May 25 - May 31, 1995

Fast Cars, Machine Guns--What's The Difference?

B y  J e f f  S m i t h 

[Smith]I DETECT A certain weariness among my native litero/politico constituents toward the subject matter upon which we are about to embark, but since this is Global Second Amendment Appreciation Week, and, coincidentally, contiguous with the National Rifle Association's annual convention in Phoenix, concluding Sunday last, I am going to burden you just this once more (until next time) with a brief, easy-to-comprehend treatise on free will. Gird your loins.

By way of background, should any of you need it, bear in mind that I am a liberal. At least by bonehead definition I am. I voted for Clinton. Before that I voted for Dukakis, Mondale, Carter, Democrats all. Even Clean Gene and mopey old George McGovern. I like paying taxes to support welfare. I have a library card. I practice the First Amendment.

And the Second. This is where my liberal friends begin wringing their hands and rolling their eyes. They think being a liberal means you can send pictures of naked people through the mail and say anything you want about the government (so long as it isn't too mean to Bill and Hillary), that you should be safe from unlawful search and seizure, that you should be able to buy a nice house in a white neighborhood even if your last name is X, and that Jesse Helms has no business telling women about reproductive rights.

All of which is fine. Government should serve people and not butt into their personal lives...except when some people want to own nasty looking guns that shoot lots of times. At this point their entire liberal philosophy falls apart. It doesn't help that they perceive the people who want to own these dreadful guns as redneck hillbillies who drool tobacco juice, beat their women and like to kill things, up to and including, Negroes, Jews, queers and liberals.

Now it ought to be abundantly clear that this kind of stereotypical non-thinking would be anathema to the liberal mind, were it coming from the political right, but hey, nobody's perfect. Liberals are blind in their right eyes, as often as conservatives are blind in the left, and as a consequence these disparate factions of our society keep blundering into one another and blaming the other's clumsiness.

Me, I just want to open everybody's eyes to the truth. Which is that most of us aren't as bad as our detractors claim, nor as good as we ourselves like to believe.

This is easy enough to accept in the abstract, but well nigh impossible when it comes to specifics. The best I am usually able to drag out of my liberal friends when it comes to the people's right to keep and bear arms is a grudging admission that very poor people in very remote regions, far from Basha's and Reay's, ought to be allowed to take their squirrel rifles off the mantle in the autumn, and go shoot something for the stew pot.

Why does anybody need an assault rifle? I am asked. Why would anyone other than a cop or a criminal need or want a handgun? What conceivable justification is there for a pistol that hold 17 rounds of ammunition?

A wonderful counter has come to me by way of a friend of a friend. Bruce Froman was a board member of the NRA. He died last February. His wife Sandy still is an NRA board member, a gun enthusiast, a motorcyclist and an attorney. She and her late husband were very clear and eloquent about the important rights that lay at the foundation of their enthusiasms, and the universal human impulses that accompanied them. Bruce explained this to my friend Art Jacobsen, who relayed it to me. I am indebted.

Because one of the people who sometimes troubled me over my interest in guns is my friend Mick Frew, a man with whom I share a love for motorcycles, and many long, exciting miles of history on two wheels. Mick told me he doesn't get the point of high-capacity handguns or so-called assault rifles. Here's the point, Mick, and all the rest of you:

Sixty-six miles-per-hour.

What is the point of motorcycles that have a hundred or more horsepower and will triple the speed limit? Why will a Hyundai station wagon go a hundred miles per hour? How come it is legal to build, buy, own and use radar detectors...or water pipes and rolling papers...anything which is capable of or might be used to violate legal limits?

Because they fill a need, many needs, of human animals. Physical needs, psychological needs, spiritual and fantasy needs.

Mick would howl like a stuck something-or-other if Congress outlawed motorcycles over five horsepower, capable of speeds above Interstate-legal 65. He'd probably argue that the soul had been stolen from motorcycling and thus, from the men and women who ride motorcycles. And he'd be right. And justly indignant. A world without Ducati 916s is a world in which Mick and I would not want to live. Or a world without Ferraris and Corvettes. Their entire charm exists on the far side of the speed limit, and yet they are legally built, bought and used.

And illegally used, many millions of times more often than high-capacity handguns or semi-automatic rifles are wrongly employed.

We are free, for the most part, in our society to have things that can or might be put to illegal use, so long as we keep our behavior within the law. Even beyond the law, it is the act and the actor that are proscribed, not the inanimate object used in the act.

Some people ride fast motorcycles fast. Most don't. But all riders, fast or not, imagine themselves scorching through the corners with their knees skimming the pavement, raising a fist in victory as the checkered flag falls. We all have fantasy lives and we enjoy them. Fantasy is a relief from dull reality, and the richer the fantasy the easier it is to endure reality without having to act out unacceptable behavior in public.

We call it catharsis and know it to be a healthy release.

Couples who can play at their little sexual fantasies in privacy and mutual consent tend not to run around tying people up and raping them. Walter Mittys who do a little vroom-vroom on a deserted back road tend to relax and take it easy through school zones.

And boys and girls who can take their old sixguns out to the shooting range and go eyeball-to-eyeball against a cardboard cutout of Ike Clanton, are finding a release in their fantasy roles as frontier champions that is good for them and good for society.

In addition to which they tend to understand the blunt truth that there always are frontiers of human behavior where good guys are going to be confronted by bad guys, and that today no less that a century ago, the town marshal isn't going to be there with his Colt in hand every time the bad guy strikes.

Bad guys are always going to avail themselves of the state-of-the-art in armament. Good guys have every right--and every responsibility--to defend themselves.

Editor's note: Owing to an unaccustomed lapse in editorial alertness--and Smith's inability to be concise--last week's Smith column was missing a critical element in mid-harangue. For reasons of space a passage was deleted. For reasons of tardiness the surviving elements were not linked together with sufficient textural glue. Thus the contributions of former Tucson Citizen editorial writer John Lankford, and then-Channel 9 anchor/now Channel 13 anchor Bud Foster, were omitted from Smith's history of Reporters' Roundtable. So sorry.

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May 25 - May 31, 1995

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