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Tucson Weekly American Roulette

Just Because Disturbed Teens Can Stockpile Arsenals Is No Reason To Infringe On Our Rights To Bear Arms.

By Jeff Smith

MAY 3, 1999:  THE NIGHT OF THE killings at the Littleton high school I got an email from a woman who is both aware of my Second Amendment advocacy and firm in her own beliefs on the merits of an armed citizenry.

She said I need a history lesson. She said I should review the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and consider what the founding fathers would have done in light of the violence. She said I should consider the dead children.

She said:

"Private citizens should not have access to guns. Period."

That night, in the glow of my laptop, I was puzzled but filled with dread. Twenty-five children, the email mentioned. I had been in Bisbee all day and out of reach of television and newspapers. The car radio was off and conversation with my traveling companion was on. Something bad had happened in the world while Bisbee went its way that Tuesday. I turned on CNN to learn that two twisted children who got too little attention at home, and the wrong sort of attention at school, had gone medieval on a world they saw as their oppressor. I had a sick feeling that we were in for more heartaches and headaches than the toll of dead and wounded at Columbine High School.

Symptomatic of prevailing attitudes in media and politics, televised reports all that night--even banner headlines in newspapers the following morning--put the death-toll at 25, with strong warnings that it likely would go higher. The following day that number had been corrected to 15, including the two killers, who ended their orgy of retribution by committing suicide. I have not found any explanation, nor even admission of error, regarding the first, exaggerated statistics, but my own prejudice regarding the dominant voices of my fellow news reporters and analysts is that they were over-eager to run with whatever fragmentary count of wounded bodies--dead or alive--made for the most lurid and emotional indictment of the gun.

We are a society surrounded by seeming chaos and confusion, most of it of our own making and the method of that making being our frenetic scurrying to support a top-heavy existence of material acquisition and constant diversion. We don't have time to ponder the myriad questions that bedevil us, so we turn to the talking heads for easy answers. "What is to blame?" we demand to know, in 60 seconds or 10 column-inches or less.

And the answer comes back: guns.

Thank God for that. It's not us. We can go right on with our three jobs to pay for the speedboat and the motorhome and the psychotherapy and the wall-size TV. At least the kids have something to occupy their minds until the folks get home at 7 or 8 o'clock. And if Aaron and Nicole want a purple spiked 'doo, pierced nipples and dog-collars tatooed around their necks, well, a few weeks' overtime is worth avoiding another screaming match about their repressed individuality.

But there I go down that same slippery slope the anti-gun crowd is sledding over: it's not really about bad hair or fashion victimization either. And it's not about the need to pass another law.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: everything that ought to be against the law already is. Passing more laws in response to the latest shocking manifestation of human nature being its old, immutable animal self merely lulls us into thinking we've actually done something to fix a problem which cannot be fixed, and can only be held in some semblance of check by constant attention to, and engagement with, our children, our neighbors, each other.

It's simple, really. But do not confuse simple with easy. The simplest things are most often the hardest to do well, and the easiest to put off or ignore.

I watched Headline News on the tube for half an hour and saw Janet Reno lurching down the steps of an airliner to reach a microphone and say that kids should not have guns--as if until now the gun-runners and the NRA had managed to keep firearms as universally available to pre-adolescents as milk money. I saw Bill Clinton in his most baggy-eyed sincerity asserting that children must be taught that violence is no answer to violence--and then excuse himself to go order another air-strike against the Serbs. I scanned the newspapers and read a dozen sidebars listing the signs of a kid about to open fire on a school library:

• Dark clothing.

• German stuff.

• Marilyn Manson music.

• Bad hair daily.

I expect we'll be seeing a lot of new laws, local ordinances, or public policies and dress codes applied to rid society of these threats to the commonweal, thus making America safe once more to doze off in front of the telly.

And you could safely hold your breath until a whole bunch of school districts enforce a whole lot of new rules about what kids can say to each other about their clothes, their hair, their politics, religion, culture, intellect. We are becoming a society in which political correctness is translating into: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all, and if you do say something nice, you'd better not leave anyone out or we'll sue you for malign neglect."

After contemplating all these media manifestations I decided to call my man Jones, who has remarkable common sense.

"I think it's a bad thing," he said, apropos the murder of 13 children. "But you know, Slobodan Milosevic murders 20 times that many children every day, before breakfast, and that's a bad thing too--but the folks here at home aren't nearly as worked up about it."

We dialogued along those lines for a time and concluded that Americans don't get very worked up about much of anything that does not affect them up close and personal. For instance, when the first American is killed in Kosovo, you can bet your ass that the nation will squeal like a stuck pig.

As a people we Americans are living in denial. We have fallen into believing that wars can be fought and won without shedding actual (which is to say, American) blood. We expect it to last no longer than Titanic.

We used to be a nation that would fight for its freedom and pay the price to maintain it. Now we do not want to be bothered. We are not willing to pay blood for freedom so long as we can pay cash for the illusion of security.

Too many of us believe in immortality along the lines of,

"If we take away everybody's guns, then skinhead kids and survivalist grownups won't be able to shoot us at random, and we'll be safe."

Hey, you're going to die anyway. Take away everything anybody else has, that might conceivably be misused to cause injury or death to you and yours, and all that you and yours are going to do, ultimately, is die of something else. After a life spent on your knees, with your nose in the dirt and your hands over your head. Maybe you'll get lucky and die of testicular cancer.

"If they're sincere about making this country a safer place," Jones concluded, excusing himself to go back to his macaroni and cheese, "they'll outlaw swimming pools, automobiles and alcohol. Until they do these things I refuse to take any of this seriously."


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