I have no objection to a qualified person owning a gun — for hunting, target shooting or a legitimate sporting event.

By qualified, I mean not convicted of a crime, has no diagnosed mental health issues, of a reasonable age and the like. A very few may need a gun for personal protection, such as bank guards, law enforcement officers and the military.

And true enough, the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights states, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

What a well regulated militia meant in 18th century colonial America, and what it means in the 21st century is still debated in the courts.

To attempt to settle the issue by using phrases from established law is a cherry-picking exercise that avoids other essential ramifications of gun ownership and use.

An article by Sister Joan Chittister illuminates the issue. She puts forth this astonishing statement: “The fact that we lose 48,000 people a year in this country to the attacks of private people using privately owned guns seldom makes headlines. Only the atrocities they leave behind them sell newspapers. There is not another country in the world with that much gun violence on their streets. In the United States, there are 88 guns for every 100 people.”


Let’s not get stuck on the complete accuracy of numbers. It’s the staggering volume of violence that calls for our attention. It’s a neat trick that often works, and that is to shift the focus from the volume of violence to resistance to government telling me I can’t own and hold any gun I choose without registering it.

There are strange but powerful dynamics at work here, dynamics we don’t see functioning in other instances of controls in community life.

Registration of guns is seen by some to be an assault on freedom, yet I cannot drive a car that is not registered; I cannot drive at all if I lack a license; I must be a certain age to purchase or consume alcohol, or even to vote; I am required to pay taxes; a dog needs to be licensed; even cats are required to have rabies vaccinations — but I seldom, if ever, hear that these things are an intrusion on my rights and freedom. Indeed, one could argue that these things protect the common good, “the security of a free state.”

So are we dealing with some deep-seated denial? Perhaps, but that may well not be the whole story.

I sometimes wonder why there are many more men than women who oppose any form of gun control. Is it primarily a guy thing?

It may be true that men are more prone than women to violence, to control by force, to overt power, to hunt and kill. Which gender was more responsible for violence in Austin, Texas; Virginia Tech; Columbine; Aurora and the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords? (Someone wiser than I might see some Freudian implications here.)


One more thing I find frightening — the scarcely controlled violence in our society, not just physical violence, but the bullying that goes on in schools and neighborhood, the political campaigns that spend millions of dollars on tearing down the opponent rather than providing vision and solutions to enhance our common life, the fascination with films that depict crazy, over-the-top mayhem, even found in children’s cartoons, the corrosive results caused by negative gossip.

You can add your own examples to this list.

The refrain I often hear is “All this may be true, but what can I do about it?” And that is where we need each other, to form a community of people who join their efforts in “common cause.” We can support the Brady campaign, write to our state and federal legislators, bring the issue into conversations with friends, neighbors, in church or community groups, write letters to the editors of newspapers.

But that may jeopardize friendships, lead to terrible arguments, lead to being ostracized as a “nut case.”

The people I most admire are those willing to stand for what they believe, to disagree without being graceless, to pay the price of speaking the truth without denigrating different perspectives.

To do nothing more than moan about “how awful it is” leaves us wallowing in a miasma of gloom — hardly a happy prospect.

Robert P. Patterson lives in Topsham.


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