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Joseph Wyatt: Death at the gun range

How does a 9-year-old little Arizona girl, whose Uzi just killed her instructor, deal with a bumper sticker that shouts, “Guns don’t kill people, rather it is people who kill people”? After the tragedy, is there any hope that the NRA will demonstrate that inside the halls of its Washington headquarters exists the faint heartbeat of a conscience that once spoke strongly there, before the group had become a twisted shill for the makers of guns and ammunition?

A revival of the NRA’s soul might begin with placement of a headline on its website: “Children and guns do not mix!” But sadly, on the day of the needless death, the organization had tweeted, “7 ways children can have fun at the shooting range,” with a link to an article on its website. Then, upon word of the instructor’s demise, the article quietly was deleted. With that act of cowardice, the NRA went into hiding. Like the priest and the Levite, the NRA saw a body and chose to tip-toe by on the other side.

In Arizona, the instructor’s family grieves; their lives are changed forever. Who can say what scars have been stamped into the psyche of the child? What good possibly could have come from encouragement of one so young to shoot an Uzi? Yet, in the roiling soup of gun madness in America, where “Burgers and Bullets” is thought of as a reasonable name for a business, a 9-year-old with an automatic weapon somehow seems reasonable.

Those who have been lured into acceptance of cheezy bumper sticker slogans (“An armed society is a polite society”) stumble for answers when confronted with the ugly reality — in the U.S. there are 10,000 murders annually, while in most other developed countries, there are fewer than 200.

The difference is not explained by reference to mental illness, violent media or the presence of gangs in the U.S. Other nations are full of those evils. Rather, the crucial difference is wholesale gun access, and the mentality that there is something good about a child with an Uzi.

I have no quarrel with those who hunt. But there is no rationale for military weapons to be in the hands of anyone other than the military. An Uzi? A clip with dozens of rounds? “Target practice” is not an answer. Nor is reference to one’s Second Amendment right. Closer to the bull’s-eye is that a gun can make a little person feel big. Find another way to compensate for any insecurity about your masculinity.

“So that my child will grow up to be a responsible gun owner,” is equally lame. We create responsible drivers without allowing children under 15 to begin their training. We make them wait until age 21 to become responsible drinkers. We don’t let 9-year-olds make contracts, or have their own credit cards, or marry, or view pornography, or smoke. Yet, some of us remain mesmerized by the gun industry and its front group the NRA.

Our America is possessed by gun sickness, a contagion that makes the Ebola virus looks like a case of the sniffles. In the 1870s a sign was posted at the edge of Dodge City, Kansas. It read, “Carrying firearms strictly prohibited.” And at the city limits of Wichita the sign read, “Leave your revolver at police headquarters, and get a check.” They knew. An armed society was anything but a polite society. And they didn’t even have Uzis.

Wyatt is a Gazette contributing columnist and emeritus professor at Marshall University.


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