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Outdoors - My two cents on the gun control debate

July 20, 2008|By Bill Anderson

This past week, I watched with great interest as Dick Heller, the man who was responsible for the Supreme Court ruling ending the District of Columbia handgun ban, started the process of legally registering his handgun in Washington. This process will eventually allow him to have the handgun in his home to be used for self-protection.

The gun he is registering is an old .22 revolver. Under the new law, a semi-automatic handgun is still illegal. Heller said he also owns a Colt .45 autoloader (Model 1911, the standard U.S. military service weapon for more than 50 years) but it remains in storage in Maryland since it is still an illegal firearm in Washington.

Heller, a retired security guard, has become something of a cult hero in some pro-gun circles, but even he admits that the new process that has been established for Washington residents will probably discourage many from applying. The District government clearly plans to make handgun ownership as difficult as possible, within the boundaries set forth in the recent Supreme Court ruling. More court battles are sure to follow.

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In more that 25 years of writing outdoors columns, I have mostly stayed out of the political side of gun ownership and gun control. Gun control is one of those areas - like religion and politics - that brings out inflexible positions and often ridiculous statements from each side.

I grew up around hunting and gun ownership, so a total ban - like the one in Washington that was overturned recently - never made much sense to me. When I was growing up in a rural area of Washington County, nearly every household had guns of some type. Even if a farmer did not hunt for recreation, he owned and used guns for things like controlling pest animals, potting the occasional rabbit or squirrel, or in the event that it became necessary to humanely dispatch injured livestock. Guns were viewed more as tools, not unlike a pipe wrench or hammer. Of course, if you decided to liberate some gas from the storage tank, you did so at your own risk.

Over time, it has become more and more popular for politicians to try to blame guns for a rapid rise in violent crime. The thinking seemed to be that if you could ban all guns, the criminals would be less well-armed, and the populace would be less at risk. The recently overturned D.C. handgun ban was a classic case in how that reasoning does not work. Not only was the law unconstitutional, it was a stupid law that only punished the people who do not break the law in the first place. It did virtually nothing to reduce the huge number of illegal weapons on the streets of the nation's capital.

Over the past 20 to 30 years, I have had reason to travel in and around D.C. on a regular basis. I also have friends who live and work in the city. It has become one of the most dangerous places in the country, and it seems that nearly every young man with an attitude has the means and opportunity to buy and carry a concealed firearm.

The District government bragged about its tough gun-control law, but at the same time, citizens and visitors to the city are more and more at risk from heavily armed felons and convicted felons-to-be, who could care less about the tough gun-control laws of the city. They get caught, they get processed and, in most cases, they get released to continue a life of preying on others.

A friend was telling me recently that I should be more pleased with the Supreme Court ruling (which, by the way, was only a 5-to-4 decision - not a slam dunk), but I'm not sure it was that big of an event for most of us. It's not clear to me how it really impacts the average hunter and gun owner. In addition, everyone would like to find a way to successfully stop and hopefully prevent terrible events like the Virginia Tech shootings, and this ruling doesn't really help in any way toward that goal.

This is an election year, and all of the candidates for all offices will be pandering and posturing on gun control, hoping to tell everyone what they think they want to hear. Wouldn't it be nice if a politician could present a reasonable position that keeps guns away from criminals or those with mental problems, protects the rights of hunters and sportsmen, and allows the average law-abiding citizen to have the choice to maintain a handgun in the home to protect themselves from intruders? Doesn't seem to me like too much to ask in return for your vote.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached by e-mail at bill@weekend-sportsman.com.

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