Writers on the Range: What every presidential candidate should know about gun owners
The right of Americans to bear arms, as stipulated in the Second Amendment to our Constitution, will get a microscopic examination by presidential candidates in the coming months. I won’t pretend gun owners are a homogeneous group – anything but – but we do share some characteristics and opinions that wannabe presidents should know about:Responsible gun owners consider guns as tools. We don’t own fully automatic weapons. We use guns for hunting, target shooting and self-protection, not necessarily in that order. We apply for and receive concealed weapons permits, but it’s not because we plan to carry a gun around. We want be able to legally transport guns in our vehicles without leaving them in plain sight, as the law requires. We store most of our guns in safes, but often keep one nearby at night, because we are responsible for the safety of our families. We are unwilling to bet our lives on the rapid response of police. We watched as police abandoned entire sections of Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots and knew that the stores most likely to escape looting and destruction were those protected by owners with guns. We are products of our country’s history: Our ancestors warded off Indian attacks and raiders and we are prepared to do the same with the different threats we face today. We teach our children about gun safety and respect at an early age, but we don’t leave guns around where kids could find them. We gun owners believe in and obey the nation’s laws regarding illegal use of firearms. We want to see those laws aggressively enforced and transgressions even more aggressively punished, but we do not support the creation of new laws designed to restrict the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. We are willing to consider creative new ways to identify weapons that have been used for criminal purposes and wish the National Rifle Association would cooperate more in this effort. Some of us also wish the NRA cared as much about preserving wilderness as it does the right to bear arms – any arms.We know restrictive gun laws will not prevent events like the killings at Columbine or Thurston high schools any more than restrictive licensing of drivers will halt road-rage attacks. We cannot legislate an end to personal or societal mental illnesses.We have no problem with the present system of registration of guns sold by licensed dealers, but we oppose blanket registration of all guns for two reasons. First, we don’t want the government to be able to take our guns away from us, as totalitarian regimes have done elsewhere. The second reason is similar, but runs on a deeper current, one rarely discussed. We are aware that at some point in the future, we or our descendants may need to fight against our government or an invading force.I don’t want to be melodramatic about this fear, but it is ingrained in American culture. It runs through our blood from the docks of Boston through Lexington and Bunker Hill. It was seared into our collective soul in Chancellorsville, Bull Run and Antietam. We watched and learned from victims of Hitler and Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and Slobodan Milosevic. We studied the Quislings and the Vichy. We bled with the Jews and the Tutsis; we are bleeding now with the tribes being slaughtered in Darfur. Chief among all of these lessons is the certain knowledge that an evil government or an occupying force can come to power anywhere. It could happen here.It is a mistake to confuse gun owners with extremist groups like the Montana Freemen and other anti-government organizations. We have almost nothing in common with them. Many of us are military veterans with a deep and abiding loyalty to this country. We don’t stockpile exorbitant amounts of ammunition or train for guerrilla action. But we retain the option of defending ourselves, our families and our country if the need arises; our guns give us that option, and anyone who wishes us ill would need to take us into account.Some gun-restriction advocates are trying to say the Second Amendment’s protections refer only to a standing militia. They think gun ownership should be restricted to the military. We reject this argument. Our nation was built on individual freedoms, including the right to own guns. We hope presidential candidates get to know us as thoughtful citizens who happen to hunt and shoot and believe in protecting ourselves. None of these characteristics make us dangerous or overly important. They just make us worth listening to.Pat Wray is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia (hcn.org). He writes about the outdoors in Corvallis, Ore.
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