After a long, cold, deerless day in the tree stand, nothing warms the heart like call-in talk radio. You cozy up to the hunting shack’s wood stove, bone-dry Bombay Sapphire martini in hand, and wait for the two kinds of heat, inner and outer, to meet in your middle.
This is in our republic’s northland — almost Canada — where the AM radio waves, wave-like, come and go. You keep a finger on the dial, secure in the comfort that, when one station drifts into crackle, another is a 16th of an inch away.
On a night in the final week of the regular firearms season, I dictated some notes-to-self, while I shopped the radio for hot air. The 2008 election was mostly over — not here in Minnesota, of course, but elsewhere — and one of the lingering topics of controversy, at various points along the dial, was gun control.
Consensus built, undirected but full of certitude and vexation: Gather your weapons into safekeeping. Do not postpone buying new ones. President Barack Obama will disarm you. Literally. God wouldn’t do this; if the Lord didn’t want us to have guns, we wouldn’t have them. No self-respecting American would do this; if the Constitution doesn’t protect your gun cabinet, what does it protect? But Barack Obama will do this.
The hosts — Hannity, Limbaugh, the rest — probably knew it was applesauce, but they didn’t discourage it. And why bother? To a ranting Washington, D.C., caller fulsomely sure that Obama will confiscate every non-cop gun in D.C., would the truth — that he simply supports D.C.’s efforts to limit handguns — even matter?
Of rights and regulations
Another caller argued that the 2nd Amendment is unconditional: Concerning guns, he can do as he wants. No one reminded him that government does regulate rights. You have a right to own a car. This doesn’t mean you can drive it across your neighbor’s lawn.
I was talking back silently to my radio friends now, which hastened the body-warming, and then came a commercial break for — I swear — erectile-dysfunction and hemorrhoid remedies. Put a smile on the listener’s face.
A little farther along the dial, a caller claimed that Obama had “passed” a law that prevented him from buying more than one handgun a month. This, a reference to Obama’s co-sponsorship of a bill that would’ve attempted something like that. It had zero traction. Went nowhere. Please, I said, speaking aloud in a crescendo to the dumb stove. If someone’s buying two or more pistols every four weeks. Do you. Seriously. Think. It should go. Un-noticed?
A woman complained about “Obama’s Big Brother idea” of licensing and registering gun owners. “Can you imagine the red tape?” she lugubriously whined, adding vowels and syllables to the words “imagine” and “red.” On record, Obama long ago conceded: Licensing and registering are nonstarters.
Pondering all sorts of futility
In the stand the next morning, no deer anywhere, I had lots of reflective time to consider all manner of futility, not just the day’s. Eventually the 2nd Amendment line of debate came around, as a point of futility. Generation after generation, we revisit it: To our constitution-framers, what most needed protecting, my individual gun rights or the government’s right to have an army? Should federal regulations apply, or should it be up to the states? D.C. isn’t a state, so with the Supreme Court’s recent ruling for individual gun rights there, what does that mean for states — anything?
I know the National Rifle Association is worried about Obama’s choice for attorney general, Eric Holder — a man tilting toward the regulated militia interpretation. And if he determined that I had to turn one or all three of my guns into plowshares, I’d be fretting, too. I just cannot muster a whisper of concern. Not for my hunting privileges, not for my rights of self-defense. Those three weapons were purchased for the former, though they’d serve perfectly well for the latter. But if I ever concluded that I was living in a land where I as an individual, to protect me and mine, required more than a few hunting guns — face it: to shoot other humans — I would move. I really would.
Our very air has been fear-infused for so long now, we’ve almost forgotten how to live civilly, unskeptically. Post-election, I’m cautiously hopeful that we’re headed in the other direction, but I also think more, not less, gun control is in order in this country, skeptical as that sounds. In Obama’s city alone, 30-some school kids have been shot dead this year. That’s not unrelated to the number and availability of guns.
If we can’t do better than this, my home gun cabinet’s no refuge — never mind what’s in there.
Steve Downing, of Grand Rapids, Minn., is the development director of the Reif Arts Council.
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