Gun Appreciation Day
January 25, 2013
Last Saturday was "Gun Appreciation Day" all around the U.S. If you missed it, the event drew 3,000 people to the state capitol for a demonstration by gun owners who are opposed to making any changes to the laws and regulations on guns. It was kind of a Second Amendment love-in. It boils down to a demonstration in favor of a status quo in which the occasional (OK, monthly) shooting at a school (or mall, theater, college or freeway) is something we normalize and accept as the price of a civilized, and very well armed, society.
That’s not to say that they were demonstrating in favor of school shootings. The demonstration was against doing anything substantively different that might prevent future school shootings. It’s a position that seems kind of unreasonable except for the fact that they are reflecting the existing state of affairs. As a nation, we really have grown to accept random acts of gun violence as normal. Each event is denounced as a terrible thing, and then we turn to the sports section. Horrible as the shootings are, they are statistically small, and American society has generally expressed shock for a while and nothing ever changes. The demonstrators at Gun Appreciation Day were just saying they’re OK with the status quo.
The horror of Newtown seems to have hit a tipping point. A presidential commission was formed, reports were written, and recommendations made. Most of the recommendations seem pretty reasonable, if unlikely to do anything about the 200 million guns already floating around out there. Limits on the number of bullets in the magazine, requiring background checks for all sales, banning civilian ownership of military-style weapons, trying to build a database of crazy people, etc. It doesn’t seem more burdensome or unreasonable than what we go through getting on an airplane (and we all know that confiscating toothpaste has made the world a safer place, right?). It’s more difficult to get your hands on a package of nasal decongestant than a box of bullets. Anybody looking at it objectively would conclude that people with well-drained sinuses are a greater threat to society than hollow-point bullets.
But the "slippery slope" fears are in full bloom. The assumption is that the Kenyan Muslim socialist is going to send out the black helicopters to seize everything from an AR-15 to a peashooter. Back in the Cold War days, it was the Godless Communists that required us all to keep a gun in the house as the last line of defense. The villain changes over time, but there is still a pretty solid group of people out there who believe, with a religion-like fervor, that they will need to shoot their way to safety when civilization collapses. Never mind that the shooting and the collapsing seem to be the sides of the same coin.
The difficulty of making changes really hit me when Vice President Biden made his report to the president. He said there is no "silver bullet" solution to the problem. He’s right; it’s difficult. In the very process of producing a report to address gun violence, he used a gun metaphor, no irony intended. It’s that ingrained in the culture.
Last week another gun owner decided to flex his Second Amendment rights by strutting through a JC Penney store near Ogden with an AR-15 on his shoulder and a handgun in his belt. He said he was just trying to make a statement. I had no idea Penney’s return policy was so tough. You would expect to need weapons to return a pair of pants at Sears, but not Penney’s. He apparently called the cops first to let them know that he was packing heat to Penney’s, but was not planning to shoot the place up. The cops said it was legal in Utah, and to have a nice day.
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The most surprising thing about that incident is that, Utah being Utah, there had to have been several concealed-weapons permit holders shopping in the store, and nobody opened fire. If the guy with the rifle had even sneezed funny, there may have been enough other people in the store packing to turn him into Swiss cheese. At least that’s the NRA’s version of how more guns will lead to less gun violence.
Biden is right — there is no silver bullet. This is a cultural change, not a rule change. That can happen. Segregation ended. Women vote. Prohibition came and went. Societies change, but not always quickly or easily. As long as there are people who believe they need to shoot their way out of Penney’s, and as long as there is enough random gun violence that it’s quite reasonable for people to want to be able to return fire, there will be a lot of resistance to changes.
Segregation ended — it just took a hundred years to do it. Let’s hope we can do better on this.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.