SACRAMENTO, Calif. — I’ve owned guns since age 13 and for many years was an avid hunter. I get the attraction and why they’re enjoyed. But there’s something I’ve never gotten.
I’ve never gotten why they’re worshiped like pagan idols by so many.
Guns are so revered that many gun owners are obsessed with the fear that their weapons will be seized by the federal government, and they’ll be left alone in the world. In their minds, the feds stay awake at night plotting the mass confiscation of — what’s it up to now? — 400 million firearms, far more than the U.S. population.
I do get this much: The National Rifle Association and other gun lobbies for decades have profited by spreading this propaganda and fomenting fear among gullible gun owners, who then send in dues and donate.
After all, the first thing Hitler did was seize all civilian guns in Nazi Germany, the fearmongers preach. And if we let down our guard, some authoritarian could grab our treasured firearms. Maybe someone from the White House.
That’s nonsense, of course, but it’s modern American gun gospel.
Back when I was a “junior member” of the NRA, its overriding emphasis was on gun safety. It seemed we were a lot safer in those days.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who have never held a gun, let alone shot one, who’d like to dump every civilian firearm in the ocean. That whips up gun owners’ paranoia.
What we desperately need is something that seems beyond reach. And that’s for the two sides to agree there’s an intolerable problem. Then they need to negotiate and decide what to do about it.
It’s called compromise, an American concept even older than the awkwardly written 2nd Amendment.
A Laguna Beach blogger emailed me Wednesday with an outstanding idea: President Biden should convene a gun summit at Camp David.
Invite gun lobbies, gun control groups and “the parents of children gunned down at school,” wrote Denny Freidenrich, a retired public relations executive. “Make them bunk up and eat together for however long it takes to find common ground.”
But in today’s antagonistic climate, they might not last 15 minutes.
There are too many guns, period. There are especially too many military-style guns, the so-called assault weapons — semiautomatic rifles or handguns with high-capacity magazines. They have no place in a civilized society.
But most of us have been saying that for decades. And yet a kid who just turned 18 could buy two at a Texas store and shoot up a school, killing at least 19 students and two adults Tuesday.
It was the second horrific mass shooting in less than two weeks. On May 14, a racist gunman with an assault-style rifle killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y.
“Once again we learn that a tool designed to kill lots of people in a hurry is used to kill lots of people in a hurry,” notes Garen Wintemute, director of the California Firearm Violence Research Center at UC Davis.
“Nobody needs to act surprised. The tool was used for the purpose it was designed.”
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has proposed legislation to raise from 18 to 21 the minimum age for buying assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Wintemute doesn’t think that’s an answer. They should be banned for everyone, he says.
Feinstein wholeheartedly agrees and her landmark 1994 legislation did outlaw assault weapons nationally. But it expired 10 years later, and Congress refused to renew the ban.
“In the 10 years that the assault weapons ban was in place, gun massacres dropped 37%,” Feinstein says. “After the ban lapsed in 2004, gun massacres rose by 183%. There is simply no reason that average citizens need weapons of war.”
California banned assault weapons after a Stockton mass school shooting in 1989. Republican Gov. George Deukmejian enthusiastically pushed the legislation.
Since then, we’ve enacted the toughest gun control laws in the nation. And there are a bunch more bills pending in the Legislature that Democratic leaders and Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed on Wednesday to get enacted by the end of June.
Our problem is that guns illegal here still get smuggled into the state. What’s needed is national legislation so firearms aren’t brought into California from Nevada, into Chicago from Indiana or into Washington, D.C., from Virginia.
There are no universal, tight background checks to prevent guns from being purchased by criminals and crackpots.
And there isn’t enough money spent by politicians who advocate gun control — like Newsom — to enforce the laws we do have and seize weapons from people who possess them illegally.
One thing that could have prevented the Texas massacre is a California “red flag” program that allows families, teachers and co-workers to report suspicious gun owners. Then a judge can order their weapons confiscated.
The Texas killer apparently disclosed his plan on Facebook.
“We don’t have to wait for elected officials to take action,” Wintemute says. “If you see something, say something.”
Look, politicians have been railing about the proliferation of gun violence for a very long time. And gun murders have been escalating to the nation’s embarrassment.
The problem won’t be solved until firearms owners finally understand that it must be solved and compromise with gun control advocates — then give the politicians permission to act.
Political columnist George Skelton has covered government and politics for nearly 60 years and for The Los Angeles Times since 1974.
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