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'In gun debate, education would help'

Last modified: 1/19/2011 12:00:00 AM
The senseless violence committed by Jared Loughner in Tucson, Ariz., is so heinous that it has given me, a Second Amendment rights advocate, cause to wonder how to balance gun rights with public safety. In trying to come to terms with the issue of gun control, I have spoken with friends, family and acquaintances whose opinions run the gamut in the last few days.

My first weapon was a BB gun that I shot at targets behind my house and on a local air rifle team. A bit later I learned to handle 'real' guns from my father, an avid hunter. I took and passed a hunter safety course so that I could obtain my first license. I was also on my school's rifle team, back in the days when there were such things. All of these activities occurred under the direction of responsible adults.

I remember the first animal I killed, a snowshoe hare. I experienced a mix of emotions including jubilation and remorse. That day I witnessed firsthand the damage guns can do, a sobering experience for a 12-year-old boy.

I know my experience with guns is vastly different from others'. Many people's only experience with guns is what they see in movies, on TV and in the violent video games so popular with today's youth. Some people first experience guns during a drive-by shooting, a robbery, a murder-suicide. The way in which you learn about guns colors your thinking.

When I spoke with my 84-year-old father about guns, he reminded me that when he was growing up in Depression-era rural Alabama they were a necessary tool. Hunting and farming provided most of the food his family consumed. He acknowledged, however, that we are no longer a rural, agrarian society, and that there are some places where guns just should not be.

I then spoke to a retired cop and gun collector. He believes that virtually all criminals who commit gun crimes have something on their record or in their past that should have flagged them as people who should not have access to firearms. According to him, elected officials shouldn't write gun legislation without consulting with the law enforcement and judicial personnel who are going to have to enforce them. 'We need punishments that fit crimes - that are severe enough with regard to the offense as to be a deterrent,' he said. He finished our interview with the oft-repeated idea that criminals will get guns regardless of what the law says.

Next I interviewed a self-described liberal gun-control advocate. She countered the popular self-defense argument with 'that's what the police are for.' She believes we should not have easy access to weapons that are designed specifically to kill people - in some cases, lots of people. According to her, assault rifles and large-capacity magazines and clips should only be in the hands of law enforcement or military personnel.

Interestingly, when asked about the recent repeal of the State House gun ban, everyone I spoke with agreed that New Hampshire is taking the 'open carry' thing too far. 'The only two reasons I can think of for bringing a weapon into the State House would be to kill a House member or protect yourself from being killed by a House member,' one person told me. I hope that I never have to read in the pages of this newspaper about either scenario occurring.

How then do we balance our Second Amendment rights with the need for public safety? To some on the extreme left, all guns should be confiscated. On the extreme right there are those who believe any Second Amendment infringement will push us over the precipice of a slippery slope, at the bottom of which is a world where only criminals have guns. Both fringe groups use fear to promote their argument.

What if we focus on education? A colleague of mine takes his criminal justice class to a local police firing range every year to learn about and shoot firearms. I'm always amazed at the positive reaction of the students and the community's support of this activity.

Children learning about guns from responsible adults in a safe environment is much better than kids becoming desensitized to gun violence by playing BlackOps at home alone.

Ultimately, the greatest weapons - both in the gun control debate and in life - are knowledge and experience.

(Dan Williams of Concord is a professional musician and educator.)


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