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Guns without roses

Opinion Column

Unlike many who recently have joined the debate about gun rights, I have a long history with guns, which I proffer only in the interest of pre-empting the "elitist, liberal, swine, prostitute, blahblahblah" charge.

I grew up in a home with guns, lots of them, and was taught early how to shoot, care for firearms and treat them respectfully. My father's rules were simple: Never point a gun at someone unless you intend to shoot them; if you intend to shoot, aim to kill.

Dear ol' dad was a law-and-order guy — a lawyer, judge and World War II veteran who did everything by the book — except when it came to guns. Most memorable among his many lectures was a confidence: "There is only one law in the land that I would break," he told me. "I will never register my guns."

I suppose if he hadn't also opposed bumper stickers, he might have attached the one about "cold dead fingers" to his fender. He also might have liked a slogan I read recently: "With guns, we are citizens; without them, we are subjects."

By today's standards my father would be considered a gun nut, but his sentiments were understandable in the context of his time. Like others of his generation, he had witnessed Germany's disarming of its citizenry and the consequences thereafter. Thus, the slippery slope of which gun rights advocates speak is not without precedent or reason.

But the history of gun control laws is not without contradictions and ironies that belie the current insistence that guns-without-controls is the ipso facto of originalist America. In fact, the federal government of our Founders made gun ownership mandatory for white males, while denying others — slaves and later freedmen — the privilege.

Today, the most vociferous defenders of gun rights tend to be white, rural males who oppose any regulation. But theirs was once the ardently held position of radical African-Americans. Notably, in the 1960s, Black Panthers Bobby Seale and Huey Newton toted guns wherever they went to make a point: Blacks needed guns to protect themselves in a country that wasn't quite ready to enforce civil rights.

In one remarkable incident in May 1967, as recounted in The Atlantic by UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, 24 men and six women, all armed, ascended the California capitol steps, read a proclamation about gun rights and proceeded inside — with their guns, which was legal at the time.

Needless to say, conservatives, including then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, were suddenly very, very interested in gun control. That afternoon, Reagan told reporters there was "no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons."

The degree of one's allegiance to principle apparently depends mainly on who is holding the gun.

While black activists were adamant about their right to protect themselves, the National Rifle Association wasn't much interested in the constitutional question until the mid-'70s when an organizational split produced a new leader, Harlon Carter, who was dedicated to advocacy and determined to dig a deep line in the Beltway sand.

The Second Amendment debate about what the Founders intended was clarified in 2008 when the U.S. Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller determined that the right of the people to keep and bear arms included individuals, not just a "well-regulated militia." However, as Winkler pointed out, Justice Antonin Scalia's opinion left wiggle room for exceptions, including prohibitions related to felons and the mentally ill. Scalia was not casting doubt, the justice wrote, on "laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."

This still leaves open the loophole of private sales that do not require background checks, which President Obama wants to close. We will hear more about this in coming weeks, but the call meanwhile to ban assault weapons or limit magazines in the wake of the horrific mass murder of children and others at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut is hardly draconian. It won't solve the problem of mentally disturbed people exacting weird justice from innocents, but it might limit the toll. Having to stop one's rampage to reload rather breaks the spell, or so one would imagine.

One also imagines that the old Reagan would say there's no reason a citizen needs an assault weapon or a magazine that can destroy dozens of people in minutes. He would certainly be correct and, in a sane world, possibly even electable.

Email Kathleen Parker kathleenparker@washpost.com.

Comments

waltspecht 1 year, 8 months ago

Unfortunately your Father didn't teach you just how fast a knowledgable individual could reload. He also must not have ever shown you what a shotgun could do to a wet Sears Catalog. A useful training tool for all shooters. Even a hollowpoint 22 Long Rifle leaves a most impressive hole. Now you will have to use someother catalog these days, but it does display the distructiveness of a firearm. Semi Automatic weapons are no different than any others. With proper training, the speed at which non-semiauto weapons can be discharged is nothing short of amazing. Also, I understand the shooter accomplished 3 magazine changes during the carnage. Facing no resistance, he could have easily accomplished ten changes in just a few seconds more than those took. Why do you not look at the State of Vermont. There are currently no restrictions on concealed carry, or weapon posession. They had two firearms murders in 2011. It is the people that make the differance. The people that feel they have the right to steal, kill and main don't seem to exist in the numbers in Vermont as those we have in NYC and Washington DC. Figure out what Vermont is doing right, and the rest are doing wrong. For it has very little to do with weapons access, and everything to do with the people that have access.

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outsidelookinin 1 year, 8 months ago

I couldn't have said it better. Limiting the number of rounds in a magazine will not stop the deranged from committing horrific crimes. The term "assault weapons" is simply a fear tactic. More assaults have been committed using hammers and knives than guns.

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Nous_Defions 1 year, 8 months ago

It seem this person that wrote this opinion piece, Ms. Parker, has not actually read the US Constitution, she wrote:

But the history of gun control laws is not without contradictions and ironies that belie the current insistence that guns-without-controls is the ipso facto of originalist America. In fact, the federal government of our Founders made gun ownership mandatory for white males, while denying others — slaves and later freedmen — the privilege.

That is incorrect, no where in the Constitution does it specify who cannot bear arms. Actually it was the states that enacted laws specifying who could bear arms. See this essay " Disarm the Negroes, the Racist Roots of Georgias Gun Laws" by Georgia Carry.org : link text and on a local level, "The Bloody Legacy of the Camilla Massacre" : link text More research at: link text,

and while you are there please join Georgia Carry, the state's pre-eminent gun rights organization.

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B4it 1 year, 8 months ago

It is indeed an insult to intelligent thinkers when FACTS are not taken into consideration for those expressing their emotional opinions on gun controls. Thank you to the above for the facts (Walt... Outside... and Nous...).

What is even scarier than the uninformed on proper gun useage, are the politicians who may be expressing their views and considering voting on useless legislation based on being caught up in their emotions rather than the FACTS (such as limiting ammo magazines) . Once politicians start making laws based on emotions, we are certainly headed in the wrong direction.

Consider the following: Some frequently write that there is no need for multiple round magazines for weapons in our society. What if politicians started making laws to restrict other excessive wants such as sports cars with high capacity horse power (these fast cars have killed before - or was it the drivers fault?), or houses with over 10,000 square feet of living space (who needs that much room?), or even taking land away from farmers because they do not need more than XXX acres? Do you start the see the problem with making these types of emotional and opinionated decisions without considering the FACTS? THINK!!!

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MRM 1 year, 8 months ago

The government's solution to problems caused by a few evil people is to regulate and limit the rights of the rest of us. That is unacceptable! One nut job carries a bomb in his shoe and as a result the (then Republican led) government imposes the Patriot Act and we all have to wait in line up to an hour and have our person and personal belongings searched (without a warrant) before we can board a plane. Another nut job goes into a public building (a school where he knows no one is armed) and shoots two dozen people and the government's (now led by Democrats) solution is to ban the sale weapons that can fire more than ten rounds.

Problems like these are not solved by more laws and regulations restricting individual freedom. Problems like these are solved by holding individuals responsible and liable for their actions. Punish the law breakers, not the law abiding. No law abiding person should object to a background checks before a gun can be purchased. No law abiding person should object to a background check before he or she boards a plane. Bring back asylums for the mentally insane. And whenever a crime is committed, make the punishment severe enough to deter it from happening again. Give the criminal ONE appeal. Then ENFORCE THE LAW AGAINST THE CRIMINAL, not the rest of us!

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