I recently joined our local organization, New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence. I felt my background in law enforcement (Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and King County Sheriff’s Department, Seattle) might be of use to the group’s efforts.
Before pro-gun readers dismiss this column out of hand, please understand: I would not have joined if the organization’s mission was to remove all guns from our society. That would not be realistic; perhaps, not even desirable. New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence is not out to take your guns away. Not yours and not mine. But the nation’s sheriffs’ “call to arms” requires some objective insight (“Sheriffs across the nation issue call to arms,” Jan. 19).
The right to self-defense is absolute. No sane person would argue that. But here’s the thing. Buying a firearm is the easy part. Far too many people who own guns have no real knowledge of how or when to use them, either legally or morally.
I have no problem with law-abiding citizens owning or carrying firearms if (and this is a huge “if”), they are physically, mentally and emotionally capable of handling them and equally prepared to take a life, if necessary. Owners also need to be conversant with the laws of the state regarding the circumstances under which a firearm may be displayed and/or discharged.
In short, someone owning and/or carrying a gun needs training. Extensive training. Not just going to a range and putting a box of rounds through his or her newly acquired semi-automatic pistol (not the best choice for the average person, by the way — but it looks so cool, right?).
There is much to know about firearm use, and while I can’t offer statistics, my experience tells me a dangerously large percentage of gun owners would do more harm than good attempting to use a weapon in a hostile situation, either losing it to a criminal or harming some innocent person downrange.
So, this “call to arms” by some sheriffs would be fine if it were followed up with this statement: “We want you to arm yourselves and we’ll provide, free of charge, extensive weapons training to make sure you can use your guns safely and effectively.” What, do you suppose, are the odds of that happening? I’ve worked with cops who, in my opinion, were not sufficiently competent with their service weapons nor emotionally suited to use them. How can we hope to have our civilian population be capable with our current minimal requirements?
We must be licensed and show proficiency to drive cars, fly airplanes, do electrical work, etc., ad nauseum. Why then, in good conscience, do we allow ownership and public carry of other potentially lethal objects with little or no demonstration of ability required.
Our problem is cultural. America is infatuated with guns. We are inundated with them from the earliest ages in every form of the media. They are “cool” and sexy. They make us feel empowered, often to our own demise. One of the most chilling experiences I had in law enforcement was at a domestic violence call. A toddler, barely able to stand upright, pointed to my service pistol and asked: “Nine miwee meetew?” Not “gun,” mind you, but his best attempt at saying nine millimeter.
Guns are tools, plain and simple. Their use needs to be mastered and applied only in the most dire of situations. There are extremists on both sides of the gun issue. Their positions will not result in positive change. But I believe there is a vast area of compromise to be explored by all responsible citizens. The current atmosphere cannot be allowed to continue.
I say again, buying a gun is the easy part.
MacKenzie Allen is a professional fundraising auctioneer and retired deputy sheriff who lives in Santa Fe.