There are certain discussions I try to avoid because the contesting sides are so intractably opposed there is no room for discussion. Pro Life/Pro Choice is one. National Security/Freedom of Speech is another. Redskins/Cowboys is right up there.
But one that also ranks is high second amendment rights, and in the wake of the Virginia Tech Massacre Governor Kaine wants to take the five day wait currently in place for purchasing a handgun at a gun store and extend it to a gun shows.
Pure Second Amendment advocates say this is further erosion of individual liberties; advocates of the waiting period say it keeps guns out of the wrong hands. The Second Amend guys come back and say it only delays guns getting out, and as such the wait is effectively useless for a person determined to use it; opponents say that during that time that person may change their mind. The Second Amend guys reply that “people kill people, not guns”, and talk about alternative weapons; opponents note the difficulty in killing a bunch of folks with, say, an axe.
Let me weigh in, based in both my long held position and perspective from the last few days…
You likely don’t know it, but I am your typical Northern Virginia office dweller, and for the last eight years I have shared my office space with the same person…a remarkable record for longevity up here. We have been through several births, a divorce, a remarriage, promotions, promotions that didn’t happen, wins and losses, triumphs and tragedies.
So, you can imagine my shock when I found out yesterday morning that at 7:45 PM on 1.13.2008 my office mate of eight years held a .357 magnum to his head and pulled the trigger.
We all knew he was being treated for depression, and had been for several years. We knew a recent holiday trip had been by his lights a disaster. We did not know that he had walked to the edge of the edge of the abyss…and that the abyss was staring back at him.
I understand in a situation like this, there is no one to be blamed. My officemate had gone off his meds, had begun drinking, had not been seeing his therapist. The illness that drives so many to suicide pulls their thinking into a land where rage or helplessness drives their thinking and everyday standards of conduct and communication and morality are often jettisoned. It is an act that can be driven by desperation or revenge and even both, and can seldom be derailed by logic but can be stopped by insignificant things, like a song that reminds them of a special time.
In a sense, my office mate was not too much different than Cho Seung-Hui of Virginia Tech…and that is what scares me.
My office mate didn’t walk into the office and go postal, but he could have. Like Cho he had decided to end his life, and we can only speculate on what drove him. What we don’t know is how far he might have been ready to go. A receipt shows he purchased the gun on 1.7.2008. What went through his mind during the interval while the gun check ran? He was going to get the gun-he had no criminal record or anything in his treatment that would trip up the purchase…and throughout the week he came to work and seemed the same old guy…and come monday he could have walked into the office with a handful of firepower and wrought some powerful damage.
Maybe he never planned to do something like that. Maybe he thought about it, but the wait period cooled him out in that regard. I will never know, but I cannot help but think it a good thing the five day wait was in place.
I believe in the Constitution, and I believe it is a foundation document for our society. However, I don’t see where a cooling out period and background check for a gun purchase is a bad thing. The same risks of rage and mental illness that prompted the legislature to enact a cooling off period for buying a handgun at a gun store exist-and are perhaps even more in evidence-at a gun show. You get to own and bear arms-just not right at the moment you plunk down your cash.
I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the world of psychiatry and what is proper to be revealed about patients and whether it inhibits their treatment and recovery. But I do know that outside of collectors people buy handguns for the purpose of killing. It may be in defense of their home, and it may not. It might be w/in the law, it might not. But for those of us who might be inadvertently in harms way, that cooling off period does just that-gives that gun buyer a chance to stop and think before picking up blue steel.
I don’t know that the cooling off period prevented my office mate from doing damage to others-it certainly didn’t have that effect with Cho…but maybe it did.
The libertarians will say we cannot protect anyone. True, but we can protect some. The conservatives might call it unnecessary government intrusion-I call it consistent government regulation. I know what Rudy G calls it-sensible.
Extend the cooling off period to gun shows. It may be a constitutional issue, and it may be a commerce issue. But it is also a public safety issue.
Extend the wait period. It won’t bring back my officemate-but it will almost certainly diminish the amount of collateral damage-and isn’t that worth it?