Se­ri­ous talk about guns trag­i­cally long over­due

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - Ken Her­man

In case you doubted it, I can as­sure you that hav­ing a light­hearted col­umn about guns in the pa­per the same day as an­other tragic school shoot­ing is not a good feel­ing.

My Fri­day col­umn dealt with the cu­rios­ity, men­tioned to me by Gov. Rick Perry, that Florida has more con­cealed hand­gun li­censes in eflect than does Texas. In fact, turns out Texas is fourth, con­trary to the fact-based stereo­type of Texas as the gun cap­i­tal of the USA.

Some may see a con­nec­tion be­tween con­cealed hand­gun li­censes and Fri­day’s mur­ders in New­town, Conn. Some may not. Sub­ject to what we find out about how the guns used Fri­day were ob­tained, I lean to­ward the lat­ter.

My grief about Fri­day’s slay­ings in Con­necti­cut was mag­ni­fied be­cause I first heard the mag­ni­tude of it as I en­tered a lo­cal school for a men­tor­ing pro­gram. The grief grew later Fri­day when kids from Austin’s Sanchez Ele­men­tary School showed up in our news­room for their an­nual singing of hol­i­day songs. In their smil­ing faces was an un­avoid­able re­minder about the Con­necti­cut kids whose lives ended Fri­day in their school.

“Beau­ti­ful lit­tle kids be­tween the ages of 5 and 10 years old,” Pres­i­dent Barack Obama called them. “They had their en­tire lives ahead of them — birthdays, grad­u­a­tions, wed­dings, kids of their own.”

Not long af­ter the shoot­ings, a reader who fa­vors more re­stric­tive gun laws sent an email that be­gan with this: “I just read your ar­ti­cle. Just cu­ri­ous if you see it at all di­flerently now.”

Here’s where I re­main on guns. I own none. I don’t hunt and see no need for a weapon to de­fend my­self. I have a con­cealed hand­gun li­cense be­cause it eases ac­cess into the Texas Capi­tol, where li­cense hold­ers by­pass the metal de­tec­tors. I’ve fired weapons twice, in sum­mer camp and the course for the li­cense.

I re­spect the right of law-abid­ing ci­ti­zens to own guns, with rea­son­able re­stric­tions.

Fri­day’s emailer also told me this: “Whether you re­al­ize it or not, guns have only one pur­pose and that is to kill.” Per­haps. But some killing (hunt­ing and self-de­fense) is le­gal. And I can un­der­stand why some folks en­joy tar­get shoot­ing.

We have gun con­trol in Amer­ica in var­i­ous forms in var­i­ous states and cities. An over­whelm­ing pro­por­tion of firearms in Amer­ica never are used il­le­gally.

I also know this: The hor­ror that can be inf­ficted by those who use firearms il­le­gally is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble, as it was again Fri­day in yet an­other U.S. city that never thought it could be ground zero for such may­hem.

Here’s some­thing else I’m pretty sure of: There are too many guns in Amer­ica. How then to deal with the fact that a small per­cent­age of them will be used il­le­gally?

The an­swer is so sim­ple: Keep the guns out of the hands of the men­tally ill and the crim­i­nal. Eas­ier said than done, of course. What if they don’t turn out to be men­tally ill or crim­i­nal un­til af­ter they’ve legally ob­tained and il­le­gally used a gun?

And how do we pro­tect law-abid­ing ci­ti­zens’ right to own guns while also pro­tect­ing schoolkids’ right not to be slain by non-law-abid­ing nuts with guns? There may be no con­sti­tu­tional balancing act with more po­ten­tially dire con­se­quences.

As I write this Fri­day, we haven’t been told how the weapons used in New­town were ob­tained. It is pos­si­ble they were legally ob­tained by some­one legally en­ti­tled to have them. If so, I’d urge cau­tion in us­ing Fri­day’s shoot­ings to ar­gue for fur­ther re­stric­tions on le­gal gun own­er­ship by law- abid­ing ci­ti­zens.

What we do need is fur­ther re­stric­tion on rapid-fire, high-ca­pac­ity weapons ca­pa­ble of wreak­ing havoc in a way no­body has a right to wreak. The fed­eral as­sault weapons ban, which barred pos­ses­sion or man­u­fac­ture of semi­au­to­matic weapons that could hold more than 10 rounds of am­mu­ni­tion, should be re­in­stated.

We’ve been through this “too many times,” Obama said Fri­day. “And we’re go­ing to have to come to­gether and take mean­ing­ful ac­tion to pre­vent more tragedies like this, re­gard­less of the pol­i­tics.”

It’s time we had that talk in a pro­duc­tive, re­spect­ful way. As of Fri­day evening, it’s at least 27 more lives past time. 75-year-old schol­ar­ship fund. “It was a Norman Rock­well moment.”

And was this a Norman Rock­well town?

“We’ve got our ups and downs, but we’re a very real town. ‘Norman Rock­well’ sounds like we’re per­fect … but we’re not very di­flerent from any other town,” she said.

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