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Way Past Time

In the last year I have stood in line behind a guy at Walmart with a Smith & Wesson M&P on his hip and a guy open carrying a Glock at the supermarket. The People’s Republic of Vermont, as our detractors call us, is an open carry state. You can walk around almost anywhere with a gun in plain sight because a terrorist could attack while you’re picking up a gallon of milk. You might have to dive behind the frozen foods cooler before returning fire. Who knows if there’s a sniper in women’s sportswear?

Those kinds of quips used to sound funny in their obvious hyperbole, but in the last ten days there have been a dozen mass shootings, and it isn’t funny anymore.

I am a gun owner, and I live in Vermont. I am not a proud gun owner. I have a rifle and a shotgun for hunting. I’m proud of chasing Bambi and Tom Turkey around the woods every year, although I rarely do any game “management”; mostly I just hike with a heavy piece of metal and contemplate the beauty of the outdoors.

The state where I live encapsulates my feelings about firearms: tools for hunting are cool, and shooting competition gear is okay, but there’s no need for weapons that are specifically designed to kill people. In other words, I’m not a Second Amendment fanatic, and I’m all in favor of reasonable regulations of certain kinds of guns.

Despite our long history of open-carrying, Vermont has adopted some eminently reasonable restrictions-- like limiting the size of magazines. There just isn’t any need to carry twenty or thirty rounds unless you’re a soldier.

And this is where the debate gets side-tracked.

It doesn’t matter what the gun looks like. I don’t care if it looks like an honest-to-god SEAL Team Six M4A1. If the magazine can’t hold more than ten rounds, it is no more lethal than many of the hunting rifles nobody is worried about. Similarly, just because a gun doesn’t look like a military grade weapon, doesn’t mean it won’t be just as deadly.

It's all about the number of bullets.

If there were a government buy-back program for guns, I would sell all mine and hunt exclusively with a bow. We’re a long way from that, and that’s the problem. Despite being a gun owner, I would be delighted if our country had gun regulations like the rest of the industrialized world. But only about half of Americans favor more stringent gun control laws, and that’s too big a group to steamroller without further increasing violence.

The polarization that has taken over our country is so extreme now that instead of debating which gun restrictions are most likely to reduce murder and mayhem, we are stuck between those who would ban everything and those who think we have a god-given right to keep bazookas and howitzers. We’re at a point in history where compromise is critical to saving lives, but, at least during my lifetime, compromise has never seemed so far away.


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