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Maturity and Gun Laws

A New Year’s letter to my son –

Dear Russell:

When I started writing these annual notes to you in 1994, I imagined your maturing into a young man, but I never imagined a lost opportunity to mature, like at Newtown, Conn. I can’t imagine if you’d had to grow up without your pals from sports or Scouts, without Matt, Cole, Joe, Dax, Nate, Nick …

On a happier note, I realized your growing maturity when you chose a law school based on its distance from Wrigley Field, not its closeness; when you chose to study for the bar exam rather than attend a basketball fantasy camp; and when Mom and I realized that a Christmas gift bobblehead of you should be an attorney, not an athlete.

“Mature” can be a euphemism for age, but maturity is a process, from innocence and inexperience toward a knack for judgment. Maturing can mean seasoned or reasoned expectations or reactions. My own reaction to Newtown – where a guy with a semiautomatic assault rifle and two pistols killed 26 – smothered the rage and grief within me instead of unleashing it or lashing out. Maturity or denial? (That may be the question when it comes to guns.)

An appeals court last month invalidated Illinois’ ban on carrying loaded guns in public, but Illinois’ Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin foresees proposals including background checks at gun shows and size limits to ammo clips to addressing inadequate support for mental health and dealing with a popular culture immersed in images of violence.

The Centers for Disease Control says 15,000 U.S. murders happened last year – 11,000 from gunshots, so isn’t gun violence a public health issue? A Dec. 27 Gallup poll showed that 58% of the country favors stricter gun laws, and some National Rifle Association allies have matured. (Congressman Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat just elected senator with backing by the NRA, said, “I don’t need a 25-round clip for effective home defense, and I sure don’t need one for hunting. It defies common sense.”)

Others blame media or mental illness, or they fault the lack of data on mental patients or gun crimes (thanks to the NRA lobbying for the Tiahrt Amendment). Regardless, firearm homicide rates in the United States are [quote] “19.5 times higher” than in other developed countries, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Trauma, which adds, “For 15 year olds to 24 years olds, firearm homicide rates in the United States were 42.7 times higher than in the other countries.”

A defense of less-regulated guns is that some Americans can safely use military-style weapons. Probably true. However, some Americans can probably text safely while driving, or use heroin and handle school buses, too. Society still forbids it because most people cannot.

There’s the bottom line, too. The gun business made almost $1 billion in profits this year, according to IBISWorld, but with some 300 million guns already owned by Americans, gun manufacturers need new customers: fearful people buying high-capacity magazines lest they become unavailable or dreamers musing about the thrills of protecting the land from invaders or fighting government itself.

That’s become another rationale, stemming from a misleading reading of the Second Amendment. It actually provides for a state to have an armed populace to maintain security through a militia, not to encourage treason, rebellions or other crimes. Yet some have immature fantasies about armed resistance or even insurrection. I was about your age in 1971 when I matured some, reflecting on Chicago police killing Peoria Black Panther Mark Clark and Chicago Panther Fred Hampton years before, on soldiers killing students at Jackson State and Kent State universities, and on the fact that the government has troops, sophisticated armaments, satellites and nuclear arms. The handgun I owned, legally and briefly, was ridiculous by comparison. Any other consideration was indulgent adventurism.

Realizing life wasn’t like TV’s Gunsmoke or the movie Red Dawn was mature.

It doesn’t seem like praise, but, Russell, you’re already more mature than Congress.

Theologian Martin E. Marty wrote, “Why do most political leaders muzzle themselves when invited to critique the NRA? Answer: They know that a peep of criticism can mean the end of a political career. Saying the wrong thing about abortion or homosexuality does involve some risk, but saying the wrong thing about guns is sudden death.”

Nevertheless, maturing for Congress, Americans or you and me can mean honing the ability to be pleasantly surprised, too – by reminders of the goodness of everyday people, by the hope that the grassroots can grow enough to turn heroism and empathy into action.

Robbie Parker, the father of one of the kids killed at Newtown, last month asked that the tragedy “not turn into something that defines us, but something that inspires us to be better, to be more compassionate and more humble people.”

You’re mature; be inspired, too.



Bill Knight is a freelance writer. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.  

Bill Knight’s newspaper columns are archived at