Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Staying Alive in America

Guns in America is an explosive topic. We even argue over how we argue about guns.

Guns in AmericaLast week’s symbolic sit-in by House Democrats to protest congressional inaction on gun legislation became its own shooting range target. Gun control advocates called it heroic. Gun advocates called it silly.

I’ve never owned a gun, never shot a gun and have zero interest in being involved with guns. As a lobbyist, I stayed away from fundraisers at gun ranges. As a citizen, I favor sensible regulation to curb senseless gun violence.

But I agree the sit-in on the House floor was silly.

When African-Americans braved sitting on front-row bus seats or at the counters in diners, I deeply respected their courage. I still do. Their actions led to real change. Not enough. But change nonetheless.

House Democrats sit-inLast week’s House floor sit-in produced a social media sensation and may have raised lots of donations for the cause. But it didn’t change anything. If anything, it added another polemical layer to an already polarized issue.

The grief felt by family members of victims in mass shootings, random shootings and stupid shootings over things as meaningless as a cheeseburger deserve more than symbolism. They deserve realism.

If it was up to me, I would ban military-style assault weapons from civilians. But it isn’t up to me. Thousands, maybe millions of Americans own these weapons and defend their ownership under the Second Amendment. I can consider their argument bogus, but that gets us nowhere. I want to get somewhere on guns.

The sheer number of shootings, their brutality and their bloody aftermath have moved the spirit of Americans, including the spirit of gun owners. Many have come forward to offer ideas of how to apply gun controls without offending the Second Amendment. Their ideas would be immediately rebuked by the National Rifle Association, even though many of the people who have offered ideas are long-time, even lifetime NRA members.

The fact I’ve never owned or shot a gun hinders my ability to weigh the seriousness of some of these proposals. But they sound genuine and, frankly, more substantial than the flimsy legislative stuff Congress has put up for vote and defeated.

Responsible gun ownersIdeas such as limiting the legal size of assault rife ammo rounds and requiring more rigorous regulation to buy an assault rifle strike me as ideas worth considering. They extend beyond who is on a federal list and claims about die process. They go to the ability of anyone in America to own such a weapon. They don’t say you can’t own one. They do say you have to pass certain conditions to own one.

What I want to see is a coalition of responsible gun owners – and I believe there are hundreds of thousands of them in America – and family members of shooting victims lock hands and march down Pennsylvania Avenue demanding congressional action. That kind of symbolism could turn the tide. It would make the NRA look like the shill it is for gun manufacturers, not the voice of responsible gun owners of America.

Those of us appalled by guns as well as gun violence have to admit we may not be the best judges of what kind of regulation can really reduce gun violence in America. I’m prepared to make that concession in return for a genuine effort by responsible gun owners and shooting victim families to press for measures that will make a difference, measures that might prevent what happened in Orlando, San Bernadino or Roseburg.

Assault rifleScoring political points or posturing has lost whatever appeal it ever had for me. I am truly sick and tired of seeing innocent people shot in theaters, bars and bedrooms. People like me should demand more than sit-ins, speeches and Facebook rants. We should demand action that represents our best collective thinking on how to curb violence in our streets, homes and society.

We should make it harder for people who hate, drink too much, get high, go over medication or are desperate to shoot and kill someone they love or don’t even know. We should make it easier to stay alive in America.



One comment on “Staying Alive in America

  1. Bruce Bishop
    June 26, 2016

    I generally agree with you, Gary, but a march down Pennsylvania Avenue–even a several-million-person March–is unlikely to turn the tide toward protecting Americans from gun violence. It too would be an empty gesture.

    While I probably understand too little about the technical, legal, or political considerations involved, I wonder why we couldn’t preserve Americans’ Second Amendment rights by stringently regulating ammunition, not the weapons themselves. For example, bullets for automatic or semi-automatic weapons could be made available only at regulated firing ranges or in limited quantities otherwise. Range-owners and ammunition manufacturers could be held strictly liable for incidents involving their explosives–like bar and tavern owners can be if they serve intoxicated patrons who then kill or injure someone. Gun owners who want to display wallsful of weaponry can do so. They just won’t be able to get clips of bullets for wanton use.

    We doubtless have the technological wherewithal to stop gun-related mass murders. How to muster the political will remains the biggest obstacle. Maybe sit-ins on the House floor signal the start of something substantive. And voters in November can hold their elected officials–at national, state, and local levels–accountable for finding solutions to this national crisis.

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