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Ken Perrotte’s Outdoors Column: Debate, yes; hasty gun laws, no

THERE WAS NO escaping the topic over the past two weeks.

It didn’t pertain to the “fiscal cliff” or “getting ready for Christmas,” whatever that means. About the only break in the chatter was the brief end-of-the-world diversion associated with the Mayan calendar.

The topic was “guns.”

At a multi-family Christmas evening feast, it led the dining-room discourse.

The recent tragic school shootings in Connecticut, the pre-Christmas arsonist who set fire just so he could kill responding firemen, and the disturbed college student who apparently couldn’t separate reality from fantasy and opened fire in the Colorado movie theater all share common threads.

Predominant among them is that there are crazy and evil people—always have been and likely always will be.

History suggests people intent on seemingly incomprehensible acts of mass murder don’t feel constrained by laws related to various tools (bombs, knives, guns) they could use.

“You can’t talk about this without talking about the broader issue of a breakdown in our society’s morality,” one learned participant in a recent discussion opined, citing the pervasive breakdown of the nuclear family, popular-culture glorification of immorality, hedonistic triumph over adherence to basic tenets of right and wrong, and chronic desensitization of mass killing courtesy of incredibly violent video games that too often serve as surrogate babysitters.

Don’t get me started on the hypocritical Hollywood gun-control crowd that makes billions glamorizing the proficient dispensation of violent death by their “cool” characters.

FORBES’ SURVEY

Randy Forbes, Virginia’s 4th District congressman, routinely polls constituents via his website. This week, he asked people to note which of a series of statements represented their views on the issue.

Such surveys can be difficult because, depending on how the statement is phrased, the response can easily be, “Yes, but ” or “No, but ”

Here are the specific statements he posed:

    1. The shooting at Sandy Hook demonstrates the need to improve mental health screening and support.

    2. Serious resources need to be devoted to improving security and safety measures in our schools.

    3. I am concerned with the impact of violent video games, movies, and television shows on minors.

    4. Violence similar to Sandy Hook could be controlled by restricting the sale and possession of firearms.

    5. I am concerned that additional gun control legislation will infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens but will do little to stop future violence.

    6. I fear that cultural shifts away from traditional values contribute to violence.

I basically agree with each statement, except for the one asserting that violence similar to that at Sandy Hook could “be controlled by restricting sale and possession of firearms.”

I think most would agree that finding a reasonable way to try to prevent mentally ill people from accessing firearms would be a positive step, but broader restrictions on sale and possession would likely come at a cost to overall freedom without really “controlling” the threat.

But, back to high-capacity magazines, for people intent on mayhem, having one 30-round magazine or several five-round magazines probably doesn’t make much difference in their desired outcome. It takes about two seconds to swap out a magazine in a rifle or a handgun.

Of course, these magazines are used in military-style firearms, which are frequently labeled “assault rifles” by anti-gun proponents. Unless illegally modified, these semi-automatic firearms really offer no more capability than your old Remington semi-automatic deer hunting rifle. Pull the trigger once and a single round is fired.

More than 2 million Americans, many of them young people, rotated through war zones in the last 10 years. For many of them, the firearms they’ve grown up with are those they carried in combat zones.

Just as our fathers and grandfathers adapted surplus firearms of World Wars I and II into sporting rifles, variations of this modern rifle style, common since Vietnam, are increasingly finding their way into sporting applications.

Most are chambered for the NATO 5.56 round or the similar .223 Remington, although an increasing number are now being sold in 7.62 NATO or .308 Winchester to improve their big-game hunting potential. The greatest favor for this newer generation of guns tends to reside among target-shooting enthusiasts or people hunting small predators, although earlier this year I did take a 300-pound Texas wild hog with a well-placed shot from a new Mossberg military-style rifle chambered in .223.

MAKE HASTE SLOWLY

Some in America believe the answer to every safety issue, every potential danger, and every lurking bogeyman is to legislate away small pieces of freedom and liberty under the proviso that government can better protect. Saturation media coverage of tragedy fans emotions.

“We’ve got to do something” is the common refrain. “If we can save just one life ” is another visceral concept used to justify incremental erosion of various freedoms.

I’d hope that we don’t fall victim to a scenario often seen in countries like Canada, where voting blocks of urbanites in a few metropolitan areas impose their politics and will on people living in vast stretches of truly wild lands.

Mandatory buyback and firearm destruction programs like that done nearly 15 years ago in Australia would be incomprehensible to countless law-abiding Americans. Hundreds of thousands of sporting firearms and beautiful classic shotguns, most of which could hold only three to five shells, were destroyed simply because they were semi-automatics.

Yes, we need to do something, but it should follow intelligent discussion and debate underpinned with intensive research and analysis versus tragedy-induced and politically-fanned emotion.

Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or email at outdoors@freelancestar.com.

For more on outdoors things to do around Fredericksburg and the region, sign up for The Free Lance–Star’s newest e-newsletter, Mighty Outdoors, at http://fredericksburg.com/topics/mightyoutdoors/about.html.

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