Let's let sensible people settle gun-control issues

February 24, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

Dr. Steven F. Manekin arrives at my health club with a .44-caliber Magnum holstered on his hip. This is a large, menacing-looking weapon reminiscent of the monster guns toted on the silver screen by Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone.

It is a weapon that proclaims itself deadly by its very appearance.

"Do you always come here carrying a .44 Magnum?" I ask.

"Not always," answers Dr. Manekin. "I'll carry anything from a. . ." and he reels off a list of weapons of various calibers and makes.

"No, no, you misunderstood," I interrupt. "I meant, do you always carry a handgun with you?"

"Yes, I do," answers Dr. Manekin. He says he began doing it in the late 1970s when street violence seemed to escalate. He has a permit.

Dr. Manekin, 53, is a feisty, blunt-spoken man; built like a fireplug, he is a former amateur boxer who moves with his shoulders hunched and squared, as if prepared to go a dozen rounds at any moment. At any given time, he says, he might own 20 to 40 guns, including four or five handguns and many shotguns and heavy caliber rifles.

On this day, he is carrying a .44-caliber Magnum Colt Anaconda.

"I'll tell you what it's loaded with and get everybody excited," he says. "I've got four 92-grain Mag-Safe bullets, capable of traveling 2,000 feet per second. They are, in my opinion the most devastating self-defense bullet on the market. The other two bullets are 250-grain Black Talons."

"That'll excite people, all right," I agree.

Both cartridges are expensive, high-performance rounds that flatten upon impact and expand outward like the petals of a blossoming flower, developing razor-sharp spines that lacerate tissue.

"Could you actually shoot somebody with one of those?"

"I would not hesitate to use my weapon in defense of my life or the life of a loved one," he says.

"At the same time, I could never -- I would never -- use it in the heat of argument or because someone cut in front of me on the highway. I am not that kind of person. I do not even hunt. To me, I'd feel guilty hunting an animal unless it was armed also. Hunting an unarmed animal doesn't strike me as humane or fair."

Dr. Manekin, a Baltimore neurologist, belongs to that group of people -- gun owners -- who are fast becoming demonized in our society. (In fact, I've played a role in the demonization of gun enthusiasts myself.) And in some respects, he seems to fit the stereotype of gun owners as people with an unnatural obsession for instruments of death. He uses words such as "eccentric" and "non-conformist" to describe himself; and he adds that his is a passionate and impulsive personality.

But the doctor is no demon or extremist. And though he says he can be passionate and impulsive, he also is disciplined and responsible, he says. To him, guns and ballistics are a hobby -- not unlike any other.

"I have a passion for guns," he says. "I love taking them apart and putting them back together. I enjoy the action when I pull the trigger, the different pulls, the smoothness. I love firing them on the range. I love looking at them in my home. But my real passion is [studying] ballistics, comparing calibers, their trajectories, their different stopping powers, the performance of a bullet after it enters a human being or animal."

"Sounds like a morbid interest."

He shakes his head. "Isn't football or hockey just as morbid, violent, destructive? An interest only becomes unhealthy when you hurt either yourself or others, or when you become so absorbed in it that you lose control."

Dr. Manekin believes people ought to be certified in firearm safety before they purchase a gun. And he says they ought to receive thorough training in the weapon they are buying and understand its capabilities.

The next point is the one the doctor emphasizes most: He believes there is too much demagoguery from both sides in the current debate over gun control.

"There are fine minds on both sides," he says. "We've got to find a way to get rid of the extremists so that reasonable people can come together and find solutions that both protect society and the serious, responsible people who wish to pursue guns as a hobby."

I agree with him, there.

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