My first gun fired a projectile and was a lever action, cork gun, a Christmas present. My father and uncles promptly indoctrinated me in gun safety and marksmanship. The targets were the ornaments on our Christmas tree. Through the fog of long ago youth, I still recall the men's whoops of pleasure as I knocked one ornament after another off the tree. My mother halted this budding Christmas tradition in quick order; marching my father and his brothers out of the living room. Christmas was never complete without toy guns under the tree.
Northeastern Pennsylvania was deer hunting territory. The first day of deer hunting season remains a holiday, official or unofficial. Every male was expected to hunt. Our Christmas target practice introduced me to firearms. Before entering high school, I was a crack shot and completed NRA gun and hunter safety courses. I was at home in the forests.
This training and experience served me well when I entered the military. Returning from the Vietnam War, I was comfortable as a city and village policeman in Pennsylvania and New York while working my way through university. I returned to military service upon graduation. I know guns and respect them. They are tools not magical talismans. They can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
From my earliest cork gun days, a respect for safety and a demand for responsibility remained inseparable from guns. Yet, accidents and craziness happened. Cops, families and even religious leaders confiscated weapons from relatives and individuals who were reckless or undergoing personal challenges. Society was more 'flexible' then, probably because we knew our neighbors much better.
Over time, attitudes changed. Where in the old western films, lawmen heroically forced cowboys to check their guns before entering town; now, extremists tell the government to pry the weapons from their cold, dead hands. Elements in US society, unable to keep up or compete, began to see government, not as a tool of civilization, but rather an enemy viewed with open scorn.
When the Center For American Progress Action Fund and VoteVets.org planned a press conference to announce new survey results from the Global Strategy Group, I was eager to attend. Too often, both sides of the firearm slaughter take extreme positions. The NRA sees every rational action to insure safety as a move to ban all guns; while equally extreme opponents willingly call for the banning of all guns everywhere. Neither position is anchored in a reality of the possible. Survey results identified that most Americans occupy the moderate middle. Universal background checks for fire arm sales are strongly supported by civilians.
The big news of the survey is from a Center for American Progress Action Fund press release:
"Two of the four proposed changes to the country's gun laws that are being considered on Capitol Hill receive near unanimous support and a high level of intensity among veteran voters.
- More than 9 in 10 veterans--91 percent--support requiring a criminal background check of every person who wants to buy a firearm, including 74 percent who strongly support it.
- Nearly all veterans--99 percent--support increasing criminal penalties for people convicted of illegally trafficking guns to criminals, including 91 percent who strongly support it."
Veterans and those serving in the military understand both the ability of modern firearms to inflict massive damage and the necessity for overall safety. We, far more than most, realize that to accomplish a mission, we must have both standards and discipline. In US society, the mission is to insure maximum liberty for all. This can only be done through accepted rules. While a street cop long ago, the NRA left me behind. However, a majority (43% favorable/36% unfavorable) of veterans still retain a favorable view of the NRA. National Rifle Association extremism is squandering even this majority.
The Second Amendment is safe. The American people are not. Criminal background checks are a reasonable and sane way to reduce US gun slaughter while maintaining the right to bear arms. The arguments from the NRA and its fellow extremists ignore the fact that firearm restrictions are an integral part of American history. Both military and police experience demonstrate clearly the need for vigilance where firearms are involved. Too many of us know the faces that go with the statistics for suicide and murder. We look out for our brothers and sisters. We do them no favors by ignoring the danger signs. The American public deserves no less.
As for gun extremists claiming the Second Amendment was written to protect the citizens from their government, the founders' actions pretty much prove the lie to that claim. Both Shays Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion make clear our revolutionary leaders' view on taking up arms against the government. The issue is common sense safety proclaimed loudly in the preamble to the US Constitution.