What would I say to my dad?

Published 9:41 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2018

“I have a very strict gun control policy: If there is a gun around, I want to be in control of it.”— Clint Eastwood.

Well, it’s happened again.

America’s latest Valentine’s Day massacre, this time the dead not rival mobsters but innocent children in a school, took place on the fifth anniversary of my father’s death, and as I watched, again, what has become the all too familiar news coverage of an all too familiar act of man’s inhumanity to man, a thought crossed my mind: What would I say to Dad were he still here?

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My father was a lover and collector of firearms, an avocation for which he had all the proper licenses, and from the time I was a boy, he painstakingly took the time to import in me a knowledge, familiarity and respect of guns and their proper usages.

Dad was a dues-paying, card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association, of which I am no fan, and as staunch a defender of the 2nd Amendment as you would have found this side of a flak on that organization’s payroll.

As am I, for that matter.

So, in what I am sure will greatly disappoint some of my more strident arch-conservative critics, this is not going to be some Commie, pinko, liberal snowflake, gun-bashing diatribe. That’s because I am not anti-gun.

It is, instead, going to be an anti-stupid column. That’s because, not unlike my Dad, I am anti-stupid.

Stupidity, as you may have noticed, quite frequently gets people killed. This time, it was 17 school children and/or their teachers and coaches in Florida.

The facts are disarmingly, sickeningly familiar. An emotionally disturbed, socially ill-fitting 19-year-old kid walked into a sporting goods store and bought an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, multiple ammo clips and lots of death-dealing .223 rounds to fill them.

He had talked publicly about shooting people, about becoming famous for doing so, and he had posted lots of disturbing things on social media sites. He had no serious criminal record, per se, but that’s not to say that people in both the area social services and law enforcement communities were unfamiliar with his name.

There were, as people are now wont to say, “signs” that he was a considerably troubled and potentially dangerous young man. But somehow, all of that “fell through the cracks.” Somehow none of that data ever managed to make its way into the gun-buying background database and that kid was able to quickly and without a hitch buy his AR-15 and its ammo.

And, of course, we all know the rest of the story. He went back to the high school from which he had been expelled, walked in the door, pulled a fire alarm and as kids and faculty filled the  halls, added his name to the growing list of American-made mass murderers.

Then he ran away, stopping off at a couple of fast food joints before getting caught. All that shooting and screaming and blood and gore can give a fellow the munchies, don’t you know?

So, outside the respective talking points of the pro-gun and anti-gun crowds, just what are the rest of us to make of this?

Well, surely we can all agree that we have to do a better job — do what we have to in order to ensure we do a better job — of identifying and intervening with the deeply troubled among us before they kill scores of folks. And similarly, we must do a better job of keeping firearms out of the hands of those folks. Anybody who opposes the notion of new, improved and enhanced background checks before anybody can buy a firearm is just saying that he or she doesn’t really mind a mass murder now and again as long as guns are easy to get.

I would say that to Dad and he would agree.

And then I would tell him that no private citizen needs an AR-15, either.

Unlike a lot of other folks pontificating about it, I am quite familiar with the AR-15 rifle. In 1971, I qualified expert with its original military version and I’ve fired the civilian model a number of times since.  It is an awesome weapon. It is a weapon designed for one thing and one thing only — to kill and maim lots of human beings in a short amount of time. And it is very good at that. It is no accident that the gun has become the weapon of choice for mass murder.

Private ownership of that gun and others of its ilk were banned in this country for a decade and it still should be. But now, there are 1.2 million of them sold in the United States every year and like in the wake of all such tragedies, the renewed cries to ban their sale in any practical sense amount to nothing more than a classic locking of the barn door while the horse gallops off in the distance.

There are things we can do to stop this carnage, but until we do, can we please just stop with the “thoughts and prayers” business? Our hypocrisy is showing.

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.