Let’s start with this: I own several long guns, no hand guns. I think this is pretty typical for farm dwellers across the region. Since NYS passed new gun control legislation, the so-called SAFE Act, there’s been a lot of heated debate about the Act, including a wave of repeal efforts and front yard sign-planting (SAFE in a red circle with a red diagonal line through the letters).
A few days ago, I was talking with Mike, a young man who is a 2013 forestry graduate from Paul Smiths College and a kind of “adopted” son. I’ve decided that I need to brush up on my very rusty shooting skills and plan to take a safety and skills course this summer or fall. (Suggestions about where to find a course in St. Lawrence County much appreciated.) Mike is knowledgeable about guns and the safe and proper use of rifles. If he was living and working closer to DeKalb, I’d enlist him as a private tutor.
The conversation came around to the difference between guns as weapons or tools. For so many of us living on farms and in rural communities, rifles are tools for barnyard and front yard problems (putting down a rabid animal, for example) or for hunting. This observation is nothing new. Nor is the concern about the widespread use of hand guns as weapons (i.e., as a means of hurting other people), particularly in cities and more populated areas of the state. Long guns are much less likely to be used in urban areas–though determined shooters have certainly found ways to conceal even these larger weapons.
While I loosely followed the ferocious public discussion of the SAFE Act in the months following its passage, what I hadn’t paid attention to was the section of the Act that steeply curtails the sale of ammunition. Years ago, when my shooting skills were a bit more up to date, my preferred rifle was a 22 caliber semi-automatic. Apparently, ammunition for this rifle is now basically impossible to secure. The 22 is the preferred rifle for a lot of people. However, the ammunition can be modified and used in assault weapons.
And that’s the rub. Legislation designed to address a perceived problem may have unintended or expected but undesirable consequences. In this case, there’s a trade off: rigorously controlling the use of guns as weapons has affected legitimate users of guns as tools by making it much harder for these users to find and purchase the tools and the ammunition.
There’s a lot of talk about the Second Amendment attached to gun control laws. I find that less than compelling–our society has seen such dramatic changes since that language was added to the Constitution. However, gun control is still about legislation, so if you’d like to know where legislators stand on the issue, here’s a link to a ProPublica report on the congressional record, and another report from the same source on the lack of data about non-fatal gun-related accidents.
Basically, Mike told me I’d probably end up using some fairly small gauge shotgun rather than my preferred 22, because of the restricted access to ammunition. I don’t like this. There, I’ve said it. On the other hand, I don’t like the Wild West environment that allows mass shooters to easily acquire the weapons and bullets they need to mow down innocent people. (I’m not even talking here about the urban proliferation of illegal hand guns.)
I’m not taking sides in the gun control debate. I don’t think the answer is black or white. What I do think is that we have to work together to come up with solutions that protect innocent people from harm but allow legitimate gun owners to have some access. Everyone really does have to give a little on this issue. It’s easy for me to say because I’m not an active gun-rights or anti-gun activist. When there’s passion and fury around an issue, it’s hard to have the reasonable conversation leading to compromise.
Neither the NRA nor the 100% pro-control advocates necessarily have it quite right. The legislation we have is an imperfect compromise, and compromise, as we know, rarely satisfies any of the disputing parties. So, for now, I’ll hone my skills and learn to use a shotgun.