Injecting Choice In Gun Debate


Eileen Foley of The Toledo Blade

A note from Planned Parenthood promising Congress a wake-up call next month from “America’s pro-choice majority” led me to think of the obvious advantage of framing gun issues as matters of choice as well.

Lots of people don’t want guns around the house. Fine. Let them not have them. Lots of others think the best self-defense is self-reliance. They want to be on the ready if danger strikes. Let them.

Choosers on both gun sides are agreed that firepower doesn’t belong in the hands of felons, psychotics, or the immature. They’d both applaud the breakup of a gun-running scheme the Indianapolis Star reported last month that showed the system worked. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms’ gun sale checks unveiled a ring that bought $160 9mm semi-automatic pistols to sell to gang toughs in Chicago.

Injecting choice into the gun debate would weaken the right, whose only liberal views are associated with the Second Amendment. It would make liberal Democrats politically consistent. It would attract some one-issue NRA types from the anti-choice crowd. It would make the next presidential election less predictable, and reflect the reality that guns in the hands of the law-abiding keep the world peaceable.

I’d also like to see youngsters again learning to use guns safely and effectively as they did when high schools had rifle clubs. Teddy Roosevelt liked rifle clubs. He felt, and rightly so, that citizens adept in gun use safeguard the peace.

Knowing guns helped an 11-year-old boy in South Bend, Ind., early in February save the life of his mother. When a man held a box cutter to his mom’s throat, the boy ran upstairs and grabbed a .45 from his late dad’s collection, came downstairs, and with one shot hit the thug who was shielding himself with the mom. He died. How did the boy know what to do? Before his dad died he’d taught him to handle guns and they’d gone target-shooting.

It’s not so hot for an 11-year-old to have to live with taking another’s life. It would be less hot had he been left an orphan, haunted by his own helplessness.

Democrats have sadly taken a turn away from their past by turning guns into shibboleths. No one has more enjoyed pointing that out than Dave Kopel, who regularly puts a sane yet liberal (in the true sense of the word) spin on Second Amendment issues in the National Review Online.

In a piece he co-wrote with Paul Gallant and Joanne Eisen of the Independence Institute, he reintroduces us to civil rights advocate, Democrat, and former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Shortly after moving into the White House, she began carrying a gun, which she took pains to learn to use effectively. It was that or Secret Service. She wanted no shadows.

At 71, they write, she took a pistol with her when she flew to Tennessee to speak at a civil rights workshop after the FBI warned her not to go because the Klan had put a $25,000 price on her head.

“It was the exercise of her Second Amendment Rights that empowered Eleanor Roosevelt to use her First Amendment rights to crusade for the 14th Amendment rights of blacks,” Mr. Kopel et al said.

Carrying “heat” and letting it be known has kept otherwise vulnerable people alive over the years, from jewelry dealers to civil rights workers to regular people.

Joseph Martino of Sidney, O., tells of being awakened in 1962 by an intruder at the foot of his bed. He grabbed and cocked the gun by his bed and rolled out and up. The intruder’s feet grew wings.

Dick Martin of Fairborn, O., was 21 and living in Lexington, Ky., that same year, driving a date home down a rural road late at night. A car behind them began to tailgate, then passed them, and later blocked the road. Three occupants emerged, one carrying a ball bat.

Mr. Martin had a .45 semi-automatic under the seat. He left the car, assumed a firing stance, and took aim. He didn’t shoot. Seeing the gun, the bullies fled.

Using or brandishing a gun may be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But one success is enough to feel the call of readiness.

Before we Americans got wimpy, virtually turning the other cheek when our soldiers, sailors, and marines were killed, we understood that the best way to assure peace was to be ready to fight. I’m not a huge fan of President Bush on matters domestic. But he is certainly right on settling scores and in letting bullies know they take advantage of us at their peril.

I learned that lesson at my mother’s knee. When I complained of Bobby D., a bully kid who threatened to beat me up if I ever played again with Andre, who had a sandbox, she told me: “Fight your own battles.” I was about 7.

Bobby came at me with his fists one day as I left the corner store. I hit him over the head with a bag of hotdogs. He pushed me down on a sloped lawn and came at me, only to turn white when I kicked him in the gut. Then I cried, which made him think he’d won, which was what it was all about. But he never picked on me again.

Eileen Foley is a Blade associate editor. E-mail her at [email protected].