Growing up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and in Minnesota in the 1960s and '70s meant you were around guns: specifically, sporting rifles and shotguns. My father, a U.S. Army staff sergeant in the Korean War who happened to rate sharpshooter, was an excellent deer and duck hunter.
So guns in my house were a given. We didn't really think about gun ownership in personal protection terms. In fact, we didn't think about or discuss guns. They were just there. We discussed hunting. Not guns.
With my father's death, I now own those guns. My own personal journey with guns is probably fairly emblematic of other Midwestern boys my age. For example, in Minnesota, all boys who wanted to hunt had to take the Minnesota Gun Safety Course. This seems almost impossible to fathom now, but we were actually asked to bring a gun to school to demonstrate how it worked. My gun was a .38 Colt Special, and I brought it into school in a paper lunch sack.
As a political cartoonist who has been drawing about the subject of guns and gun control, and who is also a gun owner, I have rather mixed emotions about the Second Amendment. On one hand, I do think that the private ownership of sporting guns, and, yes, pistols, is an explicitly guaranteed right granted by the founders. On the other hand, I have a rather queasy relationship with the notion that the military-type rifles and pistols have a place in American society.
For the past few years, as the gun carnage mounted, and children were executed in their classrooms by lunatics and life's losers, I would hear the same arguments. If you ban these military assault weapons, the liberals will soon come to your house and confiscate your sporting weapons.
Frankly, I find that assertion preposterous on the face of it. First, there are far too many sporting guns in circulation (tens of millions). It would be analogous to rounding up the 12 million illegal immigrants it's just not going to happen.
As I have watched the gun debate rage on, it mirrors what's happening in Congress and in the media: polarized sides talking at each other.
Shooting and shouting first, asking questions later. But this time around, the debate feels different, more ominous. We are starting to hear talk about revolution, civil war, civil disobedience, and whether the president of the United States should have Secret Service protection while denying you peons the right to own guns at all.
Of course, that's not what Obama has proposed. The fact is, his proposals are nothing. Or, rather, practically nothing. And the gun lobby (read: gun manufacturers' lobby) has managed to do what the gun industry wants to do: Sell more and different guns and ammo. Who wins there? We have twice as many assault rifles on the street as we did a month ago, and are we safer?
In my own commentary on this subject, I have tried not to be an absolutist, which is kind of hard to do when you're a political cartoonist. But when you see 20 first-graders get murdered in an elementary school (imagine what the classroom looked like we saw none if it and how even more emotional the debate would have been if the American people had seen video of that). But just because there wasn't video doesn't mean you shouldn't have exactly the same reaction: Stop this. Now.
Last fall, on a fishing trip to Idaho, I bought a banana clip for the Ruger rifle I own. This particular model happened to be the exact rifle that Kip Kinkel had used in the horrific school shooting in Springfield, Ore., about 15 years ago. I got the banana clip for convenience. Under the technical definition of the law, the Ruger is truly an assault weapon. To someone who owns a .223 Bushmaster or an AR-15, it is a toy. A joke.
My father and I used to go skeet shooting. One day, when he was about 70, he leaned his shotgun against a bench; I was loading a clay machine.
Suddenly there was a concussion, my ears were ringing, and mud was splattered all over my face along with pieces of a PVC pipe. A full trap load from my father's shotgun missed me by about a yard. I looked up at him.
He said, "I don't know what happened. It just went off."
I said, " 'Dad, that's the last time you and I are going to shoot. I'm sorry.' "
I think about something he said every time we were at the range. We would see this one man shooting an AR-15. For hours.
Dad said, "I don't get that guy. You don't hunt deer with that thing."
Yeah. You don't.