We’re going to debate gun control laws. We can do this in a collaborative, cooperative, caring and compassionate way, with open minds and hearts, or we can do it in an all-hands-on-deck angry and bitter battle.
We may even do it both ways, judging by the wide variety of columns, letters to the editor, private and public statements offered so far.
Since the awful Newtown atrocity and tragedy, I have been fielding questions from the media, friends, sportsmen, legislators, gun control advocates and others. I suppose it’s natural to direct questions to the former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, but I am still surprised by both the volume and the tenor of the questions sent my way.
Many people sincerely are searching for answers. As I continue to think about this complex issue, here’s what I’ve been telling them.
We must be willing to talk sensibly about all of the gun issues — and be realistic about what can be done to reduce violent use of guns.
We must certainly acknowledge — and address — our failure to care for the mentally ill, most of who are unable to get into the state’s mental health hospitals. The Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Portland Press Herald published a series a few weeks ago about the 42 mentally ill people who have been killed by Maine police officers since 2000.
We are killing them. And they are killing us. Surely we can do something about this.
In October, I had the unusual privilege of speaking at the annual fundraising banquet of the Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence. You can read my speech here: www.georgesmithmaine.com/articles/georges-outdoor-news/november/2012/speaking-guns.
In the speech, I recommended that MCAHV supporters pick up two books: “The Gun Book for Boys” and “The Gun Book for Parents,” published by Shooting Sportsman Books — a subsidiary of Down East Magazine. And yes, a “Gun Book for Girls” is coming soon.
These books are very good, nonthreatening, comprehensive, well-written plain-language explanations of everything you should know about guns. I told members of the audience that night that I think it’s especially important for them to understand our language, if they are going to talk guns with us.
Here’s one fact you’ll need to effectively discuss these issues. The guns referred to as assault rifles use the same firing mechanism as my hunting rifles and shotguns. One pull of the trigger launches one bullet, and the next bullet is automatically inserted into position for the next shot, which requires another pull of the trigger.
Some rifles and handguns take magazines that allow a lot of shots before you have to insert another magazine full of bullets. Without doubt, we’ll have a national debate about the size of magazines.
But we ought not to fool people — as we did with the last federal “assault weapons ban” — by prohibiting the sale of guns based on what they look like.
Requiring background checks to be performed for all private sales also will be debated — and most likely rejected. Likewise, mandatory gun storage. We’ve taken huge strides over the years in convincing most gun owners to lock their guns up.
And 40 Maine gun dealers, including L.L. Bean and Kittery Trading Post, now perform background checks for private sellers.
The mental health issues are much more complex than the gun issues. During my 18 years as a lobbyist for sportsmen, we tackled this issue several times. Mental health professionals opposed efforts to prohibit those who are, or have been, mentally ill from possessing firearms, partly because that would deter those who need help from seeking it.
All we could ever agree on was a gun possession ban for those who were committed to an institution by a judge. Yet even that list has never been submitted by Maine to the federal government for entry into the background check system.
The state police say they don’t have the $200,000 it would cost to compile and submit that list of people. I say: Get it done, now.
And then there is the issue of school security.
My wife is a first-grade teacher who has been directed to lock her first-grade classroom door — all day, every day. I can’t imagine a future where we lock our kids in their schoolrooms.
Above all else, it is very important that those of us who are gun advocates be respectful and willing to discuss any and all possible solutions that might address the problems of gun violence in our country.
That’s what I am trying to do.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.