Gun sense

Pine Mountain author advocates for reasonable firearms regulation in a climate of escalating gun politics

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerJanuary 25, 2014 

Size as needed, Scratchboard-style illustration of youth riding a huge gun. The Miami Herald, 1994 CATEGORY: ILLUSTRATION SUBJECT: Youth violence illus. ARTIST: Patterson Clark ORIGIN: Miami Herald TYPE: PhotoFlash TIFF SIZE: As needed ENTERED: 11/18/94 REVISED: STORY SLUG: Stand-alone illustration, scratchboard, youth, violence, crime, gun, Herald, Clark, 1994, at-risk

(ITAL)"Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him."(END ITAL)

-- Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. This past weekend, my wife Jeri and I drove to Trinity Presbyterian in Atlanta to attend a meeting of the Georgia Gun Sense Coalition. It was not an accident that this meeting fell on the Saturday before the MLK holiday.

Our meeting's purpose was to convince our legislators, especially those bullied into bowing to the demands of extremist gun-rights groups like Georgia Carry and Georgia Packing, that the vast majority of our citizens, whatever their political party, oppose allowing guns on school property as well as in churches, temples, and mosques.

Indeed, other sensitive sites where Georgia law prohibits guns include in nuclear power plants, at bars (without an owner's permission), and in government buildings and state mental hospitals. Our citizens have lived with these prohibitions for years because they support them, not because the government arbitrarily imposed them.

Recently, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution conducted a poll through Scientific Research-Based Interventions and released its findings on three questions: 1) Do you favor or oppose allowing students to carry guns on college campuses and in dorms? 2) Do you favor or oppose requiring gun owners who want to carry firearms in public to take a safety course? And 3) do you favor or oppose allowing guns in churches.

Of those polled, 20% favored allowing guns on campus while 78% opposed doing so. Only 2% of those queried replied that they did not know or had no opinion.

Eighty-two percent favored requiring gun owners who wanted to carry weapons in public to take a safety course while 17% opposed this requirement. More Republicans than Democrats favored training as a prerequisite to carry in public, although percentages for both groups were high, and only 1% of those queried had no opinion.

Twenty-six percent favored allowing guns in churches while 72% opposed doing so. Only 2% had no opinion or did not know. Most polls, by the way, have higher incidences of undecided respondents than did this one.

Clearly, most Georgians stand strongly behind the traditional prohibitions of guns in certain places that we've lived with for years. Politicians who support allowing guns in these places belong to what we once regarded as extremist minorities, and yet these minorities are vocal, insistent, and often both rude and threatening in their advocacy.

Why do we give these one-note lobbyists so much sway in our legislative sessions? At the least, seven gun bills have come before the Georgia General Assembly this year, most for loosening restrictions, when issues such as the economy and education are more important and certainly much more on the minds of most of our fellow citizens.

Let me stress that nobody in the Georgia Gun Sense Coalition proposes banning guns, but simply doing our best to make sure they don't fall into the wrong hands or turn up in places regarded as especially sensitive to their presence. In other words, to use commonsense in the creation, implementation, and enforcement of our laws.

In my opinion, the young men -- far more men than women constitute these groups -- in Georgia Carry and Georgia Packing (as in "packing heat") are driven as much by testosterone, machismo, and insecurity as by a reasoned approach to enhancing public safety. Their main concern seems to be their own safety, yoked to an underlying fantasy that in mass shootings they will step in and save the day a la Bruce Willis in yet another "Die Hard" sequel.

The Georgia Gun Sense Coalition also believes that Stand Your Ground laws -- and, unhappily, Georgia has one -- lead some of these cowboys, even ex-law-enforcement officers, to wield this law as a license to kill. George Zimmerman is a prime example of the self-appointed vigilante, but he is far from alone, as a close look at recent news clearly testifies.

Lucia McBath, a member of the Coalition, lost her son to a shooter who objected to the fact that he was listening to loud music in an automobile in a public place with several of his friends. This outraged person fired ten shots into the car to express his opinion. His trial begins in Jacksonville, Florida, on Feb 3, 2014, and he is using Florida's Stand Your Ground Law as his defense.

Even Justice Antonin Scalia, in his defense of the Supreme Court's repeal of the gun ban inWashington, D.C., declared, "Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."

Again, the Georgia Gun Sense Coalition wishes neither to ban guns nor to repeal the Second Amendment, but to use common sense (and so I repeat myself) to create, implement, and enforce responsible laws about the accessibility and use of deadly firearms. Who would not wish to do the same?

Michael Bishop, an award-winning science fiction writer who has authored more than 30 books, lives in Pine Mountain. He is the father of Jamie Bishop, shot and killed while teaching a German class at Virginia Tech during the mass shooting there on April 16, 2007.

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