I don’t own a gun. Never have, never will.
If you read this space regularly, that’s probably not a surprise to you. I’m 59 years old, and I’ve managed to walk the streets — even a few mean ones — without ever feeling like I needed one. If I did carry one, I’m probably one of the people who would accidentally kill a loved one, an innocent stranger or myself.
It’s at this point where most people writing about this subject from my point of view usually say, “But I believe in the Second Amendment, and a person’s right to have a weapon.”
That’s the course a lot of politicians and many pacifist writers take, generally, because they don’t want to tick off the National Rifle Association or be seen as a wimp. Well, I’m not running for any office, and I’ve read so many hate letters and emails from NRA members and what I’ll politely call “gun enthusiasts” that nothing surprises me about what they say anymore. Their guns could hurt me, but not their words.
But if you feel compelled to write a hateful comment at the conclusion of this column, go ahead. That’s your First Amendment right, and I would never want to be accused of taking it away from you.
As for the Second Amendment, it’s like the First. It may help protect us, but it’s not absolute. We don’t have the right to threaten to kill someone, whether it’s using words or a weapon. It’s legal to carry a gun in most places in this country, because society has made that choice. In Wyoming, if you have 75 bucks and you can pass a background check and take a single gun safety course, you have the right to carry a concealed weapon.
If it makes you feel safer, go ahead. But I think reasonable people should agree that you don’t have the right to carry any type of weapon any place you want to, including to a school or college, or on private property when the owner says it’s not welcome.
I think we need to recognize the role of public safety in everyday life. You may obey all of the laws and believe no person or government should keep you from taking a gun any damn place you want to have it. But there are restrictions that have been placed on their legality that have developed over time, and the reason you can’t conceal a weapon at an educational institution or most governmental meetings is because other people don’t feel safe if you do.
The Wyoming House wants to change those rules and allow guns pretty much anywhere except a courtroom. I’m glad lawmakers at least see it’s not a good idea to allow people to pack heat in a volatile place where judges and juries and lawyers make comments and decisions many people may not be happy about.
But a city council or legislative meeting or public school are also places where it doesn’t make sense to say the Second Amendment gives you the absolute right to bring your gun and holster. It doesn’t, because we’ve made reasonable regulations against doing so. The Wyoming House may believe the gun laws in this state need to be changed, but I hope the Wyoming Senate has enough sense and wisdom to say those guys and gals at the other end of the Capitol didn’t make a good decision, and stop them from carrying it out.
I’m sick and tired of hearing the argument that gun-rights absolutists always make whenever there’s a mass shooting somewhere: If only people in the school or shopping mall or movie theater had weapons, everybody would be safer. They maintain the good guys will simply pick off the bad guys, and no one will ever get caught in the crossfire and up the body count because some people want to pretend they’re Dirty Harry.
Do I feel safer knowing a hero-in-waiting sitting next to me at a ball game is going to try to protect all of us? I do not. Primarily because if he starts shooting at an assailant, he’s liable to hit an innocent bystander or two, maybe even more. And if the shooter starts aiming at him, I’m the guy who may end up in a body bag.
A lot of NRA members will say I don’t know what I’m talking about, and that trained, law-abiding citizens need to be able to defend themselves as well as the poor, brainless idiots like me who won’t buy a gun.
Last month a Texas group, The Truth About Guns, wanted to prove that people are safer when some in the crowd are armed, so they devised a demonstration to prove it. They did a re-enactment of the Charlie Hebdo mass shooting in Paris, arming one of the people who portrayed the magazine’s staff. In their world, gun rights advocates know for a fact that a well-armed citizenry will stop any attack.
But in the Charlie Hebdo experiment, that’s not what happened. The group staged the massacre at the magazine nine times, using paintballs, and the results probably made the NRA faint: There was never an example of the armed staff taking out both of the shooters; it was either one or none. And when they did manage to hit one, only two were “fatal” shots.
Meanwhile, all but one person who died during the real tragedy were also killed in the re-enactment, and this gun-carrying sole survivor didn’t use a gun to save himself, he used his legs. He ran from the scene when the paintballs started flying. Good for him.
The Texas gun group didn’t have to make their experiment public, but I’ll give it credit for not hiding the facts and giving the world an example that — sorry about this — shot holes in the NRA’s longstanding “truth.”
I’ll end with a little day brightener for people who are shaking their heads at my inability to protect myself, my family and those around me.
I have fired very few weapons in my time. Occasionally, for the sake of a better story, I’ve tried my (shaky) hand at it, with less than stunning results.
Years ago, I did a feature on a man who lives near Cheyenne who wanted — for a reason I can’t even remember — to promote musket shooting. He loaded the rifle with black powder, and pointed to a target that seemed so far in the distance I thought he was kidding.
“Now that’s got a pretty powerful kick,” he told me about the weapon he placed in my hands. He didn’t lie — after my shot, I was propelled backward with alarming speed, and only someone behind me stopping my fall kept me from hitting the ground and landing on my butt.
Back sort of steady on my feet, I looked at the target. “Did I hit it?” I asked. No, the laughter from my new companions told me my shot wasn’t even remotely close. I did prove, though, that I can hit the broad side of a barn, even if I wasn’t aiming at one.
So if the Wyoming Repeal Gun-Free Zone Act passes and is signed into law, don’t sit by me at a city council meeting or a high school football game if you want to feel safe. As I’ve just confided, I’m not going to protect you and be able to save us if anyone tries to take out some spectators. The best I can offer you is some snarky and hopefully amusing comments about whatever action is going on in the council room or on the field.
I know, it’s not much. But take comfort in the fact that if I was armed, I’d probably accidentally shoot someone testifying or selling popcorn in my attempt to protect you. You don’t want that on your conscience, do you?
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