Almost five years ago, in an enclosed killing zone stuffed with clipped-winged quail, former Vice President Dick Cheney did what he does best: he shot someone in the face.
As you may or may not recall, the fateful event occurred during a "hunting trip" with a genteel Texas trial lawyer named Harry Whittington, at a "hunting resort." A place where you get your ‘man up' by drinking some beers and then doing everything short of having three friends hold a bird down while you give it ‘a wedgie,' take its lunch money, and then shoot it. In Cheney's case, I'm surprised the bird hadn't undergone a process of extraordinary rendition, ending up at a black-site and water-boarded.
But the above was apparently not enough of an advantage for the marksman with a history multiple myocardial infarctions. No, Cheney was also personally compelled to ignore hunting protocol (once you've ignored the Constitution, everything else is pretty easy) that you must have a clear view when firing, and human-being protocol that generally states you shouldn't shoot your friends, and unloaded 200 pellets into Whittington - hitting him in such lead-friendly locales as the right-eye socket and forehead.
Why do I choose to recount in this piece what was likely Cheney's most exciting moment since he got the 5th deferment letter from ‘Nam? Well, first of all, because it's pretty funny. It's not every day that a sitting US vice president does such an impressive impersonation of the Predator.
Second, because it recently came out that Cheney has yet to apologise to Wittington, even though the lawyer still has enough lead in his body to open a pencil factory. So it's never too late to remind every American with a vote and a pulse of the steadfast character of the Cheney family, his fact-challenged, myopic zealot of a daughter, Liz, inexorably makes her way towards elective office.
But the main reason this incident is worth remembering is that it puts into perspective the fact that even during the climate of fear and anger that have enveloped much of the United States in recent years, one truism remains: Anyone can get their hands on a gun.
This has something to do with the fact that the elitists and extremists also known as the leadership of the National Rifle Association don't listen to their members - regular people who own guns for sport or protection. A membership that overwhelmingly believes we should do our best to keep guns out of the hands of those whose past violent behaviour or current belief that they're Fox Mulder makes selling them a Kalashnikov a dicey proposition.
For example, in a poll taken by conservative Republican Frank Luntz, it was found that just under 70% of NRA members think that the "gun show loophole" that allows "private sellers" to sell weapons without conducting background checks should be closed forthwith.
Of course, the NRA leadership's position on this is somewhat different than that of their sober membership, more in line with that of say, Timothy McVeigh or Mohammed Farah Aideed. You want a gun for any reason, any time, no matter what your plans are and what you've done in the past? Step right up!
Which is why those of us who think the criminally inclined or mentally insane - and to whichever of these groups you'd like to assign the terrorist planner and Mexican drug cartel member - should probably not have high-powered weaponry at their fingertips, are "gun banners," or whatever creative and totally non-cliché taunts NRA lobbyists can concoct. The fact that three-of-four guns used in the escalating drug violence in Mexico can be traced to one of four US-border states, well, that is what is known as "collateral damage."
Here is some other collateral damage: Police shot on a highway in California because a deranged man named Byron Williams loads up and heads out because he thinks Glenn Beck is telling him to kill members of the ACLU and Tides Foundation: Richard Scott McLeod, of Brighton Michigan, arrested this past week with "a picture of Obama, a loaded gun, a bullet-proof vest and tips on how to build bombs." You know, everything you need for a Sunday brunch in the park with the kids.
I am not naïve enough to think we can ever fully stop all those with the disposition and intentions of G. Gordon Liddy from getting their hands on weapons and explosives. But I have a few ideas. The NRA's leadership could put our country before their country houses and advocate for gun rights without pushing for the right of gun manufacturers to sell their product to Seung-Hui Cho.
The President of the United States could appoint a Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), which has been left leaderless, seemingly by design, over a couple years overlapping parts of two Administrations. Politicians could even decide that acting in the interests of their constituents and not a bunch of special-interest buffoons is why they went to Washington - but then again, pigs could fly, global warming could solve itself and Ted Nugent's IQ could evolve beyond that of your average spider monkey.
Common-sense measures such as closing the gun-show loophole (full disclosure: I consult for a group aiming to achieve this goal) can increase our safety while not taking away one single right of law abiding citizens to purchase firearms for hunting or home protection. Sadly, however, it would likely still not prevent certain Texas lawyers from finding their faces filled with shrapnel because of callous, Uncle-Fester resembling vice presidents.