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Grain of Assault



No other debate in America is filled with greater depths of tragedy or dizzying heights of inanity than that of gun rights. Or gun wrongs. Take your pick, and watch the rhetoric fly.

We might as well start at the beginning where America’s love affair with guns is concerned. It comes straight from the 1785 pen of Thomas Jefferson to his friend Peter Carr: “As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. ... Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.” Nice letter, and the words of our Founding Fathers ought to count for something. But Jefferson also owned slaves, and wrote “scientific” tracts about the mental inferiority of Africans compared to white people. Would you like a slave to go with that gun, sir?

But guns, while dangerous, appear to be nowhere nearly as dangerous in terms of fatal accidents compared with motor vehicle accidents, or falls, for that matter. Peruse the National Center for Health Statistics if you need proof. You certainly don’t want to rely on facts from either the National Rifle Association or the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. These organizations will get the curious citizen nowhere, unless you consider decoding Chinese math your idea of fun.

Curiously enough, though, even when the NRA huffs and puffs its statistical research, the results are hardly impressive. Even by its own admission, in a 1998 “Fact Card,” a mere 13 percent of handgun enthusiasts actually use their equalizer to protect themselves against criminals. And even when that golden opportunity arises, gun owners end up wounding their assailants “in about 1 out of every 100 instances.” Nice shot, dude.

Give the NRA points for tenacity, though. Can we get locks on these things? No. Ballistics fingerprinting? No. Waiting period? Go stuff it. Limit purchases to one handgun per month? Regulate purchases by minors? Can we keep them out of schools and universities? No, no and no. A thousand times no.

The biggest hoot of all is that the NRA’s official “blacklist” of people and organizations dares stating that, you know, firearms could stand a bit more regulation, especially in a nation that thinks nothing of registering motor vehicles on an annual basis. League of Women Voters? Oprah Winfrey? NAACP? They’re “gun grabbers,” my friend.

Now, on the eve of the expiration of the 1994 assault weapons ban, we’ve got a whole new round of the same old arguments. Gun enthusiasts continue the refrain that we’ve got to prosecute criminals instead of regulate guns. Well, our incarceration rate is tops in the world, with 715 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. We can’t build prisons fast enough. The gun folks have a point about prohibitive laws, though. They didn’t work for alcohol. They’re unsuccessful in the fight against illegal drugs, too. Oddly, the gun-rights crowd has no qualms about “getting tough” where drug laws are concerned, and we know that guns kill far more people in this nation than do illegal drugs.

As for the assault weapons ban about to expire in September, kiss it goodbye. Who of us needs a gun manufactured expressly for the purpose of killing lots and lots of people? People cynical enough to believe that fear and guns will give us civilized behavior.