IN THE WAKE of the murderous rampage in Newtown, I found a longtime friend’s post on Facebook gripping. He is a retired career military officer, and a wounded Marine combat veteran of Vietnam — hardly the stuff of bleeding-hearts. He wrote:
“I’m a gun owner. That said, mass murder is generally not committed using a ball bat, a car, a bow and arrow, knife or ax. The hunting rifle, 6-shot revolver, shotgun or the crossbow are not weapons of choice for someone intent on making an evermore spectacular exit from life. In the face of repeated massacres of shoppers and school children, arguments for easy public access to assault weapons or high capacity handguns are wearing thinner every day.”
JOE SCARBOROUGH is a former four-term conservative Republican congressman from Florida — a man who received 100% approval from the National Rifle Association while in office — who now makes his living with the “Morning Joe” talkfest on MSNBC. Scarborough chats it up from a right-center perspective, but doesn’t do long-form commentary.
Until Monday morning, when he called for a reassessment of America’s paralysis on the issues of guns, mental illness and our violence-glorifying culture. One of the most powerful moments in his dissertation came when he quoted Lincoln, from an 1838 speech delivered in Springfield.
Lincoln said: “Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”
I, TOO, AM a gun owner, as are my sons. I grew up in rural America and learned by my father’s hand how to properly handle firearms. I’m a firm believer in Second Amendment rights for sport, to protect my family, for peace of mind, for American heritage and tradition.
But no one needs military-style assault weapons. No one needs ammo magazines that can hold 30 or more cartridges. No one needs armor piercing bullets.
Those who defend such firepower will find themselves increasingly isolated. Consider the stance of Wisconsin state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, one of the leading majority legislators, who told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel part of the problem is that Wisconsin’s new concealed carry law banned possession of weapons at schoolhouses.
“When you single out that schools will not have that option, that signals to perpetrators and that is an issue. I think we need to talk about it, advertising where people aren’t able to protect themselves.”
Seriously? How did that work out for Jared Loughner’s victims outside a Safeway in Arizona? Or James Holmes’ victims at a movie theater in Colorado? Or Radcliffe Haughton’s victims at the Azana Spa in Brookfield?
DARLING’S HARDLINE allegiance to opposition of any and all talk about sensible limitations is as stupid as the arguments of others that gun-control legislation alone could solve the problem. There is no magic. Danger will always be part of life. But that doesn’t mean we should tolerate closed-minded leaders who say we’re politically powerless to take any rational action to protect ourselves and our children. The argument that anything less than the free flow of weapons and ammunition is a violation of citizen sovereignty is, in a word, absurd.
I dare say few Americans believe more strongly in First Amendment rights than I do. But I also accept that First Amendment rights are not absolute. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes defined it, noting one cannot shout fire in a crowded theater. Neither can one peddle porn to first-graders.
Second Amendment rights also must be subject to sensible regulation. The do-nothing politicians must be made to fear voters more than they fear the gun lobby’s special interests. Continued inaction on weapons-of-choice for assassins must end.
IT REMAINS TRUE, however, that guns don’t kill people — people kill people. Therefore, addressing gun issues is, at best, just an incremental improvement. The recurring theme in these mass slaughters is mental illness. America’s mental health system is dangerously deficient when it comes to identifying disturbed individuals and intervening.
We should also ask: Why are the killers always — or nearly always — young men? What’s wrong with our boys? Could the marketing to boys of violent video games and other Hollywood fare be a factor?
I will not even try to suggest an approach for reforming America’s mental health system. Instead, I urge readers to absorb the message of a mother published below. Consider it an urgent cry for help. Consider it a stark challenge to our dysfunctional, polarized political system.
William R. Barth is the Editor of the Beloit Daily News.