DURHAM -- I've been living in the United States for almost 75 years and I just don't get it. I've experienced a fairly normal life, earned a master's degree, married and had three children, lived in cities large and small, worked for private companies and government agencies, and yet, I'm not getting it.
The reason for my bewilderment is because my view of life in the U.S. differs so markedly from that of thousands of members of the National Rifle Association.
My parents didn't shelter me from the realities -- and yet I've never been afraid that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents would break down my front door on some trumped-up pretext. My husband hunted pheasants in the fall and we ate them. I know others who like to shoot for fun, yet I don't find it unreasonable to "child-proof" guns or to simply get them out of the house in order to eliminate the risk that curious children will find them. I also know that there are other pleasurable family activities that are more fun than target shooting or killing animals.
I read the crime statistics and the police reports in my local papers, yet I know that keeping guns in my house "for protection" will increase the probability that a resident or loved one will be shot by these guns. I can read the Second Amendment as well as anyone, yet don't understand why bearing arms is considered to be a right worth more than safeguarding my child's life.
As I read Charlton Heston's ominous message in the newspaper that my rights are "imperiled," and watched him on TV hoisting the rifle that would only be taken from his "cold, dead hands," I wondered if anyone else had concluded that, should this actually happen, some trespasser would have obviously beaten him to the draw, and Heston had become the victim of his own bravado.
I also read a recent letter to the editor from a man who is absolutely certain that those who participated in the Million Mom March are bent on a sinister attempt to "disarm America," and I wondered what kind of person this is who appears to live in constant fear of "flaming left-wing liberals," marching moms and other unknown enemies. Is there any joy in this man's life?
And what about the NRA members jeering at Smith & Wesson, the world's largest handgun maker -- the company that dared to sign a deal with the government saying it will continue installing locks on handguns to safeguard them from children. NRA First Vice President Kayne Robinson furiously said of the gunmaker's CEO, Ed Schultz, "He's a traitor. He sold out for money." What kind of logic is this?
Another thing that's puzzling is that a lot of people who do seem to "get it" are decent, thoughtful Americans in many ways. "Just enforce existing laws," they say -- but they don't see the need to do even more to make this country a safe place in which to live.
It would seem that statistics would speak for themselves -- 12 children in this country killed every day by guns -- yet critics find a hundred small diversionary points to argue, such as the age range in the definition of "child." Do they really think that the death of a child of 15 would be less grieved than that of a 2-year-old?
Another position that baffles me is that licensing and registration of guns are unquestionably bad things. Mythology about registration leading to confiscation speaks again to a suspicion that apparently consumes the minds of lots and lots of Americans. What accounts for this paranoia? Does it have something to do with our immense population and the firm belief that one must be prepared to overcome the hordes of unknown predators who are "out there" waiting to attack?
And does bearing arms in great numbers provide sufficient comfort to those who actually believe such dangers exist everywhere? Is our gun culture based upon a frontier mentality, where problems are resolved with violence instead of reason? And how many more years should we expect these attitudes to continue?
I wish someone would answer these questions and explain all of this -- someone with an objective and professional knowledge of human behavior, who could present documented facts that would provoke no argument about authenticity, who could mediate reasonable discussion, who could sift out the factors based purely upon fears and biases and assist in identifying truth. That may be an unlikely possibility at this moment in our history.
Yet there are those who offer a voice of hope, and, surprisingly, from within the gun industry. Ed Schultz, Smith & Wesson's CEO says, "Change is happening, it's going to take place. We can either embrace it and move with it or we can wait until it kills us."
Think about that.
Beverly Stubbee, a social worker and former program director at the U.S. Children's Bureau in Washington, is retired and lives in Durham.
© Copyright 2000, The News & Observer