Our Better Angels

Harry Welty

Six years ago I made the only snow sculpture that made me cry. Judging by some comments at the time on various websites, which posted its photo, I was not the only one so affected. The sculpture was of an angel wrapping her arms around children after the Sandy Hook Massacre. 
Shooting the innocent has become an ever more oppressive way for the angry, depressed, and suicidal to share their suffering. There have always been other methods of inflicting pain but the gun offers advantages over torches, poisons and sharp blades. Those advantages advance exponentially with ever more impressive engineering. I’ve just read a news story about the US military’s excitement at the prospect of a new battleground rifle that will expel rounds with so much force that Kevlar will be no more of an impediment than a rag. I’m sure the National Rifle Association looks forward to defending its membership’s rights once this weapon finds its way into civilian hands. The Bill of Rights is, as it goes without saying, sacred.

So much of the Republican gospel is sacred that it is above compromise except when it’s abandoned…..like Free Trade. I’ve never been quite sure which codicil to the Bible makes firearms so special. When the Constitution was adopted by the American people there was no assembly line production of guns. Ammunition had yet to be rifled for accuracy and lead shot had to be melted by the gun owners themselves to fit their eccentric barrels. There was no rapid fire. Instead ranks of European trained soldiers stood in line to fire into opposing lines of soldiers so that their wild shots could hit the broad side of a barn. How frustrating for the British that the Americans adopted “Indian” tactics and hid behind trees to shoot back. 

To curtail our “excessive” current gun laws there is an NRA chorus calling for the arming of teachers. This would help, I guess, when some gun toting villain blasts his or her way past the glass security doors like those now found in Duluth’s Red Plan schools. Perhaps the NRA could go a step further and pay for gun safes in our classrooms so that our children could fight back when faced with a semi or fully automatic rifle. Right now Duluth’s kids are being trained to throw things, anything, at bad guys who poke a gun into their classrooms. That’s one way to throw the book at a bad guy.

I have long been confounded at the gun lobby’s rationales for letting Americans buy guns on the sly to avoid red tape. But you can’t sell a car without transferring the title! Why should a gun designed and capable of taking out a Las Vegas concert crowd be any different?
In 1994, twenty years before Sandy Hook, I wrote a letter to the News Tribune as a fledgling politico endorsing gun control. It wasn’t my best. I wrote about a “slavish” devotion to the Constitution when I should instead have suggested that enforcement of the Bill of Rights should be fluid and flexible. Guns today are not like those of the sparsely populated and lightly armed America of 1794. And back then, the Federal Government wasn’t a wimp when it came to law enforcement. President George Washington took to horseback to command an American Army enforcing tax collection and to crush Pennsylvania’s “Whiskey Rebellion. “

I don’t recall what prompted me to write that letter in 1994 even though the subject bad been on my mind for a long time. Back then I was upset that America’s inner cities were riddled with black on black gun violence. I felt, perhaps naively, that reducing the production of cheap handguns would have a salutary effect. But it might have been another recent act of violence that stirred me to share my opinion. 1994 was also the year that a School Board member’s sister was shot to death at her own front door when her husband, or ex, came to revenge his family’s dissolution.

Joan Peterson has done what I hope I would have done. She’s made passing sensible gun control her personal ministry. I was impressed to read that Joan encouraged Joe Radinovich, the Democrat’s candidate for Minnesota’s 8th Congressional seat, to open up about a similar tragedy in his life. Telling that story turned Joe Radinovich’s campaign around and helped him climb out of polling hell to surge to within five points of catching the eventual winner of that race. 

Unsurprisingly, the election was followed by more senseless deaths including a massacre of innocents at a Pennsylvania synagogue. I saw Joan at a vigil honoring the innocents soon afterwards. In fact, there were three of us former school board members at this or another more formal vigil at Duluth’s Temple Israel. The three of us have long been at odd over school district issues but Joan Peterson, George Balach and I were united on these occasions by the conviction that compromise would well serve America. It would also honor the sanctity of lives senselessly snuffed out in a fit of bile.

PS. The letter writer who picked holes in my pro-gun control position 25 years ago was none other than the Reader’s, Bill Rees, who has regularly fenced with Gary Burt on the Reader’s opinion pages for years.

Harry Welty is a local eccentric and perennial candidate for office in Duluth who also pontificates on his blog: www.lincolndemocrat.com.