The last time I fired a gun was when I was an 11-year-old inmate at Camp Fatima, a Catholic summer camp that combined Mass and marksmanship. The last time I held a gun was more than a decade ago during a show-and-tell by the Pennsylvania state police commissioner at the editorial offices of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The commissioner passed around a selection of the types of assault weapons that were causing havoc in the streets of Philadelphia. The assembled editorial writers appropriately oohed and ahed; most of us hadn’t laid eyes on so much as a starter pistol in years.
I offer myself as an example of a phenomenon that is receiving a good deal of attention in the discussion of whether the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., will lead to enactment of a ban on assault weapons or any other sort of gun control legislation. I refer to the cultural disconnect between editorialists (and others) who support gun control and the millions of Americans who own and use guns. As much as advocates of gun control insist that they respect hunters and target shooters and oppose the confiscation of firearms, the suspicion persists among gun owners that people like me (and Barack Obama) wouldn’t mind if every gun in America disappeared.
Look for this trope to figure in the inevitable backlash to new efforts to revive a ban on some semiautomatic weapons. It’s easy for the gun lobby to caricature supporters of gun control as overeducated urban elitists because that stereotype contains a good deal of truth. I agree with David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, that Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York is probably the worst possible frontman for a new campaign for gun control.
Far better if that effort were led by someone like NRA favorite Sen. Joe Manchin of “wild and wonderful” West Virginia, who told Joe Scarborough: "I don't know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don’t know anyone that needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting. I mean, these are things that need to be talked about."
An editorial in the New York Times on Monday owned up to the fact that, if gun control is to happen, it will require the cooperation of voters and politicians who value the right to bear arms much more than the NYT does. “Those who believe, as we do, that the 2nd Amendment does not provide each American with an absolute right to own guns, must recognize that this position can alienate sympathetic listeners and is not likely to prevail any time soon,” the editorial said. “We must respect the legitimate concerns of law-abiding, safety conscious gun owners, in order to find common ground against unyielding ideologues.”
A little grudging, but realistic. That some advocates of gun control hate guns and patronize the people who “cling” to them doesn’t undermine the logical case for restrictions on killing machines, but it certainly complicates the political task of enacting such laws.