March 2018 Column Winner

A response to Parkland: We have to start somewhere
John A. Small, Johnston County Sentinel

I was going through my e-mails Monday morning when I came across a message from one of my more faithful readers, one who has been following this column for more years now than I have fingers and toes to count on. (That may come as a surprise to some people, but I do have a few readers like that.)
Usually I look forward to reading the little notes this particular person sends my way. So I was a bit startled to find the individual was taking me to task for not having devoted last week’s column to the recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla. “It isn’t like you to not address topic matter of this nature,” the e-mail stated. “I can’t help feeling a little disappointed that you apparently had nothing to say with regard to this incident.”
In my defense, that’s not entirely accurate. The problem wasn’t that I had nothing to say. The problem was that I was afraid that anything I might have to say would open me up to the same kind of venomous antagonism that was hurled my way by one particular reader back in 2001, when I devoted my column the week after the 9-11 terrorist attacks to a discussion about how that incident had affected my two young sons.
Apparently that particular reader had found that kind of personal, heartfelt response to be somehow offensive - and the letter to the editor he wrote to that effect turned out to be the first in a series of personal attacks that went on for a couple of years, taking me to task for practically everything I had to say about anything. Honestly, I think if I had written a column saying that the sky was blue and the grass was green, he would have fired off a response angrily denouncing me as a colorblind Communist...
Ever since then. I’ve found myself somewhat hesitant to share my thoughts here in the wake of national tragedies such as the Parkland shootings.
I’ve done so on occasion, to be sure, but always with the very real fear that my 2001 critic - or someone of a like mind - would once again feel motivated to spend untold time and energy painting an inaccurate picture of me as an un-American louse.
After awhile a fellow just gets tired of fighting that battle, even when he has the truth on his side.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this business over nearly three decades, it is this: Some people simply refuse to let the truth get in the way of their preconceived notions and prejudices and hatreds. The more factual evidence you produce to show that they’re wrong, the more they dig in their heels and cling tightly to whatever untruth they’re fighting so desperately to protect.
We had a name for people like that back in the neighborhood where I grew up. But I promised my sainted mother that I wouldn't use language like that in public anymore...
But beyond all that, there was also the very real concern that anything I said on the matter would ultimately add little if anything to the national conversation. Everybody was talking about Parkland, after all, and some of the things I wanted to say were already being said by others far better and far more eloquently. So this time
I decided I would just sit back and let others do the talking, silently nodding in agreement or shaking my head in disgust when so moved.
Then came Monday's e-mail, and with it the realization that, yes, there might actually be a tiny handful of souls who might in fact be interested in my thoughts on the matter.
Well, since you asked.
Let me start by repeating something I have stated a number of times in the past: Contrary to what some people apparently believe, I am in general NOT anti-gun. I grew up around guns. My dad had several different kinds of rifles and handguns in the house, and he taught my brothers and me how to use them and how to respect them. Nearly a year ago now he even gave two of those guns – a pair of Colt Derringers he had bought back in the 1950s - to me as a family heirloom. So no, I am not anti-gun.
But having said that, let me also state that I do believe most strongly that certain types of guns have no business being in the hands of anyone who is not an active member of the military or law enforcement. Those kinds of guns exist for one reason and one reason only - and it’s not target practice or hunting for food.
To me it’s just that simple. If your gun can not only take down a deer but literally grind it up into raw meat, that’s too much firepower. And yes, I know I will never change some people’s minds about that - but you’re not going to change mine, either, so don’t bother trying.
But let’s set even that particular debate aside for the moment. After all, ownership of such guns is currently legal - and sadly, despite the fervor and dedication and anger of the young people across America who are lifting their voices in protest, I just don’t see that fact changing any time soon.
Defeatist? Yeah, probably. Forgive me, young ones. I believe in your fight, I really do. But I’m not a young person anymore and another thing I’ve learned over the years is that the reality of life’s experiences all too often knocks some of the fight out of you as you grow older.
I want to believe that this new generation of activists - a generation who, unlike my own, have never known an America in which school shootings are not a regular occurrence - will succeed where those of my generation have failed. The fact that they responded so quickly, so vocally and so publicly briefly gave me some reason for hope.
Then came all the “crisis actor” accusations and the news of death threats against some of the young Parkland activists. The survivors have now had to endure being bullied by people who for whatever reason feel their right to own a killing machine is more important than a child’s right to safely attend school or a citizen’s right to attend a movie or concert or church without fear of violence.
I hope these young activists can find the strength to keep fighting anyway.
Somebody has to do it. Somebody has to give a damn.
This is what I know: We have seen far, far too many mass killings in America, at schools and churches and theaters and nightclubs. There have been too many funerals. And yes, there will be more, even if the push to ban certain kinds of firearms does eventually prove successful. I’m not so naive as to believe otherwise.
Humanity is a violent, hateful, murderous lot, after all; go back and re-read the fourth chapter of Genesis if you don’t believe me.
But we have to start somewhere.
Understand this: When people like me talk about gun control, despite what some would have you believe, we are NOT talking about confiscation.
We’re talking about safety and responsibility. We’re talking about fealty to the two most important words in the Second Amendment: “well regulated.”
That Second Amendment is not a license to kill. ’Nuff said
Nothing left for me to do now but sit back and wait for the inevitable hate mail...

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