety?
Vendors know how to appeal to the impulses that cause the mouth to water and send the pulse racing at the sight of a Bushmaster ACR as well as a Class 5 Ram 550 Crew Cab with dually tires. A great many of the buyers have no need for such extreme products. Yet, in a country that has become 80.7 percent urban, Ford and Chevy pickups sell more than any other vehicles, with Rams not far behind.
(You can see a mild example of a faux-farmer truck in the photo above.)
But does coveting the military style of a high-caliber, semi-automatic rifle or drooling over the sleek, low-to-the-ground profile of a Corvette pose a threat to the safety of anyone other than the coveters and droolers?
No. Because those things in themselves do not amount to misuse. A bit trashy, perhaps. Unseemly, maybe. Gauche, sure. But not the kind of thing that by its nature tends to hurt others.
The notion that all we need is better enforcement of our current federal laws has been a core argument of the gun lobby for years in its fight against sensible restrictions on guns in our communities. But that argument is a straw man. It masks the fact that many Americans don’t really know what gun laws are on the books and falsely construes that to mean they don’t want common-sense gun laws passed — when they clearly do. What Americans strongly believe, and what is at the core of the president’s reform agenda, is that with rights come responsibilities.
The second piece, the Q&A, has a business column-writer, Joe Nocera, talking with Dan Baum, the author of a new (but pre-Sandy Hook) book, Gun Guys: A Road Trip. Baum regards gun guys as key to making people safer in a populace that already bristles with 300 million firearms. And he says we need to enlist their help, partly by calling on them to -- and perhaps by passing laws that will make them -- take responsibility for gun misuse:
You need gun owners — the “gun guys” as I call them. They are the custodians of the guns. I also think, though, that gun guys need to take their responsibility as gun owners seriously. A lot of gun owners are perfectly fine, for instance, with universal background checks. I know I am. They are fine with it so long as it doesn’t lead to a database and de facto registration.
Gun guys need to lock ’em up; gun guys need to take our responsibility to us much more seriously.
For his part, Nocera seems to think most people shouldn't have guns at all. And his newspaper has little good to say about the NRA and other strong advocates of what they call second-amendment rights.
The public's confusion about existing gun laws and the common sense of gun guys seem to present an opportunity for progress in enhancing gun safety. And we think the chance turns on the question of when does trashy (unsafe) conduct with guns become misuse of guns (and abuse of gun rights)?
Recent history furnishes an analogue. In 1980, a California mother who lost her daughter to a drunk driver started what has become Mothers Against Drunk Driving. MADD now has a budget north of $45 million. And it has done a teriffic job of getting states and Congress to enact tougher laws against one of the worst misuses you can think of for motor vehicles -- operating them while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In our home, the great State of Texas, where MADD now has its headquarters, drivers could tool around while swigging a longneck all the way until Sept. 2001. The Lone Star State only two years before had switched from .10 as the legal limit for blood alcohol content to .08. We changed the rules because in 1998 Congress passed the Transportation Equity Act, which included what it called "Alcohol Programs". The feds made us do it, with the money stick.
It worked. Between 1998 and 2008, fatal car accidents that involved at least one driver with a blood alcohol content of .08 or more fell (to 1,146 from 1,223) in Texas despite a 15+ percent growth in population. The rate has held steady, hovering at 1,200 per year, while we continue to grow. That is a sad statistic, but at least it marks progress.
The focus on misuse has, more than anything else, made MADD a success. What normal person would support misuse? Would the NRA?
Which raises the question of whether a like organization that centers on misuse of guns would do as well.
We suspect so. Call it MAGMA -- Mothers Against Gun Misuse, in America.
The key, we think, consists in how we answer the question of what counts as misuse, versus the low-brow trashiness that repels many city and other non-gun people. The approach has to stress misuse -- not ownership, not shooting in gun ranges, and not normal features of the gun itself. Misuse. MIS. USE.
- handling a gun while under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- letting someone else handle a gun while under such influence;
- allowing a mentally ill person handle, or have access to, a gun;
- failing to keep a gun in a secure place;
- selling a gun to a stranger;
- having inadequate training to use a particular kind of gun or to use it in a particular way;
- owning way more guns than you could possibly need;
- failing to register your purchase or sale of a gun; and
- buying a bunch of guns in a short period of time.
Enacting new laws will not of course do the whole job. MAGMA would have to keep the pressure up to give the laws teeth and to enforce them with vigor.
What do you think?