Gun owners, speak out
Thursday, January 10, 2013
I’m speaking out as a lifetime gun owner. I grew up on a farm in New York state. I started shooting at age 7, and by age 10 I was hunting squirrels and rabbits alone with a .22. My family and friends did lots of hunting and plinking. I read “The Shooters Bible” religiously. I developed a lifelong love of the outdoors and guns. I own many guns today including three that were my father’s guns. I’ve taught both my daughters to shoot safely.
When I was growing up there were no “assault rifles,” no violent, graphic “first-person shooter” video games. We hunted birds after school, and the most violent acts on TV and in the movies involved Gene Autry shooting the bad guys. The problem today is not just a gun problem but a complex societal problem.
Fifty years ago I brought my shotgun to school and asked the shop teacher to help me improve the shot pattern for grouse hunting. If a kid tried that today they would call 911 and some SWAT team member would likely kill him. I don’t remember any school shootings before the University of Texas bell tower mass shooting in 1966. After that came Kent State and Jackson State shootings, when antiwar protestors were shot and killed by the police and National Guard in 1970.
Now it seems everything has changed. More Americans are arming themselves for self-defense despite the fact that the national crime rate and murder rate have both dropped. The statistics clearly show that having a gun in the house is far more likely to result in an accident, suicide or domestic violence than in any defense against an intruder.
The gun manufacturers exploited a desire for military-style weapons. There are huge profits in assault weapons. Where I live in Eastern Washington many people hunt, but assault rifles aren’t legal for big game. Yet, in the past 15 years, I’ve seen hundreds of young men mesmerized by the mythic images of war and warfare, including the assault rifle.
Here are my ideas on sensible gun laws:
1. Ban the production and sale of semi-automatic military style assault rifles and large-capacity magazines. These guns are designed for one thing only – killing lots of human beings. But partially due to wholesale closures and underfunding of mental health services that began during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the assault rifle has become the weapon of choice for mass murders and school shooters. Will the ban stop mass shootings in our society? Probably not. Will criminals still get guns illegally? Yes, but make it harder.
2. Mandate background checks at gun shows.
3. Increase mental health funding. Ensure mental health issues are detectable in background checks.
4. Limit gun sales to one per person per month. There is a river of illegal gun sales from southern states into northern cities because it’s hugely profitable. Stop straw buyers in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico from selling 10 or 20 AK-47s to gun runners for the Mexican drug cartels.
5. Enforce a waiting periods: I’ve never met a gun I couldn’t wait 30 days to own.
6. Pass a test. If you are required to take a course, pass a test and possess a license to drive a car, fly a plane, be a massage therapist, and to go hunting, why not have a license for responsible gun owners? I’ve seen far too many gun owners who are not safe or competent in their ownership.
I think most of us average hunters and gun owners have kept quiet while extremists in the “gun rights” movement speak the loudest. Responsible gun owners can do more than non-owners to stop the extremist rhetoric that has Americans believing that mass killings are normal and that nothing can be done. But we aren’t speaking out, or writing to our congressmen encouraging sane gun laws, and demanding increased budgets for mental agencies and mental health treatments.
It’s time for us to weigh in on this issue, time to speak out, write letters, and let the people decide.
Joe Kelly is 67, with a degree in wildlife management from Cornell University, a retired federal biologist, and a hunter. He lives on a small farm near Entiat.
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