Some unaccustomed praise from the gun enthusiasts for my column Sunday. Said one:
“You developed an enlightening concept, which I had never thought about before. Are you the first to apply the term ‘hobbyist’ to gun owners? That term takes all the emotion out of describing those of us who “just shoot paper” (targets). I wish Deval and the boyz in Boston would leave us hobbyists alone.” He promised to send the column to his state legislators.
Well, thanks I guess, but all I did was express skepticism about the assault weapon ban, which everyone expects to be dropped from whatever gun legislation (if any) makes it through Congress. I’m all in favor of universal background checks and limits on high-capacity magazines. The best thing Congress could do is remove the restrictions on ATF, put there at the behest of the NRA, that prevents it from helping law enforcement trace guns used in crimes and cracking down on the handful of gun dealers responsible for most of the illegal guns landing in the hands of criminals.
It’s a larger topic, but while I’d be happy to see more money thrown at access to mental health services, I worry about the unintended consequences of tying mental illness more closely to gun rights. We already have a problem with pedophiles who know they have a problem and really want professional help in resisting their urges, but who can’t talk to a therapist about it without being reported to the police. People who need mental health care shouldn’t have to worry that they’ll lose their guns or their ability to purchase them if they reach out for help.
Meanwhile, I see the ice breaking on the issue of gun violence, at least a little. Few remarked on it, but Obama’s State of the Union call not for passage, but simply a vote on a gun bill marked a shift. After they lost control of Congress in 1994, Democrats might have been willing to talk about gun control, but the last thing they wanted was to be forced to vote on anything the NRA could use against them. What used to be a playing field tilted toward the NRA is now close to even. Some state legislatures are tightening gun laws even as others are loosening them.
As I say in the piece, I’m not sure there’s much the politicians can do anyway. There are so many guns out there already, and gun violence is so huge in the culture, a few restrictions won’t make much difference, especially when it comes to the young men whose inner demons drive them to mass shootings. Right now, the cultural stalemate is illustrated by the fact that some large percentage of Americans wouldn’t feel safe without a gun in the house, while another large percentage wouldn’t feel safe with a gun in the house.
I can’t say what those percentages are now, and I certainly won’t predict where they will be 10 years from now — or 10 massacres from now — but attitudes generally shift over time. Several observers have noted that America’s car culture no longer has the resonance with people under 30 that it had for their parents and grandparents. Will gun culture go the same way?