When I was 12, I discovered my father’s .22 rifle in the back of a bedroom closet, some bullets nearby. The next few days were fun ones as I honed my skills in marksmanship on whatever caught my eye — a low-hanging pear in the orchard behind the house, a distant road sign, empty cans I’d collected from my aunt’s refuse pile. I was a Little Sure Shot, to be sure.
The discharges over a day or two soon attracted the attention of my aunt and away went my newfound buddy, back to the back of the bedroom closet. Thus began and so ended my interest and experience in handling firearms. It was back to beating my sister and cousins at Atari for me.
The National Rifle Association would like us to believe that it is violent video games that might be provoking young people into committing acts of violence. The group has asked that the U.S. study the possible connection between video games and violence even as it has managed to squash any studies that might connect violence to the availability of firearms in the United States. Interesting, that.
It’s for certain that Jimmy Lee Dykes was not wiling away his time in that underground bunker of his in rural Alabama playing video games in the hours before he clambered aboard a school bus, fatally shot the driver and then took hostage a 5-year-old boy. Neighbors and others who knew Dykes, who was shot dead by police Monday during a rescue of the child following a weeklong standoff, say what consumed the much-decorated Vietnam veteran was right-wing talk radio, its drumbeat of conspiracy theories of governmental control and societal breakdown as pedaled regularly in histrionic screeds by Rush Limbaugh and others of his ilk.
Conservatives who’ve not even given a backward glance at the First Amendment in the face of calls to restrict video games might suddenly remember it if the suggestion were floated that the poisoning of the airwaves by this noxious crowd might have as much or more to do with inciting unhinged minds as video games do.
But given Dykes’ interest in this nonsense and being hell-bent to safeguard his liberties from the encroachments of the federal government, it’s unlikely the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre would have diagnosed him as anything but a “good guy with a gun,” and just the type of folk we need more of to “stop a bad guy with a gun.”
There was a time conservative thought could be counted on as a sensible corrective to liberalism’s nonsense about the perfectibility of man dwelling peacefully in his pipe-dreamed utopias. As conservatives used to remind us, there are no good guys nor bad guys, there is only fallen humanity, the scar of sin on all our souls, and all that delivers us from evil is our own awareness of its omnipresence. A hop and a skip from Rousseau gets us to Robespierre, they dutifully reminded us, and the best that could be hoped for was a good show of strength, the observance of tradition, respect for authority, self-responsibility and self-restraint and, ultimately, the rule of law.
Now, what seems to consume the minds of conservatives is the prospect of Red Dawn scenarios, home invasions, overthrowing the government or forming militias to beat back the same standing armies we’ve spent the last 10 years cheering on at airports as they arrived home from their deployments.
What gun apologists like Alex Jones and LaPierre are doing, of course, is making oversized boogeymen of government encroachment and the threat to home and hearth, as well as deliberately misrepresenting the position of gun control advocates looking for reasonable legislation, all while offering lunatic remedies that include arming teachers and weaponizing college campuses and public areas. Somehow, to too many of them, these prescriptions make more sense than stiffening penalties for straw buyers and background checks at unregulated gun shows.
Such sensible remedies would have made it tougher for someone like 18-year-old Benjamin Bishop to get the gun he used to kill his mother and her boyfriend two months before anyone had ever heard of Newtown, Conn. Such remedies would also help prevent the carting of firearms into Mexico where they are used by drug cartels, such as the one whose members killed U.S. Border Patrol agent Bryan Terry on Dec. 14, 2010 – exactly two years before Adam Lanza gunned down 26 children.
Isn’t that what House Republicans are so worked up at Attorney General Eric Holder about? That these guns got into the hands of the wrong guys? Or are Republicans finding themselves dancing on the head of a pin to argue for the investigation of the gunwalking program that resulted in Terry’s death but not against the straw purchases that facilitate such trafficking?
It’s my wish that defenders of the Second Amendment would treat their own positions with more reverence. The Second Amendment is a right that governs a free people to be free in their person and in their home, and as such it is a solemn right distinguishable from the misdeeds and rantings of hooligans and crackpots. Those who most cherish it would do well to get behind regulations to restrict firearms sales to those who speak too lightly of armed insurrections and threaten too willingly the safety of others. It’s these people who sully this sacred right, not a people tired of bloodshed, not a people tired of burying their children.