A Nation of Laws

"They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." (Isaiah 2:4) NIV

One thing you can tell about us Texans of a certain vintage is that we grew up on Westerns. I suppose I learned some important lessons from those television shows. But the most important lesson I learned didn't come from a show. It came from my dad one night while we were watching a Western together. It might have been Bonanza, with Adam, Hoss, Little Joe, and Pa. Or The Rifleman. Or The Virginian. Maybe Wagon Train, with my father's favorite actor, Ward Bond. Or Have Gun Will Travel.

As a boy, I thought it was pretty cool seeing a cowboy saunter down the dusty street, a handgun in its leather holster strapped to his leg, and the gun belt slung low around his jeans. So I asked my dad, "Why don't we still wear guns like that?"

It was not an unnatural question. I lived in a house where the traditions of hunting were hallowed. My father, in his prime, owned several beautiful rifles, and we always had venison in the freezer. I was given my first air rifle at six, my first shotgun at twelve, and my first real rifle a year or two later. I grew up around guns. So, I was curious. "Why don't we still wear guns like the cowboys in the movies?"

My dad, a Republican and the proud hunter that he was, answered: "Because we are a nation of laws. That was the frontier. It was lawless. But you can tell when a town got civilized. The police and the sheriff's department had guns, so regular cowboys didn't need to carry them anymore. People could go about their ordinary business safely. And you could tell a cowboy who meant to cause trouble pretty quickly if he insisted on carrying a gun."

My dad had a keen respect for law and a love for the U.S. Constitution, both of which I inherited. And I recall him teaching me that no right is absolute. He used to say that my rights stopped at the end of your nose. (Did I mention he was an old-fashioned Barry Goldwater Republican?) And, as much as he loved the law, the Constitution, and a beautifully crafted gun, he would never accept the notion that the unlimited, unrestricted, and unregulated ownership of firearms is guaranteed by the Constitution. There are no absolute rights in the Constitution. They are all held in balance with other rights. It galled him that ordinary Americans had to submit themselves to metal detectors at courthouses and airports. And it appalled him that we have failed as a nation to institute sensible gun control to keep our society at least moderately safe from the kind of madness we witnessed most recently in Las Vegas. Clearly someone has decided that their rights don't stop at the end of my nose.

This is a dangerous world, and it will never be safe from every sort of peril. I know that, and so do you. But we still have laws to limit speeds, control certain drugs, and even limit speech in some situations, though the right of free speech is also guaranteed in the Constitution.

Personally, I love to shoot, especially clay pigeons. I have a hard time recalling many afternoons when I was a teen that didn't involve at least target shooting. And I am committed to our nation maintaining a properly regulated militia (which, incidentally, doesn't mean a lot of camouflage-clad nuts and radicals who appoint themselves "militia men" and spend their weekends in the woods shooting off their mouths as well as their Uzis). Our militia is our National Guard.

I would gladly melt down every weapon I have ever used, owned or touched if we could bring back even one of the lives lost in Las Vegas last weekend, or in Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, or Baltimore last week, or Sandy Hook, South Beach, or any of the other mass shootings and terror attacks that haunt our memories and cast a pall over our days. I know, like a lot of gun enthusiasts, that there is no Constitutional reason why we can't have rational gun laws; and there is every reason, not least for the safety and health of our citizens, that we should have them.

This isn't a partisan issue. It does not have to divide us. We are a nation of laws.

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