BILL MINOR: Mississippi’s leaders gaze backward on gun rights

By Bill Minor

JACKSON – A gun assassinated Medgar Evers; a gun assassinated John F. Kennedy; a gun assassinated Robert F. Kennedy; a gun assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. All were in their prime, leading millions of Americans – without regard to race or economic circumstance – to a better life and enjoyment of their civil rights.
I am proud to say that during my long career as a journalist, I had occasion to personally meet each of the four men and to spend quality time with several of them.
Now, about today’s gun crisis. Some facts: far more U.S. civilians have been killed by guns (homicides, suicides and rarely in self-defense) than in all of this nation’s wars the last 100 years. Thirty thousand citizens die from guns every year. The nation has agonized as dozens of mass killings of innocent civilians have occurred in all parts of the country the past 10 years. The most heinous: 20 Connecticut school children in their classrooms.
Yet, a great many Americans – even a higher percentage in Mississippi – defend their right to possess firearms of all descriptions based on a few nebulous words in our federal Constitution written some two centuries ago. Then, we were a fledgling nation having just broken away from a powerful British empire that was still our major threat. Ironically, Britain as a nation is today our most trusted international ally.
Amazingly, many self-proclaimed patriots equate “liberty” and “freedom” with gun ownership. I daresay many of those gun lovers have never experienced military combat in defense of the nation’s freedom. Reluctantly, and to the annoyance of my critics, to make a point about personal gun ownership I must recall my World War II Navy combat service for two years battling Japanese naval forces across the broad Pacific.
After war’s end, those few of us who served on the USS Stephen Potter since its commissioning in 1943 were tasked with decommissioning and mothballing our beloved ship. As gunnery officer I could have taken my Colt .45 service pistol with me into civilian life. Intuition told me I didn’t want to have a pistol around my house, so I left it sealed up with the ship. Several years later a dangerous incident validated my decision: visiting a neighbor’s home, our 5-year-old sons were playing in a back bedroom when suddenly our son pops into the living room dangling the neighbor’s loaded revolver. Fortunately, I managed to get the gun from him before he pulled the trigger. Enough said.
Thoughtful voices pushed to the limit by the outrage of the Connecticut school massacre, are demanding that the country’s leaders install stricter controls to halt proliferation of firearms that have slaughtered dozens of innocents in recent years. Obviously, that call for gun control action is resonating favorably with a majority of the nation’s population. A Time/CNN poll in mid-January found 55 percent of the country favored stricter controls while only 44 percent opposed.
This state, especially its political leadership and even some professionals from whom we should expect a saner, more thoughtful approach to gun control rather than the diversionary rhetoric of the gun lobby, convey the idea we all are still living on the frontier where guns were a way of life.
Why haven’t we heard from someone like John Howard, formerly the Conservative prime minister of Australia? He wrote recently of his success in converting the pro-gun culture in his country in the late 1990s, prompted by a horrific massacre of 17 persons by an individual gunman. Since 1996 when he was able to enact strict gun control measures, Howard writes that gun deaths, especially multi-victim slayings, have dropped precipitously. “Few Australians would deny that their country is safer today as a consequence of gun control,” he wrote. Howard urged President Obama to press ahead with the executive orders and new laws he proposed on January 16.
Even before the president could make his plan public, our Gov. Phil Bryant sent an edict to the Legislature to defy the president’s proposals as unconstitutional. We used to worry about Ross Barnett trying to resurrect the Old Confederacy. Now we apparently have a new crowd in town with the same philosophy but new party designations and a pistol on their hip.
Syndicated columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at edinman@earthlink.net.