By Charlie Mitchell
Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.
OXFORD – That gruesome skip-rope ditty dates to 1892, when young Lizzie was on trial in Massachusetts for the bludgeoning deaths of her parents. The question for us in 2013 is, “If a 9mm Glock had been handy, would she still have used a hatchet?”
If there’s going to be a serious discussion of whether and how state and federal laws should be changed in response to mass killings, it should start with recognition of some basics.
First, wanton killings by deranged people are not new. Driven by their own demons, people around the world have been killing parents, neighbors, children and strangers throughout recorded history.
The only significant thing that has changed is the potency of instrumentalities of destruction.
It’s a horrible thing to contemplate, but the killing sprees in Aurora, Tucson and Newtown may have each taken less time than it took young Lizzie (allegedly) to murder her folks.
The difference is not in the level of intent to commit violence. The difference is tools available – the multiple weapons and gonzo ammo clips that facilitated firing of hundreds and hundreds of rounds in recent tragedies.
Next, the Second Amendment is not absolute and never has been.
It’s been interesting to listen to people say things like, “Government has no right to tell me I can’t own whatever (weapons) I want to own.”
Try buying a submarine, a tank, a fighter jet or even a micron of fissionable material. At a more realistic level, try purchasing a ground-to-air missile. Or a bazooka. Or even one simple, little hand grenade. Can’t purchase dynamite without a license. Many forms of military-power ammo are illegal. Tommy guns have been restricted since 1934. Ask a Civil War re-enactor about the permit process involved in hauling around a 150-year-old cannon.
When the Second Amendment was written and ratified, the most deadly personal firearm fired one shot and took 30 seconds to reload. Assuming the men who drafted the amendment were reasonable and wise, which they were, no serious argument can be made they’d side with today’s “absolutists.” Government has lots of power to control weapons. Has for a long, long time. The issue is not to control or not control. The issue is how much to control.
Third, restricting gun ownership, background checks and such have not proved to be effective. That is, none of the reactionary laws already passed in many states, including Mississippi, has thwarted incidents of mass murder. Guess what? Even a total ban on all firearms of all types coupled with seizure orders under which state troopers could enter our homes and confiscate any and all our guns would provide a guarantee there would never be another rampage.
Discomfiting, but true.
There are too many weapons in too many places. The much-maligned National Rifle Association is credited with the phrase, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” That’s an accurate statement.
So what to do?
First, shelve the whining, shelve the machismo and deal with the problem as it exists today.
Private ownership of firearms should remain 100 percent legal.
However, only owning of firearms that are reasonably appropriate for self-protection or sport should be unfettered. (Bird hunters in Mississippi are restricted to three blasts before reloading, so what argument can be made for a 500-round magazine?)
Collectors and gun clubbers, target shooters and others interested in rare, exotic and even highly potent weapons should welcome (see Civil War cannon rules, above) government registration and monitoring of our ownership and use, much the same as owners of private aircraft must follow FAA rules.
None of this would provide perfect protection against the next person who becomes obsessed with killing as many people as quickly as possible. That needs to be acknowledged.
In years past as is true today, the voices for and against what’s broadly known as “gun control” are talking at each other instead of to each other. Neither side is listening, giving no credence to the points raised by the other.
A shouting match is not going to make gun violence go away. Reasonable people willing to evaluate and undertake reasonable modifications would at least have a chance.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.