David Michael Miller
I am a rare thing: a liberal who owns a gun.
Actually, I own two guns. One takes me to the woods in November to dispatch a deer. Another, a shotgun, takes me to fields in the spring to listen for turkeys. I have never actually used that gun to shoot at a turkey because turkey hunting has little to do with the weapon. It is all in the calling. A hunter skilled at the turkey call is telling male turkeys to come hither and find love. My calling apparently tells them that there is a guy with a gun sitting here who wants to kill them.
I know I could enjoy the woods and fields with a camera or a notebook too, but it wouldn’t be the same. Even in the case of turkey hunting, where for me the shotgun is for all intents and purposes a prop, I get more out of the experience for having it along. The gun allows me to imagine wild turkey breast on my plate even if it is a purely aspirational meal. For those who don’t want to see their ability to carry a gun for hunting purposes taken away, I get it entirely, but then of course no one has ever proposed that.
But what I do not get is the desire to carry a gun for self-protection. That just strikes me as senseless paranoia. To understand guns is to appreciate just how dangerous they can be. Firearms need to be treated with respect. The idea of carrying a loaded gun around in daily life — among coworkers or riding in a car where road rage can happen at any moment — does not make anybody safer. It only increases the chances that someone will get accidentally or intentionally hurt or worse. The record shows that concealed carry has led to a lot more innocent people being injured or killed than bad guys being blasted away.
Imagine how much training police officers go through before they are allowed on the street with a loaded gun. Recall all of the detailed investigations that happen when an officer fires his weapon. The Tony Robinson case in Madison is just one example. Every moment of Robinson’s behavior and the officer’s response has been analyzed in great detail in no less than three public investigations and by attorneys for the Robinson family, and some still have questions about whether or not the officer acted properly.
And, yet, somehow we expect average citizens to attend a brief training seminar, have a cursory background check and be good to go. But now some legislators think that even that is too much to ask.
Legislation is being introduced here to do away with the licensing and training requirements. Just grab a gun, stick it in your purse or stuff it in your belt, and you’re off. Thirteen states have already passed this kind of law, providing what is incorrectly referred to as “constitutional carry.”
That’s incorrect because the Constitution does not give anyone the right to carry any gun in any manner anywhere at any time. It just doesn’t.
What the Constitution provides is ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. In its 2008 Heller decision, the Court found for the first time an individual right to keep a firearm. My own view is that the 5-4 decision was both wrong and a real tragedy for the nation, but I’m not a Supreme Court Justice, and it is what it is. Still, even ultra-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority decision, ended it with this important paragraph:
“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions on the commercial sale of arms.”
And, in fact, in some 80 cases brought since that decision challenging all manner of restrictions on the purchase and use of guns, most of those sensible restrictions have been upheld. So, if the Legislature does eventually allow anyone to carry a gun without so much as attending a single training session, they won’t be upholding the Constitution; they’ll just be committing yet another ill-considered, even reckless, act in their endless quest to appease gun extremists.
But while this latest insanity may seem like just another step along the road toward an unsupported absolutist view of the Second Amendment, it actually marks a turning point.
One of the bedrock talking points of the National Rifle Association is that it supports “responsible, law-abiding gun owners.” In fact, the NRA was founded after the Civil War by Union officers who were alarmed by the poor marksmanship of their soldiers. They essentially wanted to make sure that their former charges learned safe and responsible behavior as civilian owners of powerful firearms. The NRA had a noble beginning even if it is an ignoble organization today.
For a century or more, the NRA was all about the responsibility that comes with the right of gun ownership. But with this latest bill the organization has now abandoned all pretense of caring about the responsibility that comes with the Second Amendment rights of its members.
As a gun owner myself, I hope that someday the NRA and other gun extremists will lose all credibility among lawmakers and the tide will turn back to sensible regulation that emphasizes our personal responsibility as much as our real, not imagined, constitutional rights. Maybe the good of this bill is that it will create a backlash that will send us in the direction of balancing gun rights with responsibilities. We can only hope.