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June 30, 2008
Column #1,401

The Right To Bear Arms Should Not Be Exercised
by Mike McManus

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week, 5-4, that a Washington D.C. law that banned ownership of handguns, violated the Second Amendment's guarantee that the "right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Dissenters on the court noted that the opening words of the Amendment are these, "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..." which implies that the right to bear arms is for those serving in a militia.

"Nonsense" tartly argued Justice Antonin Scalia, "It is not the role of this court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct." He agreed that the District of Columbia could enact some measures regulating handguns, but could not enact "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home."

The decision is reasonable, but does not answer this question: Is it wise to keep a handgun in one's home for self-defense?

About 40 percent of Americans argue yes, and do have a gun.  And the result?  More than 30,000 deaths a year, 17,000 of which are suicides by gun. What may have been purchased for self-protection was used for self-annihilation. Another 730 gun deaths were "accidents." And there are 12,000 murders. There were only 347 legal interventions.

Let me put this in personal terms, from my experience as a boy.

My father had a pistol which he taught me to use. He showed me the gun's handle contained a clip which held a number of bullets, and the safety lock, and how to fire it.

When I was about 10, he asked me to get him a handkerchief from his dresser. Opening the drawer, I saw the pistol in a leather holster.  Fascinated, I took it out of the holster, and opened the gun's clip and saw that it held no bullets. I took off the safety switch.

Then I stupidly put the muzzle of the weapon in my mouth, but then thought, "No, that is silly."  I turned the pistol to aim at Dad's sock drawer and pulled the trigger.

BLAM, the shot rang out.  I came that close to accidently killing myself! I had not realized there was still a shell in the chamber, though I saw none in the clip.

When I was about 12, my father was drunkenly arguing with my mother in the kitchen one evening.  Both were screaming, which I absolutely hated.  Then Dad went to his bedroom, and came out waving the gun at Mom. 

Frightened for her safety, I walked up to him and grabbed the pistol away.  I got a ladder and hid the weapon high in the rafters of our garage.

Thus, the numbers above of suicides, accidents and murder are not cold statistics to me, but were chilling near realities of my youth. With these two incidents burned into my memory, I resolved that when I grew up, I would never have a gun in my home. 

When we were first married, we decided to live in a racially mixed Southwest section of Washington in a relatively new townhouse. We wanted to personally be part of building an integrated America, which was then almost unheard of.

However, on the day Martin Luther King was assassinated almost exactly 40 years ago, riots broke out in Washington.  We saw looters running across our back yard to nearby public housing, carrying stolen goods.  At that time, thieves tried to break into our townhouse, but were unsuccessful. A neighbor, who was a policeman, saw the attempted burglary and drew his gun to scare off the looters threatening our home.

That was an appropriate use of a gun by someone trained and authorized to use it

Yet even then I did not wish I had a pistol.  We had a young son who could have found it, as I did, and hurt himself or others. We lived in Southwest another three years, before moving to the suburbs.

I still live in the Washington suburbs where the need for self-defense is small. However, 15 years ago, the house my wife and I live in was broken into when the previous owners were away.

Life in a metropolitan area involves risks.  However, why add to the risks by buying a gun, the purpose of which is to kill?

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