• 46°

A few thoughts about gun control

By T.J. Ray

Stand still for a couple of minutes and consider a unique version of tennis. Each player is required to use his or her off-hand to hold the racket. Needless to say, more balls are missed than are hit. Perhaps none or hit at all. Now switch the action figures to folks arguing for or against gun control.

As of latest count, neither side has hit a winner against the other side.

Now take a moment to think about James Puckle and his fantastic invention. What a stunning device!

Listening to tedious arguments about gun control is tiring. Folks on both sides of the issue evince a wonderful faculty for ignoring details of the debate. An editorial cartoon in this paper opened a floodgate to emails on the subject. In case you missed that editorial artwork, here is its essence: A woman dressed in Puritan attire with the letters NRA sewn on her front, carrying an automatic rifle. She seems to be getting pelted by cabbages, tomatoes, and eggs. Above her are the words The Scarlet Letter.

Not surprisingly, some folks are not happy to be labeled sinners simply because they own firearms. So far as I know, no church preaches such a moral to its people. And from my casual study of the Bible, there is no commandment to eschew such weapons. In fact, the Good Book does advocate picking up a weapon at given times.

Another document explicitly proposes that citizens arm themselves: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” [The linguist in me compels me to point out that the third comma in that group of words renders the whole thing ungrammatical, and opens an opportunity for interpretations of all sorts.]

Agree with the Second Amendment or curse it, thus far the law is judged to be valid. Of course, anyone seeking to modify it has the right to do so through careful, precise steps. Waving placards and shouting over the defendants of the amendment is definitely not one of those steps.

The extreme supporters of the Second Amendment sometimes hark back to another early document, the Declaration of Independence and cite the words about “unalienable rights” with the further assertion that the rights were from God. It doesn’t usually alter the heated debates that erupt around this topic to point out that as powerful as the Declaration is, it is not law. What is, perhaps, more salient is that the defenders of the right to bear arms are usually very quiet about all the constrictions of that law that already exist. More than one right is constrained for the public good. It’s been a while since freedom of speech was reduced to prevent someone shouting “Fire!” in a theater.

Indeed, some of those limitations of that right are enacted by various state governments. Some allow carrying firearms without a permit to do so. Some require background checks when a gun dealer sells a weapon but not when an individual sells to another individual. This list could be extended.

The gang that would like to annul the Second Amendment might well inch closer to their goal by suggesting or supporting limitations that might be put in place. They could, for instance, give thought to regulations that might further constrain gun ownership. Talk of raising the age at which a person can legally buy certain kinds of weapons seems quite sane.

The prohibition of the sale of devices that create a fully automatic rifle out of one that fires at a slower pace sound sensible. A curtailment of bullet magazine sizes doesn’t violate the Second Amendment.

And if those willing to do anything short of dying to defend the right to bear arms would back away from arguing that the amendment cannot be altered and probably shouldn’t cover ownership of fully automatic weapons or bazookas or 105mm howitzers, maybe, just maybe things would improve.

And if those bent on collecting and melting down all weapons not in the hands of police and the military would soft peddle their effort to make gun ownership a moral issue, who knows what progress might follow?

And the anti-gun lobby surely can do its homework a bit better. For example, a poster going around the internet these days challenges the idea advanced by the No-Guns folks that the founding fathers couldn’t look ahead beyond single shot muskets. Remember Mr. Puckle?

In 1718, seventy-three years before the Second Amendment, he invented the Puckle Machine Gun, which was fed by a circular magazine and mounted on a tripod. Great defense against pirates. Especially effective against Muslim Turks because Puckle made square bullets to shoot at the pirates, intending to inflict greater injury.

A suggestion: the Anti-gun team makes a list of what they would be willing to tolerate and keep the amendment; the Pro-gun team makes a list of modifications to weapons and the laws that govern them. Happy land might emerge by blending the two lists.

T.J. Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.