Too many people, dogs and guns to be shocked

After Virginia Tech, why is any American surprised about anything that involves guns?

August 09, 2010|By Dan Rodricks

There are too many people and too many guns — almost as many guns as people — and too many dogs for an incident like the death of Bear-Bear to be shocking. It's certainly upsetting, a dog being shot, apparently in front of its keepers while in a suburban dog park. But how, after Virginia Tech, is anything that involves guns in America shocking?

We have seen, and should fully expect to continue seeing, guns being used for all kinds of reasons. Threats are in the eye of the beholder, so if someone perceives a threat — that, say, he or his German shepherd might be harmed by a Siberian husky — then that person naturally would try to end the threat. If a gun happens to be handy, as so many of them are these days, it follows that we would have a Bear-Bear story.

It's not speculation. It's arithmetic: There are about 310 million people in the United States, a country loaded with guns, an estimated 290 million of them, all shapes and sizes.

Plus, the Supreme Court has affirmed, with two 5-4 decisions, the fundamental right to bear arms, giving the National Rifle Association and other gun worshippers the victory they have long sought over state and local governments.

In 2008, the court established an individual's constitutional right to have a gun in his house, striking down the District of Columbia's strict handgun ban. On June 28, the court extended its findings to the few local governments that have tried to ban handguns.

"It is clear," wrote Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. for the majority in June, "that the framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty."

It was a victory for the NRA and others who want all guns, all the time, everywhere. Of course, they already had won, defeating even modest efforts at gun control over the last three decades. But this time, with the Supreme Court rulings, they really won. "A great moment in American history" is what Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, said of the court decision in June.

It's likely even more guns will go into circulation now.

Meanwhile, unrestricted sales at thousands of annual gun shows continue. Colin Goddard, one of the students wounded in the Virginia Tech massacre in April 2007, took a hidden camera to gun shows and had no problem buying assault-style weapons and handguns without a criminal background check, without even having to show identification. Some of his encounters with gun sellers are on YouTube, and while they're amazing, they're not shocking.

So, more guns than ever, more freedom to own guns than ever and more people than ever means anything can happen at any time, even the shooting of a dog in a dog park to end an apparent dog fight.

In this country, the gun has been the remedy for all kinds of problems.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the trial in Baltimore County of Roman Welzant. Mr. Welzant was 68 when he was charged with killing a neighborhood teenager and wounding another who had pelted his home with snowballs. He was acquitted on all charges but, of course, a young man had died over snowballs, something that would not have happened had Mr. Welzant not had a gun.

We've had other such stories over the years, and I'll mention two memorable cases from the 1990s: A 13-year-old shot for repeatedly ringing a man's doorbell in West Baltimore, and another 13-year-old shot by an elderly man trying to scare kids away from his car in East Baltimore.

In each case, the men who did the shooting received a lot of public sympathy, even praise — and they had killed kids.

A man shoots a dog, on the other hand, and he's vilified and threatened to the point where the police won't release his name. People are shocked and outraged; they want the guy's head.

I won't engage in the kind of overwrought speculation that has filled the airwaves and blogosphere since the shooting of Bear-Bear, except to say this: If a gun had not been present, Bear-Bear would not have been shot. The humans involved in that incident would have found another way to stop the dogs from fighting, or the dogs would have ended the fight themselves.

The gun makes the difference. In this country, the gun is the remedy, and the gun is here to stay.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He hosts Midday with Dan Rodricks on 88.1, WYPR-FM.

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