Gun control begins at home

Predictably, the massacre of 20 first-graders and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December has started a battle for more gun-control laws.


Since the mass shooting, the most common lament has been on the order of “Something has to be done.” As President Obama puts it on his website, “If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.”

OK, but try what?

I fear that a lot of effort and money will be spent in proposing and opposing more laws. History has shown that “more laws” will probably do little or nothing to reduce the number or seriousness of mass shootings.

Like everyone else, I’m sickened by the mass shootings. Yet, I feel helpless to do anything about it, other than to say that something has to be done. In my frustration, I turn to my government for help. I learn from the President’s website that he would:

“Require background checks for all gun sales.

Strengthen the background check system for gun sales.

Pass a new, stronger ban on assault weapons.

Limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.

Finish the job of getting armor-piercing bullets off the streets.

Give law-enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime.

End the freeze on gun violence research.

Make our schools safer with new resource officers and counselors, better emergency response plans, and more nurturing school climates.

Ensure quality coverage of mental health treatment, particularly for young people.”

Some of these ideas may have merit. Congress might tweak a couple of laws that help reduce the number of mass shootings, but I don’t expect it to cure what’s wrong with America. I don’t know what that will take, but I believe that guns are only a symptom, not a cause for what’s really wrong.

Lots of people think guns are the problem. If we gun owners want to be able to continue to buy guns and ammunition, we have to convince as least some of these people that we’re smart enough and responsible enough to be trusted with our guns. In other words, we need to get their respect, and that’s going to require some homework.

We Americans love our guns. In 1968, only every other American had one. Now there are more guns in the U.S. than people. Alaska probably has the highest number of guns per capita of anywhere on earth.

The conduct and attitudes of some gun owners are appalling. The in-your-face cowboys who openly pack heat on their hips in public do no one any good. Too many adults carelessly leave firearms where young children can get their hands on them. More Hunter Education and gun safety classes are being taught than ever before, but too many gun owners have never been to a class, and some who have don’t act as if they learned much.

Gun shows deserve some heat for making gun owners look bad. On one Saturday in January, at gun shows in three different states, five people were wounded by gunfire. Coincidentally, it was “National Gun Appreciation Day,” a day on which gun-rights supporters around the country were rallying, carrying signs saying, “Stop the Gun Grabbers.” All major news broadcasters reported these “accidents,” two of which were caused by guns that were supposedly unloaded. How do you think that made gun-supporters look? It’s enough to make you wish that Congress could make it illegal for lazy, stupid and careless people to possess firearms.

Some people who have firearms end up shooting themselves or another family member with a gun meant for “defense.” Guns for defense are useful only when loaded and within reach, which can make it problematical to have young children or visitors in the house. A gun that you’re staking your life upon has to be cleaned and properly cared for, and it’s owner should be trained in home defense and proficient with the firearm. To be justified in shooting either an animal or a human in defense, the gun owner must know and abide by the laws. There’s far more to having a gun for home defense than just passing a background check.

If we can’t show that we can safely and responsibly handle firearms, we can expect an escalating war against guns. It’s difficult to convince someone of how important it is for you to own a gun when you’ve just shot yourself in the foot.

Les Palmer can be reached at