In the wake of shootings, we don't need more guns

August 11, 1999|By Tom Teepen

TO LISTEN to talk-radio shows around the country in the days after day trader Mark O. Barton slaughtered nine people in a brokerage house in Atlanta was to be very afraid for the future of this country.

For while there were individual exceptions and no doubt some exceptional shows, too, the overwhelming cry was for more guns. What this country needs is a citizenry armed and cocked to shoot. To hear talk radio tell it, the sure-fire answer to gunplay is more gunplay.

Of course, these blather shows exist to stir the animals up by poking them in their cages with pointed sticks.

The scam hasn't moved much beyond the parody of it that comedian George Carlin did two decades ago, as a desperate talk jockey screaming into the microphone about the forced cross-town busing of kittens and puppies for vivisection by communists.

Even discounting for the incitement, there's an unnerving streak of eager anarchy boiling just under the surface talk about law and order.

The common scenario holds that government is incompetent to protect law-abiding citizens, so we must carry guns to work, the mall, in traffic, indeed everywhere, to protect ourselves. And, what is more, the government is, if not an active menace itself, certainly a nascent one, always plotting -- and with such subtle efficiency most citizens don't realize it -- to take away our freedom. We must be ready to shoot it out with Washington, too.

You may have noticed this makes no sense. The government that is so fumbling it can't protect you is held simultaneously to be so clever it can steal your freedom without you noticing. Well, what's a little cognitive dissonance among friends?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is the counsel of hysterics and paranoids, and its very assertion inadvertently makes a case for restraining the current wanton traffic in firearms.

The government can't protect us for the simple reason that we've created a country awash with some 200 million firearms. No other nation pretending to civilization allows such an obvious precursor for barbarism.

So we ride the vicious circle. The more of us who are armed, the higher the chances that one of us will use that protective weapon for terminal therapy.

There is a chance for hope in all this. The noisiest among us -- along with the gun makers and gun lobby -- call for ever more firearms, but most of us, and by a huge margin, sensibly would rather have a less-armed nation.

That majority, if it will shake off the stupefied fatalism the gun-hucksters have nurtured, can reverse the domestic arms race with common-sense controls. Neither fate nor the Constitution requires us to cringe through life in an armed stand-off of mutual fear.

Tom Teepen is national correspondent for Cox Newspapers.

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