Everyone should have to spend time in a room full of people who take, as an article of faith, a position opposite to that which you have taken as an article of faith all your life. In this case, the article of faith is gun control, and the room full of people was the basement of a church where the hunter safety class I attended was held.
Massachusetts law requires that, before you are permitted to buy a gun or possess one on public property, you must have a firearms permit. In order to get the permit, you have to take the hunter safety class.
The class runs some eighteen hours over several days, and covers all the topics you’d expect – firearm safety, gun laws, hunting basics – as well as some you wouldn’t. I enjoyed the module on orienteering, which had us navigating around the church graveyard with a compass.
All the instructors are volunteers, recruited from the community. They’re generally from the ranks of state and local agencies involved in environmental protection or law enforcement, but there are others as well. One such was a retired Air Force rifleman with extensive experience teaching firearm safety.
Bob’s module on the safe handling of guns ran four hours. He spent the first three handing a wide variety of guns around the class, explaining how they work and how to use them and store them properly. Then, with an hour to go, he put the guns away and set up an easel with a pad of flipcharts on it. Because Kevin had already taken the class, I knew what was coming.
“How many people here are members of the National Rifle Association?” he asked. About three-quarters of the people in the room raised their hands. He asked about other gun-rights organizations and expressed satisfaction about the high level of participation.
Then he moved on to the other end of the spectrum. “Are there any lawyers here?”
No hands went up.
Again, no hands.
“Good.” He flipped to the first chart, which had the text of the Second Amendment
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.
He glossed over that troublesome first part and then launched into an hour-long screed on Americans’ inviolable right to own guns. He quoted Aristotle. He quoted Charlton Heston. He made the case that firearm ownership is the only hedge we have against tyranny. He even raised the specter of communism, establishing himself as the last man standing in opposition to the Red Menace.
He had choice words for Obama, for liberals, and for PETA. The gun control lobby was peopled by people who don’t understand the fragile nature of democracy, and who clearly can’t read. What part of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” do they not understand?
Kevin warned me that I’d have to keep my mouth shut during this presentation, but that wasn’t a problem. Engaging zealots is generally counterproductive, and it isn’t even fun. Besides, here’s a guy who has spent a lifetime developing a skill, and from whom I learned a lot. I honor his service to our country and I appreciate the time he spends teaching the class. As a firearms expert, he’s clearly formidable. To take issue with his constitutional scholarship seemed beside the point.
Although the maddeningly enigmatic Second Amendment is the rallying cry of the pro-gun contingent, I haven’t found a single solitary soul who believes that the right of the people to keep and bear arms should literally not be infringed. Even people who think Americans ought to be able to keep and bear assault weapons draw the line somewhere. Rocket launcher? Nuclear warhead?
Likewise, I don’t know anyone who favors an absolute ban on all firearms (at least, I don’t think I do – I haven’t polled my entire acquaintance). Bob’s tree-hugging, PETA-joining, Constitution-flouting antis don’t resemble the gun-control advocates I know. They’re just Bob’s straw men, set up so he can rail against the lunatic left, all the while breathing life into the stereotype of the lunatic right.
In my experience, most gun-control discussions don’t involve lunatics on either end. It’s never All Guns vs. No Guns. It’s about the degree of infringement on the right to bear them.
The article of faith for me is that more infringement is better. I think guns and firearms licenses should be difficult to get, which is why I didn’t mind schlepping to Dennis for five evening classes. I think all guns should be registered, and some kinds of guns should be flat-out banned. Handguns are the type used in the vast majority of gun crimes (the DOJ says upwards of eighty percent), and I think there’s a strong practical case (although a shaky constitutional one) to be made that they should be the exclusive province of law enforcement and the military.
But you don’t have to be a lunatic to take it as an article of faith that less infringement is better. The class was certainly a less-infringement crowd, but not everyone bought into Bob’s presentation, which happened to be given on the same night as the State of the Union. The next day, the guy sitting next to me, a funny, good-natured firefighter from Yarmouth, told me he ran a tape of Obama’s speech in a continuous loop for 24 hours as a kind of detox.
No matter what the tree-hugging, PETA-joining, Constitution-flouting anti-gun nuts tell you, the NRA isn’t populated exclusively by lawyer-hating, Heston-quoting, communist-fearing pro-gun nuts.
Most people in the class seemed to have grown up in a gun culture, enjoyed hunting, and took firearms ownership seriously There was the one teenager who smirked a lot and doodled “Kill! Kill!” on his class notes (yikes!), but almost everyone else in the room seemed to pay attention, to ask sensible questions, and to be committed to handling firearms safely and responsibly.
I ate donuts with them on the breaks. I made jokes with them during the boring parts. They weren’t the stuff that straw men are made of.