Guns and Silence – (Published in the Providence Journal on 10/9/15)


Personally, I really hate guns. I immediately hated the M-14 I was issued at basic training in 1968. It was the first real gun I had touched. I hated the sound, smell and harsh recoil of the M-14 when forced to use it on the range. While most of my fellow trainees earned pins adorned with “Expert”, I barely managed to reach the score needed to get a pin that said simply, “Rifle”.

I so hated guns that one year later when I had to re-qualify I devised a scheme so I would not have to shoot. Each shooter had a scorer squatting next to them. Then they would switch places. I scored for my buddy, Gary Smith. We were both 6’4” and lanky. Gary liked hunting. After he shot his round we feigned switching and Gary fired for me. A true win-win.

Last night another mass shooting occurred, this time at a college in Oregon. Immediately the raging battle over gun laws erupted once again. You might assume I would land squarely in the take all the guns away camp.

Did I mention that I really hate guns? Gary Smith, who I stayed in occasional contact with until he passed away in 2014, liked guns. He was one of the kindest persons I’ve ever known.

I always factor Gary into my thinking about guns.

To oversimplify, there are two types of shootings; mass murders and single incident crimes. It seems to me these two types of horrors require two types of solutions.

Mass murderers are insane. Even those who yell, “Allah Akbar” are religious zealots who have gone insane, as are the extreme social outcasts and white supremacists who slide into psychopathic states. The current coinage for them is “lone wolves”. Here is where I have serious reservations. All of them have some family, friends, classmates or even store clerks they must have contact with as they spiral into their nightmares, plan their mayhem, and acquire their arsenal of weapons. How many people must turn a blind eye to allow these tragedies to occur? I am well aware that mental illness takes on myriad forms and causes astounding grief for many families struggling against it, but, when a loved one, or even an on-line friend, steps over the line and shows themselves to be a danger to others silence is not an option. All too often, post incident, we hear people say, “He was a nice guy who kept to himself.” In reality we often discover journals, on-line posts or videos of the mass murderer ranting against society. Silence is not an option.

The mental health care mechanism also appears to share some blame. While patient privacy is extremely important it is not meant to be sacrosanct . Doctors, who are trained to recognize psychosis, should err on the side of public safety when deciding who needs to be identified as a potential risk to society. Silence is not an option.

We have a nation of 320 million people. Unfortunately, mental illness will drive some souls to commit despicable acts, but more diligence by all can prevent some future disasters.

As to gun control itself, I think the first step is to more rigorously enforce existing laws. Imagine if law enforcement, plus national and local government agencies, were to expend as much effort and money on stopping the flow of illegal, unregistered guns as they do pursuing minor drug offenses. A shift in policing policy which targets gun trafficking certainly seems warranted.

Beyond enforcing existing laws, I do agree on limiting the firepower which a citizen can acquire. Without entering the arcane argument of what constitutes an assault weapon, I have to wonder why a person needs a high capacity, magazine loading weapon to take down a deer or dissuade an intruder in their home?

I would never have wanted to take away my friend Gary’s hunting rifles, but I surely want police to confiscate any illegal, serial number obscured handguns causing young black males to die at alarming rates in our cities and any weapons intended for wars instead of recreation.

Silence is not an option and legal status quo is not a solution.

– END –

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