When I was a kid growing up in Iowa there was always a firearm in our house, or rather a gun that to me was more like a cannon. My dad was Quaker to the core, but he owned a 12 gauge shot gun. I guess it was mostly for hunting, since in safe and conservative central Iowa in the 40’s I don’t recall him thinking we had to protect ourselves from the government. After all, our government was jolly well busy fighting the evil Hitler in the distant lands of Europe. I never tried shooting that 12 gauge shot gun lest as a scrawny Quaker kid I should dismantle my right shoulder at worst, or end up on my posterior at best. When he was old enough one of my elder brothers brought into the family arsenal an over and under gun that was combination 22 caliber long rifle on top of a 410 shot gun on the bottom. Now that was one I could handle. While I didn’t do very much hunting with it (ammunition was expensive for us), I can remember once when I ventured out onto a recently picked cornfield covered with light snow on a moon-lit night to bag a few rabbits. It was no contest. The rabbits were never in trouble. They could hop right by me giggling away and wiggling their cute little tails in the moon light, and the most I could do was shred a few half standing corn stalks.
So, until I got married in 1954, I lived in a house with guns. I never gave it much thought, but that right to have guns in our house was protected by the Second Amendment. That’s how it was then and should have been, and that’s how it still is and should be. But my Quaker father taught us that combined with the right to own guns went a sense of sacred responsibility to and for the wider community, and that “wider” meant going well beyond the local confines of Hartland Corner, Marshall County, Iowa, to embrace the worth of people everywhere. Quakers were a small bunch then and still are, but we have staunchly held to a belief that there is worth and dignity to every person, that this worth and dignity must be protected, and it is done so by all of us accepting that we belong to a common human family in which and for which we seek the common good.
So let’s now cut to the chase. Since the Newtown, Connecticut massacre of 26 persons, including 20 utterly defenseless children, there have been calls to have a national conversation about gun control. Some local conversations have perhaps been tried here and there across our land, but usually the parties have had to admit that they couldn’t hear what the other side was saying because each was yelling so loud. So I am going to herein launch some concerns and questions, and I invite civil, caring, thoughtful responses from anyone, if anyone in fact reads this.
I affirm the right of every American to own as many guns as they want to for their pleasure and protection, and that can mean literally hundreds and hundreds. The Second Amendment has your back on this, and no one is ever going to repeal that Amendment and take away that right. It’s been said that Pres. Obama wants to destroy the Second Amendment. Folks, he may not be the smartest president we’ve ever had, but he’s smart enough to know he could never get that done. For that reason, but more so because I believe as President he sees it as his job to protect the entire Constitution, it’s safe under his watch. So let me say this charitably---those of you who insist the President is going to or wants to destroy the Second Amendment have swallowed too much of Wayne LaPierre (and frankly for all of his words he is too smart to actually believe it himself anyway), and are spending far too much of your precious energy on a non-issue.
Therefore, since our right to own guns is well protected, that brings us to the other side of our personal involvement, and that is our personal responsibility. While we are held responsible to obey certain national, state, and local laws, the failure to do so having certain dire legal consequences, there are various moral responsibilities which are not required by laws, but which can only be carried out voluntarily. And caring for the lives and well being of others all across our land is one of them, which brings me to the following concern.
After the killings at Newtown, Connecticut, I was very disappointed that congress could not muster the courage and votes to pass a universal background check. I was also distressed that a bill banning military style assault weapons never even got off the ground. In regard to the above and the Newtown killings, opponents to the universal background check and the ban on military style assault weapons insisted that they wouldn’t have stopped the Newtown killings anyway. How do they know? By what powers of omniscience are they able to be so certain? But they rightly counter with the question: how do I, Bill Wagoner, know they would have helped? I can’t be any more certain than they, which seems to brings us to a draw. Or does it?
If there is any question at all, do not the rights of six adults and 20 totally defenseless children to be alive and well rather than killed seem more important than anyone’s right to own the kind of weapon that took away their lives, and could surely be given up leaving literally hundreds and hundreds other guns for the owner’s pleasure? Sure, there are other issues that add to the compelling importance and complexity of this matter, including mental health, and laxity in applying laws that already exist. But there is one issue that is of more importance than any of the above, and that is the balancing of our personal right to own guns, with our personal responsibility toward the rest of the members of our American human family, especially our children.
To conclude: first, I affirm that the right to own a gun is very American. Secondly, I strongly affirm that the right to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is also very American. But when the former above begins to deny the latter, something is wrong and needs to be changed. It comes best when we recognize the problem and are willing to give up precious rights, in this case just one gun right among many.
From time to time my Quaker dad would remind me and my brothers of a truth which required us to reassess many a personal and relational issue, to wit: “You guys aren’t the only ones who live on the face of the earth.”