Chills Up the Spine

MIKE BOWLER

December 05, 1992|By MIKE BOWLER

On the same day James Ernest Brodie and Michael Selwy Peters Jr. were gunned down in Mr. Brodie's Catonsville barbershop, a letter from the National Rifle Association arrived at my house.

Wayne LaPierre, the association's executive vice president, wanted me to join the NRA, and there was an inducement: a colorful ''new'' NRA decal, featuring an eagle riding atop a pair of rifles. The decal, Mr. LaPierre wrote, would protect ''your guns, your hunting, your ranges and YOU.''

Mr. LaPierre warned that America is ''moving closer and closer to all-out bans on rifles, shotguns, handguns and hunting. Radical anti-gun/anti-hunting forces, with the help of the anti-Second Amendment news media, have used a steady stream of lies, falsehoods and phony public-opinion polls to make it almost impossible for you to own a gun!''

Mr. LaPierre then ticked off a few examples of wretched excess. One animal-rights activist, he said, ''actually agreed to donate his 6-year-old child's kidney to a sick chimpanzee. THAT sends a chill up my spine.''

Well, sorry, Mr. LaPierre. I'd had the radio on, and I'd already had my daily quota of spine chills. They came from a blood-splattered barbershop in Catonsville, and they came with the news that the '92 Baltimore city murder total was approaching 300. Two-thirds were killed by handguns.

JTC Then the next day I read startling Page One stories in both The Sun and the Washington Post about how easy it is to obtain a gun, how easy to circumvent the flimsy licensing laws that are on the books, most of them enacted over the howling opposition of the NRA.

Did the person who killed James Brodie and Michael Peters encounter stiff resistance in exercising his Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms? Had he encountered a picket line thrown up by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (one of the organizations cited by Mr. LaPierre) as he drove down Winters Lane last Saturday?

''What's next?'' wrote Mr. LaPierre. ''A whitetail hunting ban? No duck season? I'll tell you what their next target is . . . our hunting lands.''

It doesn't make any sense.

Of all the organizations with which I disagree politically or morally, the NRA is the one that defies logic. The association applies the same logic to the killing of game as it does to the killing of people. It slides oh-so-easily from its role as protector of the nation's hunters to its role as protector of the drug dealers and small-time hoodlums who, wielding their weapons of choice, have made life so frightening for so many people.

As a native of a Western state in which every other vehicle is a pickup and every fourth pickup has a rifle rack (and in which first prize in a major environmental organization's fund-raising sweepstakes is a rifle), I can understand the NRA's position on hunting. Mr. LaPierre is right that some of the tactics of the ''animal-lovers'' are excessive, probably illegal.

The NRA feels persecuted by the media -- and it is an easy target. It claims that its advocacy of handguns is an extension of principle: It cannot distinguish one firearm from another in its defense of the Second Amendment, any more than the American Civil Liberties Union can separate one type of protest from another in its defense of the First Amendment.

It's an absurd argument. The ACLU may defend neo-Nazi marches in Skokie, Illinois, but it does not defend yelling ''Fire!'' in a crowded theater. And far more deaths are caused by firearms among young Baltimoreans than by all fires combined. Gunfire, in fact, is by far the leading cause of death among Baltimore young people.

The NRA could turn its image around in a few months if it abandoned its single-breath defense of deer slayers and human slayers, if it admitted publicly that very few of its members are engaged in genuine handgun ''sports,'' if it threw its considerable lobbying influence behind tough handgun-control laws.

In return, the gun-control organizations could throw their weight behind laws and regulations that aid hunters, gun-sports enthusiasts and legitimate gun collectors, none of whom has to give up Second Amendment rights if the handgun epidemic is addressed squarely.

Until it does that, the NRA, if not a direct contributor to the gun epidemic, is at least a major impediment to its cure.

Mike Bowler edits The Evening Sun's ''Other Voices'' page.

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