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I had a friend who talked me into taking an NRA gun safety class with him. I don’t remember anything more important than what I had already known. Never point a gun at anybody.
While guns weren’t my thing I was interested in something that often pointed at people. Cars! I wanted my license. Never mind that on my first day of high school a girl was killed by a car as she crossed Madison Avenue for her first day at Mankato High. It was sad but nobody protested.
Before 1966, the only high school kids I’d ever seen protesting were mad because their schools were being integrated. Most kids had other preoccupations like jobs, young love, maybe booze and or college and getting wheels. Except for the kids who joined their fathers to hunt in the fall, guns were not that big a deal.
Once Baby Boomers took to the road they joined the rest of America by dying in alarming numbers. How alarming? Many Americans know that 57,000 names are carved onto the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. That was ten year’s-worth of fatalities. Those deaths did bring about protests but they paled compared to the death toll from automobiles. In 1966, the year I started high school, cars killed 50,894 people. By 1973 with more baby boomers on the road annual traffic deaths had climbed to 54,052. Over the course of the Vietnam decade (1963-1973) 556,153 people died on America’s roads. That’s Vietnam ten times over.
We can thank our lucky stars that our Founders did not have automobiles. If my baby boom generation had drafted the Second Amendment it would have read more like this:
“A well regulated transportation system, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to own and drive automobiles, shall not be infringed.”
If this had been our sacred civic language it could have been the Triple A (American Automobile Association) and not the NRA that brought our government to a screeching halt. We’d still be driving on two lane highways without medians. We would not have interfered with GM, Ford and Chrysler just because Ralph Nader whined that they were building cars that were “unsafe at any speed.” We would not have required seat belts to be installed or made children sit in car seats or installed expensive air bags or automatic car locks or reduced highway speeds or imposed stiffer penalties for driving drunk. No, we would have been free from these and dozens of other regulatory infringements. Traffic deaths would only be regarded today as a small price to pay for exercising our Constitutional right.
Of course, we were not allowed to keep our cold dead fingers on the wheels of unregulated cars. Traffic deaths were nearly halved until recent a recent uptick. In 2016 cars killed 37,461 people. The same year there were 38,000 gun deaths. Most of these gun fatalities were suicides but 11,000 were homicides like those that prompted marchers to call for change. This call is at odds with the mantra of the Second Amendment cult - that we already have enough gun laws.
Thanks to the National Rifle Association the high-water mark of gun regulation was the short-lived Brady Bill. Once an earnest outfit that taught kids like me how not to shoot our eyes out with our Red Riders on Christmas Day, the NRA turned paranoid. They imagined that Lincoln’s imperishable nation “of the people by the people and for the people” was metastasizing into one run by jack-booted thugs breaking down our doors to take our guns. And such guns! These are not the vintage guns of our storied past so much as weapons our Founders could hardly have imagined. Produced and purchased so copiously they can perpetrate astonishing feats of massacre in the hands of the wrong people.
The NRA’s Constitutional purists succeeded in changing the Supreme Court so that in 2008 it dismissed “militias” which had for 200 years been the justification for gun possession. They fought for the manufacture of bullets that could penetrate Kevlar. They fought to prevent identification numbers being inscribed on bullets so that murderers could be tracked down. They fought the ban on Automatic weapons and insured that bump stocks could take their place. They exempted private collectors from almost any supervision while selling guns all the while ramping up gun distribution until there were more guns than US citizens. And the result of all this advocacy gave them another argument. There are now so many guns on the streets that no law will put the genie back in the bottle. Never fear, however. We can count on the good guys, like that nice George Zimmerman who saved Florida from the kid he caught wearing a hoodie.
It’s ironic that the jackboots, which the NRA’s Wayne Lapierre warned us about, have turned out to be well-spoken high school students who object to having their friends gunned down. In a couple of years, they will be casting ballots not bullets.
Harry Welty is a small-time politician who also pontificates at www.lincolndemocrat.com