Can we talk about gun control rationally?


In the aftermath of the Aurora, Colo., shooting, we’ve seen a herd of eager gun control advocates on TV riding the wave of public concern while the news is fresh, bursting with outrage over assault rifles and arguing for limits on gun sales.

While it is true America is up to its neck in guns, none of the talking heads seemed to remember that Norway’s strict gun control laws didn’t prevent a madman last year from killing 77 and wounding 319 in that country.

Maybe our efforts should be refocused on deranged people, not guns.

Gun control chatter all week achieved nothing for two reasons.

First, starting in 2004 when the 10 year assault weapons ban was allowed to expire, Democrats shy away from gun control support because their constituents, just like those of Republicans, deeply resent any infringement of their right to own guns.

Besides, data show the assault weapons ban had little effect on crime since handguns are the predominant tool in crimes, not assault rifles. The law did nothing about the countless assault rifles already in American gun racks, and there was no mention of the countless traditional semi-automatic handguns and rifles that fire one round with each trigger pull.

Second, like politics and abortion, we are polarized on gun control beyond the ability to talk to each other, much less agree and cooperate.

I have one foot squarely in each camp, and I also own what you would call an assault rifle. To some that makes me a right wing gun nut, while Rush Limbaugh would accuse me of being a “moderate,” which he belittles as having no real beliefs.

Rush is dead wrong, of course. I know precisely what I believe; it just doesn’t fit comfortably in the black and white boxes he, and perhaps you, use to categorize people on gun control.

I’ve always liked guns. There is beauty in a well-designed and -manufactured rifle or pistol, maintained with care, zeroed on the range with carefully made shots to achieve a tight group on a target, testament to both the shooter’s technique and the weapon’s precision.

But I admit to being complex on guns, more shades of grey than black or white. After I returned from the Vietnam War in 1970, my appetite for hunting was gone. For a very long time I didn’t want a gun in my house.

In 1998, when I was 48 years old, Julie and I adopted our first child. Yes, I was pretty old for parenting an infant and I refused to let my kids have toy guns.

We teach kids the wrong thing, I believe, when we encourage casual play pretending to shoot and kill each other. Go ahead and laugh, but I strongly believe we serve our kids far better to teach them the casual violence they see on TV is not real, and that real violence from fists, knives or gunshots is an ugly thing with lasting consequences.

We have two girls, and I do realize my no-toy-guns rule would have been harder to enforce with boys, but the girls resisted, too. I never even let them have a squirt gun, pretty unfair if you ask their Mom.

I also made Mom unhappy when I bought a Henry lever-action .22 rifle in a short youth size to help teach my kids the joys of shooting and the proper way to handle a real gun.

I didn’t want my kids to be dysfunctional doofuses who shriek in fear at the mere sight of a gun. It was time for me to come out of my shell and teach my kids how to handle a gun with safety and competence.

My wife Julie wasn’t anti-gun; she had been a skeet shooter for years. But she did think 11 was too young at the time.

I compromised and gave it one more year, so Melanie was 12 when I first showed her how to shoot. I bored her until she rolled her eyes as I went over gun safety rules with her repeatedly. She did like shooting but caught on slowly how to aim.

And then Barack Obama was elected president.

If you are a gun control proponent, you should know that Obama is the greatest salesman American gun stores could ever have imagined. I decided it was time to buy at least one pistol and rifle before new liberal gun control laws prevented me from buying the gun of my choice.

Are you listening? I didn’t “need” guns. But there was a perceived – whether real or not – threat to my right to buy the gun of my choice, and so I started to purchase guns. So did everyone else. Popular guns were in short supply or on backorder. Concealed carry license applications multiplied in Fayette County and everywhere.

Democrats tried to push legislation that would limit the supply of ammunition, a back door means of gun control, and gun owners started buying and hoarding ammo, making some loads, like 9 mm, .45 Colt and .380, very hard to find. The ammo crunch fed gun control worries and the buying frenzy continued with me in the middle of it.

Nobody’s telling me I can’t buy a gun! Now I have plenty, thank you.

One of those guns I bought is a Rock River Arms .223 caliber, 5.56 mm, M-4, or modern day version of the M-16 we used in Vietnam, the same weapon of standard issue to our troops today, except theirs will fire on full automatic whereas mine is limited to semi-automatic.

When Melanie was 13, at the gun range I talked her into firing my M-4 to show her how larger rounds kick harder. She was persuaded to give it a try since she was curious about the scope I had mounted.

With safety checks left and right, downrange all clear, eye and ear protection in place, she settled in and very slowly squeezed off a shot and missed the 100-yard target completely.

After noting how hard it kicked, she settled into firing another round, then another, hitting closer to the bull’s eye and finally emptying a 30-round clip.

Go ahead and gasp in horror. With my guidance she reloaded, did her safety check and fired another 30 rounds, hitting a steel gong at 100 yards several times, much to her delight at the unmistakable sound of success.

When we packed up to leave the range that day, Melanie gave my M-4 a pat and said, “This baby is mine now!” Well, no, it isn’t, but I will never forget that day of her delight, and safe competence, at 13.

Gun control zealots would ask me, “Why do you need an assault rifle?” Well, I don’t. But I wanted it, especially this one with its quality construction and smooth trigger pull, and I like shooting it at the range.

The zealots say assault rifles are only for killing people, not for hunting, but I certainly would use this rifle to hunt deer or feral hogs, that is, if I decided to hunt. And I don’t plan to shoot any humans.

Why single out “assault rifles”? Traditional rifles and pistols come in semi-automatic, too, and large capacity clips are available. The only real difference is how assault rifles look, a silly reason to ban them.

In the 10 years the assault weapon ban was in effect, our government listed 19 specific semi-automatic weapons that could not be purchased, and I am confident bureaucrats full of new-found authority itched daily to expand the ban list. But the ban had no meaningful effect on crime.

If we ban all semi-automatic weapons in hopes of slowing a criminal gunman’s rate of fire, all that leaves are revolver pistols and bolt action rifles. I don’t think a ban like that will ever have a chance of being passed, even if criminals could be counted on to obey such a law, but at least such a proposal would have the merit of being meaningful gun control. Give it a try if you want to wake an enormous angry giant.

I don’t “need” my assault rifle. It wouldn’t kill me if my M-4 had been unavailable to me, forcing me to select from more traditional rifles, like the Savage .308 I considered.

But so long as other semi-automatics are available, an assault weapons ban is nothing more than cosmetics to satisfy a group of people largely ignorant on the difference between automatic and semi-automatic weapons.

I do find myself in agreement with Ed Rendell, a Democrat and recent Governor of Pennsylvania. He said even if we never renew the assault weapons ban, surely we could keep in place its 10-round limit on how many rounds could be fired without reloading.

That would mean prohibiting the sale of 100-round magazines, even 30-round magazines like I use to reduce reloading effort at the range. Surely, Rendell says, we can accept 10 rounds as a reasonable limit and make larger capacity magazines illegal.

I agree, that is a small price for all of us to pay. I would vote for a 10-round limit. But I would stop there because gun control measures become a slippery slope where one limit leads to the next.

Meanwhile, Melanie’s younger sister, Kristen, will be 11 the day after Christmas. Another year or so and I’ll be teaching her. I don’t want either of them to be naive or incompetent about guns.

I have a story to tell my girls about one of my guns. Maybe I’ll share it with you.

[Terry Garlock occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is]