Friday, June 27, 2008

My Handgun

Yesterday's Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment made me relax a little, for I own a handgun.

It's not a Colt six-shooter or a Beretta automatic or even a Saturday Night Special. It's a muzzle-loading Kentucky flintlock pistol, .54 caliber, a fully working Italian-made replica I bought as research for a new mystery novel. Now and then I haul it out and go to a range and shoot it. It makes a glorious bang (when it does fire) and sometimes I hit the target.

For safety's sake I keep the weapon, the balls, and the bag of flints in separate cupboards, and store the black powder outside the house. If somebody wants to use my gun for nefarious purposes, he's going to have to work hard.

Yeah, I'm a liberal, and I used to be anti-gun. But years of interacting with thoughtful hunters and careful gun enthusiasts in rural Upper Michigan taught me that the Second Amendment should not be approached as an issue of absolutes, although the National Gun Nut Association and the Ban All Handguns No Matter What people would have you think otherwise.

Just as I believe every woman has the right to reproductive choice, I believe I have the right to own a handgun -- for research and, if it ever comes to that, for self-protection. Let's face it: Laws or no, bad guys will always be able to get their hands on guns, for there are so many out there. Good guys deserve the same opportunity.

But I also believe society has an obligation to protect itself by setting limits on gun rights, such as requiring screening and registration of firearms owners and banning private ownership of machine guns and automatic assault rifles.

Mr. Justice Scalia said essentially the same thing in his Second Amendment majority opinion yesterday. I never thought I'd agree with anything he handed down from the bench, but this time I do.


  1. I find this topic fascinating, and America's fascination for gun ownership is also very interesting.

    Until I came to America when I was 17, I had never seen a gun, and was shocked at police wearing them. Two years ago when I came back to America, I was again shocked to see one. Our police arm themselves with pepper spray!!!

    We do have an armed offenders squad - but you hardly ever see them.

    I guess we're not a very violent society :)


  2. It's our sometimes unfortunate history. The colonials hunted animals, and as the colonies expanded westward defended themselves from (and hunted) Indians. We were an armed nation during our Revolution and our Civil War, and we nearly exterminated the Indians during the westward push of Manifest Destiny. All kinds of weapons have always floated about this place since its beginning, and they have become ingrained in American culture for good and ill.

    European crooks are now armed and so are European cops. Pray the poison never comes to New Zealand.

  3. I'm a city liberal, too, and though I don't own any guns I agree with you, Henry.

  4. Henry - I thought you ,might appreciate this verse from Steve Earle's song "Devil's Right Hand" regarding cap and ball pistols.

    "About the time that Daddy left to fight the big war
    I saw my first pistol in the general store
    In the general store, when I was thirteen
    I thought it was the finest thing I ever had seen"

    "So l asked if I could have one someday when I grew up
    Mama dropped a dozen eggs, she really blew up
    She really blew up, and she didn't understand
    Mama said the pistol is the devil's right hand"

    Me very first pistol was a cap and ball Colt
    Shoots as fast as lightnin' but it loads a mite slow
    It loads a mite slow, and soon I found out
    It'll get you into trouble but it can't get you out"

    That last line about getting you into trouble but can't get you out is classic. Remember that if you go totin' your piece on Michigan Avenue!

    Steve S

  5. About all a flintlock pistol could do on Michigan Avenue is hail a cab.

    Anyway, handguns are illegal in Chicago and in Evanston, where I live. Litigation has already been started challenging those bans.

    In Illinois, however, muzzle-loading weapons are not considered firearms. (The powers that be finesse the matter by requiring state firearms licenses of muzzle loader owners who want to buy black powder.)

    I do not feel like getting into a wrangle with the Evanston city fathers over whether a flintlock pistol is a legal handgun or not, so I keep the thing under lock and key in upper Michigan.

    It IS a lot of trouble, but it makes such a glorious bang.