Middle Ground

Over the past two years, I have written numerous essays about guns and gun control, eliciting a fair amount of assertive, angry or even nasty responses. A typical anguished note runs something like the following:

"I live in White River Junction, Vermont, where I was born and raised. Everyone here owns one or more guns. There is no crime here; there hasn't been a murder in 20 years. Why do you want to take our guns away?"

I don't. Letters like this one are thought-provoking. It certainly sounds like you don't need gun control in White River Junction, Vermont. We definitely need it in parts of New York City. Isn't there a middle ground, an American compromise solution, under which you can enjoy your guns, but I have the right to be free of them?

Most gun rights people, like my friend Bob Wilson, don't think there is any middle ground. They regard it as a civil rights issue: a compromise solution, as someone once said to me, is like being permitted to ride only in the middle of the bus.

Its an interestingly specious analogy. If you have been subject for decades to a law permitting you to ride only in the back of the bus, the antidote is not a law giving you the right to ride, only and always, in the front. What it means is that you and all other riders become equal; you will ride in the front sometimes and so will I. But gun rights people by definition want to ride only in the front; that's what Harlon Carter, the man who led the NRA to its present radical stance, meant when he said that guns getting into the hands of the psychopathic and violent "is the price we pay for liberty." Or, in other words, I'm all right, Jack, so fuck you.

Its a favorite tactic of gun rights advocates to compare the Second Amendment to the First, guns to speech. But the First Amendment has always been held to allow for compromises--time, place and manner restrictions, ratings systems and the like. Those who argue for a right to own or distribute obscene materials don't take the position that they should have the right to impose them on other people; they are fighting for the right to use and enjoy them in private. Yet, if I intervene in your life with disgusting pornography, at worst I shock you; if I intervene in your life with an unwelcome gun, at worst I kill you.

Gun rights advocates are selfish, as I pointed out in my parable,