After Newtown

 

After the horrible rampage in Newtown, CT, there have been so many radio and TV programs, op-ed articles, editorials, and other expressions of anguish, puzzlement, and opinion regarding what to do about the staggering and shameful extent of gun-related violence in the United States of America, that it is hard to add anything that seems to me intelligent or even helpful to the debate.  Nevertheless, as gun-owner myself for nearly 70 of my 80-some years, I will add my two cents worth. As I see it, to cover the topic comprehensively, one has to deal with three levels.

        The first is physical, that is, in this debate, with the guns themselves. Back when the Second Amendment to the Constitution was written, about the only kind of firearms that existed, other than cannons for the military, were single shot, muzzle-loading rifles and shot-guns, rather unpredictably ignited by a piece of flint striking a hinged metal cover over a shallow “pan” of powder that was fastened alongside a little hole drilled in the barrel -- so that hopefully some of that “flash in the pan” would set off the powder in the barrel.  But even then, the results were so unpredictable and, unless the bore of the barrel was grooved or “rifled”, generally inaccurate, that Benjamin Franklin seriously proposed that some of the Continental Army units be equipped with crossbows instead of guns. Then, in the 1840s, came Samuel Colt’s first cap and ball revolvers, which enabled a soldier or for that matter, almost anyone, to shoot off a half a dozen shots in quick succession, and as a result, murder rates by firearms soon began to rise. Then, not long after the Civil War, the all-metal cartridge was invented, combining bullet, powder, and percussion cap all into one compact package, making the reloading of a revolver or repeating rifle a fairly simple and quick operation, raising the death toll even higher. But by the third decade of the 20th century, the nation had seen enough mayhem, and hand-held machine guns (nick-named “Tommy-guns”) -- favored by the criminal gangs along with sawed-off shotguns -- were finally banned from civilian ownership and use by federal law. At that point, even gun-rights organizations, like the NRA, seemed to recognize that enough was enough.

But, today, after a brief period of sanity, we have again allowed civilian ownership of so-called semi-automatic “assault rifles”, favored by the latest crop of mass-murders, and which were never designed for any sporting use but for soldiers in combat -- where stopping to take aim can get you killed -- and can even be easily altered to fire like machine guns, especially with large capacity ammunition clips. So again banning them from civilian ownership or use still makes a lot of sense. Yet the fact remains that most run-of-the-mill murderers still use handguns, and these are increasingly semi-automatics, thus in fire-power, hardly less lethal that the scary-looking assault rifles, at least at close range.  So the question now is again, where or how do you draw a line?

        The second factor is psychological, that is the mental or emotional state of the

gun-owner or user him/herself.  As one strongly pro-gun advocate recently said, if we require automobiles to be licensed and a driver’s license for someone to operate one, why not require the same for gun ownership or for their use? (In fact, we already do the latter to some extent – they are called “hunting licenses”.)  So the idea of requiring a background check and or a permit to purchase a gun of any sort makes a whole lot of sense –- providing it becomes a federal law enforced with equal strictness in all 50 states, because, as we have seen in Connecticut, strict state laws, or in Chicago, even stricter city laws, just don’t work.  Permits to own or to carry a gun, just like a driver’s license, also need to be renewed on a regular basis, enforced strictly, and probably should include some kind of psychological test or assessment each time, because people do change. 

No doubt, that last suggestion would especially raise a howl of protest, but one which all the more raises a third factor, one which is ultimately spiritual. Jim Wallis, who is probably this nation’s most outspoken, and in my book, the most genuine Evangelical churchman of all who those who claim that title, pretty much hit the nail on the head when after Newtown he denounced the American love-affair with firearms as a form of idolatry, the worship of a false god, and a sin against the first Commandment.  And while I have to admit as a long-time gun owner that I find that to be pretty strong language, I still have to admit that if Jesus warned us that “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword”, it is probably all the more true when that sword has been replaced by a gun.

 

R W Kropf 2/22/13                                             After Newtown.doc  13-02-22.html