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Shooting Gallery

Welcome to the Shooting Gallery, folks, at the Great American Firearms Bazaar! Step right up and win your sweetheart a Kewpie doll! No background check required! No waiting period! Just plunk down your $$$$$, pick up a gun, and start blasting away! It’s easy! It’s fun! Guaranteed to win a prize every time!

Just when we thought things were looking up—coronavirus vaccinations increasing by the week, Cadet Bone Spur relegated to Maybe-Lar-Gesse and facing dozens of law suits and maybe some criminal prosecutions too, a real president in the White House, and the crocuses and daffodils beginning to bloom—we get forcefully and depressingly reminded that this country we live in is still the most insane gun culture on Planet Earth.

In the space of two weeks in late March, twenty-one more unarmed innocent Americans and the police officer who tried to protect some of them were murdered by men who had legally acquired the firearms they then used to kill people who had never done them any harm: eight shot dead in Atlanta, Georgia, March 16th; ten shot dead in Boulder, Colorado, March 22nd; four shot dead in Orange County, California, March 31st. And as I type this, I wonder if I’ll need to expand this paragraph before I send the essay off for publication.

 Once again, out come the handwringing calls for background checks, waiting periods, banning of assault rifles, limiting magazine capacities. Once again, the National Rifle Association declares that guns don’t kill people. Once again, the dust will settle, and the 24-hour news cycle will go on to the latest shenanigans of the British royal family and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and President Biden’s proposed two trillion dollar 21st century New Deal.

Even if Congress mandated national background checks and waiting periods, and outlawed assault rifles and large capacity magazines, the slaughter would continue.

And nothing will change. It’s like that movie Groundhog Day. Only it’s not a movie, and it’s not entertaining. It’s just real people dead. Different ones each time. Young, old, male, female, white, Black, Asian. Sooner or later your friends and family, my friends and family. Maybe you and me.

And you know what? Even if Congress mandated national background checks and waiting periods, and outlawed assault rifles and large capacity magazines, the slaughter would continue. None of those changes to our current gun laws would mean a tinker’s damn in Hell.

If I choose to, I can pass a background check, wait two days, walk out of a gun store with a .45 caliber pistol that holds eight bullets, and kill eight people in eight to ten seconds. I can replace that magazine in three to four seconds, and kill another eight people. Sixteen people dead in less than thirty seconds. Who needs assault rifles and high capacity magazines?

There is a reason why the men who wrote our Constitution made provisions for amending that Constitution: they knew that situations and circumstances change, and they understood that our Constitution would need to be able to change, too.

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Consider some of the changes we’ve made to that document over the past two and a half centuries: slavery has been abolished; Black Americans, Native Americans, and American women can now vote; senators are elected by the people instead of by state legislatures, presidents are limited to two terms. I was not eligible to vote until long after I returned home from Vietnam as a combat-wounded Marine, but the voting age is now 18, not 21.

It isn’t easy to amend the Constitution, but the very fact that the men who wrote that document included the mechanism for changing it puts the lie to those who insist on knowing and acting on “the original intent” of the Founding Fathers. That the Constitution provides for amendment makes it perfectly clear that those wise men realized the world they lived in would not remain unchanged for all eternity.

 So how in the world did the 2nd Amendment become the one tiny piece of the Constitution that is handed down directly from God and James Madison, unchangeable, immutable, sacrosanct for all time now and forever ad infinitum?

Back in 1787, a lot of Americans put food on their tables by hunting. Some of them lived in circumstances where self-defense was sometimes necessary. And the weapon they had was a muzzle-loading, smoothbore, flintlock musket that could maybe crank off three shots a minute if you were really good with it.

Seriously, I ask you: what do you think George Washington or Benjamin Franklin or James Madison would have thought about fellow citizens who own three or eight or twenty-seven high-powered assault rifles and automatic pistols and pump shotguns? About gun stores on every other street corner that any Tom, Dick, or Harry can just walk into and buy an arsenal? About state legislatures who refuse to limit gun purchases to just one-per-month? (At that rate of purchase, at my current age I could now be the proud owner of 648 firearms, but the Pennsylvania state legislature says that such a law would limit my right to keep and bear arms.)

I must admit that the NRA has me pegged: I really don’t want to regulate guns; I want to take them away entirely. I see no reason why any private citizen needs to own a gun. Most countries do not allow their citizens to own firearms. Those that do carefully regulate those guns. In this country, it is easier to buy a gun than to get a driver’s license or apply for a passport or even adopt a pet from the SPCA.

But how would we ever retrieve all those guns that are already in the hands of Cliven Bundy and Lauren Boebert and Wayne LaPierre and hundreds of thousands of other Americans who think that God gave them their guns?

Back in 2018, I wrote an essay called “A Foolproof Solution to Gun Violence in the US” in which I proposed a way to do that. I even took into account, and provided for, those who want to go out and shoot deer and pheasant instead of their neighbors and co-workers.

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Many people thought my proposal was more than draconian, but the problem we face is itself draconian (that is, harsh and severe). Until we get guns out of the hands of people who neither need them nor have any legitimate use for them, the slaughter we live with on a yearly, monthly, weekly, and even daily basis will continue unabated.

W. D. Ehrhart