Did the writers of the Second Amendment anticipate the M4 assault rifle? How about bazookas? Were they, in a moment of timeless genius, fighting for my right to own and park a tank in my driveway, lest the government be the only body allowed to own tanks?
These are the questions I came away with, appreciative and still chuckling, after appearing on an NPR radio interview with Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith. These were his questions. Cheeky? Yeah, but I like cheeky. Cheeky is my favorite way to get at an issue. John’s questions, I think, were a kind of litmus test. The questions ask, is there a line for you? Does the Second Amendment preserve your right to have a suitcase atomic bomb in your closet, just in case your neighbors won’t stand down?
“No,” you say. “I would agree on a ban of suitcase atomic bombs.”
Ah! We have a line! A starting place. We agree in principle that categorical weapon anarchy is not what the writers of the Second Amendment meant. We agree in principle that there should be “lines.” And, we’ve agreed on one such line: no suitcase atomic bombs in the hands of the citizenry.
Now we’re free to discuss tanks. And bazookas. And M4s.
Last week in this space I said that spree killings are a pathology unique to our time. That the explanations for spree killings don’t explain. And that I’m not even close to an explanation that does explain. Again, there have always been mentally ill people. And guns have been around a long, long time. Something else is going on. And I wish I knew what it was.
I’m saying I might surprise you, here. I think there are lots of reasons — good, sane, responsible reasons — for discussing guns, a “gun culture,” and gun laws. But, under separate cover. For the same reasons we discuss cars, an “automobile culture,” and what laws shall govern when, where, how fast and in what conditions individual citizens shall drive cars. Not because any law will stop a crazy person from driving the car into a bus stop.
I’m saying there are good reasons to discuss gun laws. But none has much to do with the phenomenon of spree killings.
My son is a member of the Nevada Army National Guard. He owns a .40-caliber Glock semiautomatic handgun, just like the one carried by Las Vegas police. I bought it for him. In fact, since he’s only 19, I technically own it. I go shooting with him, not because I’m Gun Guy — I’m not. But neither am I anti-gun. Mostly I just dig my son’s company.
I’ve shot this gun. I can empty the fully loaded weapon in mere seconds. It’s a storm of bullets. Give a crazy person two of these legally acquired handguns and a jacket full of extra clips, let him walk into a crowded schoolyard or other high traffic public place, and he’ll do a lot of damage before SWAT arrives.
All I’m saying is all I’m saying. Spree killing is a pathology unique to our time. It IS NOT caused by guns. I know that because there have been guns in our culture a long, long time. Although ready availability of weapons provides the occasion for spree killing, it does not explain the cause. Again, there are lots of good reasons to examine gun laws. I myself would agree with an assault weapons ban. But get it out of your head that such a move will explain, let alone, reduce spree killings.
Something else is going on. We’ve got to keep digging for that answer. I feel just like I felt after 9/11. I’m willing to do whatever is effective, sensible and necessary to make sure that no evil can ever again hijack a commercial airliner and use it as a weapon. I’m willing to make sacrifices, to be irritated. But, when we’re helpless and afraid, reeling in the ambiguity of suffering we don’t understand, we often make moves that, in the end, are more to assuage ourselves with the comfort of “having done at least something.”
Like those two military guys who, for several months after 9/11, stood at McCarran International Airport security with M16s. They were standing there to comfort us. Not because their presence really reduced the statistical chance of another 9/11. The evil men on 9/11 didn’t rush airport security. They walked on quietly. Unsuspected.
Next week, mental health and spree killing.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.