Just as the gun control movement misperceives the nature of people, it misperceives the nature of the guns themselves. I am referring to this odd, oxymoronic notion of "gun safety" now sweeping the United States, whereby we attempt to leach guns of their inherent nature, to tame them.
The same individuals who uphold the private citizen's right to self-defense tout gun safety as an answer to the thousands of accidental or impulse shootings each year. The fundamental Catch-22 should be evident: Of what use is a gun for spontaneous self-defense if it must be kept stored in a locked cabinet with its safety on and a trigger guard in place? To be useful, a gun must be dangerous--unless one proposes to ask the intruder to wait a moment while one unlocks the cabinet, removes the trigger guard and snaps off the safety.
Moreover, the National Rifle Assn. is correct in pointing out that gun control has proved tragicomically inadequate in stemming the tide of violence. Hawaii's gun laws, already among the nation's strictest, did not prevent last Tuesday's carnage at Xerox in Honolulu.
Severe punishment for violent offenders--the recourse held out by the gun lobby as the antidote to the U.S. crime malaise--is of dubious value as well. The law enforcement component kicks in only after the bodies have been counted; therefore society is left defenseless against the madman whose "first offense" takes out half a dozen or more family members, co-workers or fellow students.
Indeed, the sorts of crimes that have blighted the nation in recent years tend not to be the handiwork of monsters or even habitual criminals, but rather one-time, random events--perhaps the final desperate act of an everyday citizen gone berserk.
Note, too, how many of these crimes culminate in suicide. Thus at least in those instances, the explosive violence is self-limiting, rendering questions of punishment moot.
The crime is the same but the perpetrator is always different. In Atlanta, it was Mark Barton, who murdered 12 people, including his wife and children, before killing himself. Next time it will be someone else.
The lone common denominator in all recent tragedies was the presence of the gun itself. After all, there have always been disagreements, and one is hard-pressed to show that the urge to do harm to one's neighbors is more prevalent than it used to be. Rather, it is the quantum "improvement" in the technology of violence that makes today's clashes so lethal. In the schoolyards of my youth, for example, skirmishes ended as fistfights. Kids sometimes went home with bloody noses, but they went home--alive.
The upshot should be clear. Preventing these unpredictable flare-ups depends on separating people from the ability to express their rage in gruesome, irrevocable ways.
We seem able to apply such logic in larger contexts: The doctrine of nuclear disarmament represents mankind's (belated) acknowledgment that it can't be trusted with atomic weapons. Only where guns are concerned have the prevailing political gales eroded our resolve to abide by what our instincts tell us: that no halfway measures will succeed at mitigating the violence.
If we are not prepared to ban most private ownership of guns--and then enact the most extreme penalties for violations--we might as well stop the posturing and hand-wringing and just accept the fact that we're going to have our occasional Columbines and Honolulus and Seattles and Atlantas and Granada Hills.
Put it all down to upkeep on the 2nd Amendment. That's the end point of all honest debate, the inescapable bottom line.