Ready, aim, compromise

  • John Mecklin


"I want to say those fighting words, to hear and to heed, and especially to you, Mr. Gore: From my cold, dead hands."

-Charlton Heston in May 2000, waving a rifle above his head at an NRA annual meeting.

"The NRA is opposed to common-sense gun reform, and they have George Bush in their hip holster..."

-Al Gore's then-spokesman Chris Lehane.

In my first newspaper job in Georgetown, Texas, I became friends with a reporter who had been in the military and liked to target-shoot. Georgetown is in the German-Czech, beer-drinking part of Central Texas, but the town itself was dry. So after work we'd head up the two-lane highway over rolling hills to the tiny hamlet of Theon, which had a bar on its outskirts.

We'd order beers and walk across the road to a "shooting range," which really was just a pasture with an earthen berm in it, and we'd blast away with my friend's .38 revolver and/or .22 rifle. I assume the criticism of this shooting-while-drinking behavior will start any minute, but we weren't primarily drinking; we were target shooting and having fun. And there in way-rural Williamson County, we were a danger to no one.

About a quarter century later, I was walking down San Francisco's trendy Valencia Street when a short man in his late teens or early 20s walked next to me, way too close. He stuck his face about three inches from my cheek and chanted, "Gimme a cigarette, bitch." After 10 or 15 paces of this, I stopped to face him and noticed the other members of his gang - judging from their colors, one of the Norte?o crews that claimed this part of the Mission - who were watching intently.

When I explained that I didn't have a cigarette, the gangbanger scooted back a few steps, crouched weirdly and then charged, swinging a beer bottle at my head. Reflexively, I blocked it with a forearm, and time began moving very, very slowly as I backed away in careful baby steps. And you'd better believe that I was looking for guns; the Nortenos and the rival Surenos had been shooting each other for years in that part of town.

High Country News has a history of championing collaboration among antagonists - even bitter enemies - as a way of solving intractable Western problems. No issues call more loudly for the finding of reasoned common ground than gun ownership and gun control. There are groups and politicians who benefit from polarizing the gun question into simple-minded absolutes with demonizing subtexts: Do you support the right to bear arms? (Or are you a big-government fascist come to take our guns and put us in a camp?) Do you support gun control? (Or are you a right-wing loon with an assault rifle at the bedside?) The polarization has led to a mishmash of state and federal laws that disserve the majority of Americans - and Westerners - who don't want to take guns away from solid citizens or rural areas, but don't want their kids killed in gang crossfire, either.

Ray Ring's cover package, "Guns R Us," offers an authoritative look at the sometimes loopy state of Western gun culture. I think it remarkably even-handed and hope it can provide a starting point or two for discussion among people of goodwill from across the political spectrum who are more interested in sane gun policy than rabid rhetorical gunplay.

Theon, meet San Francisco. S.F., Theon.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at

Aug 07, 2007 11:09 AM

I'm all for sane gun policy. Here's some:

1) Citizens do not need approval from bureaucrats to defend their families. Not licenses, nor permits, nor proof of "need".

2) Citizens can have the same guns their supposed protectors get.

3) People should be arrested for actual harmful ("mala in se") crimes, not unconstitutional paper violations.

4) Anyone should be able to buy, sell or manufacture guns without oversight or permission by bureaucrats or other government thugs.

5) Citizens can carry openly or concealed as they like, unless a private property owner (e.g. store owner) posts otherwise. But the store owner can post prohibitions on anything he likes, not just guns.

There are some things for which compromise is reasonable, and others for which it is a concession to slavery. The violent ones are not peaceful gun owners, but those who employ government coercion to bully them. Why compromise with that?


Aug 07, 2007 11:34 AM

So there should be less oversight than on beer or potato chips? Eh/sounds right? Anonymous??

Aug 07, 2007 12:54 PM

It is NOT `reasonable' to weaken freedom with your so-called`reason'. Violence is never going to disappear from this earth - even if humans do. The only logical method to deflect violence is with the equal or better threat of violence - more armed citizens mean fewer threats from punks (we could even hope to make them extinct). And before you bring up the frizzled little Ghandi character blocking a train by laying across the tracks, note that he was blocking a train contolled by Brits too civilized to slice and dice the little bugger.

Aug 08, 2007 11:26 AM

As to Gandhi:

"Among the many misdeeds of British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest."
-- Mahatma Mohandas K. Gandhi   Source: An Autobiography, page 446

Our freedom was not won with beer or potato chips. We do not protect our families with beer or potato chips. Oversight means control. Control eventually means prohibition, because no government can stand the idea of armed citizens. 

Aug 09, 2007 11:30 AM

Compromise must come from both sides.  Generally when the word "compromise" is used concerning the right to keep and bear arms, compromise is only suggested on the side of curtailing rights already possessed but not curtailing regulations already in place.  In short, it is not a compromise.  People who want to compromise rights simply suggest that since rights could be compromised more (e.g. a complete handgun ban) it is a "compromise" when they suggest something just a little less restrictive (e.g. a ban on possessing handguns anywhere outside of the home).  That's not a compromise.  I hope what the author suggests is more of a true compromise and less of a rights giveaway.  Let me suggest a compromise:

1.  Gun ownership is found to be a right by the Supreme Court, subject to reasonable restrictions.  (for the PRO rights crowd)

2.  Congress passes a uniform and reasonable registration law, training requirement, and loss or theft reporting requirement.  (for the ANTI rights crowd)

3.  Congress passes a uniform concealed carry law that gets rid of the 50 current laws (48 allowing concealed carry of weapons in some fashon, 2 not allowing it) and makes a nation CCW with reasonable training requirements and background checks.   (for the PRO rights crowd)

4.  Background checks are required on personal sales as well as dealer sales (the so-called gun show loophole).  ATF sets up a 1-800 system to implement this.    (for the ANTI rights crowd)

5.  Congress authorizes funds to allow federal prosecutors to prosecute felons in possession of a gun charges which are not currently prosecuted and can put hardened criminals into federal prison for 10 years at a stretch.    (for everyone)

Aug 09, 2007 11:30 AM

The Constitution is the law.  Any laws repugnant to the Constitution are null and void.  You can't uphold the parts of the Constitution which you like and discard the rest.  You must uphold it all.  It is there to protect us from those that would become, are becoming, tyrants.  If you don't like the Constitution, you may do as our founding fathers did, declare your independence and start you own country.

Aug 09, 2007 12:05 PM

Store owners post signs saying that even law abiding citizens with concealed carry permits can't bring a firearm into their place of business. Fine. But when a bar says that patron cannot wear athletic wear because they are trying to dsicourage the Hip Hop thug culture from patronizng their business, the ACLU is all over it. Where is the ACLU when gun owners are discriminated against? I would rather be in a bar full of patriotic gun owners who take their kids to a shooting range than a bar full fo "gangsta" hip hop thugs.

Aug 09, 2007 12:27 PM

"4.  Background checks are required on personal sales as well as dealer sales (the so-called gun show loophole).  ATF sets up a 1-800 system to implement this.    (for the ANTI rights crowd)"

As soon as you are willing to compromise on being able to sell you car, home, refrigerator, stove or ANYTHING ELSE with this exact same restriction in place.  And please don't try to trot out the tired argument about none of these other items killing people.  There are more people killed in or with cars annually by far. 

Aug 09, 2007 12:57 PM

John, it's real easy to call for "compromise" in a generalized way and expect to come off sounding like you're "reasonable".

Maybe if you'd define some of the specific compromises you'd like to see, we could let you know if we agree.

How does John Mecklin define "reasoned common ground"?  And how can we "collaborate" with people who--despite your and Ray Ring's apparent beliefs that they can be sated, do indeed want to disarm us?

Conspiracy hysteria? Hardly.  Don't take it from me, take it straight from the sources, compiled and verified by Eugene Volokh, Professor of Law, UCLA Law School, including:

"1. Quotes from gun control proponents praising the slippery slope, and urging mild restrictions as steps toward a total ban.


"2.  Citations to laws that in fact ban all guns or all handguns.


"3.  Quotes from politicians urging gun bans.


"4.  Quotes from leading media figures and institutions urging gun bans.


"5.  Quotes from advocacy groups urging gun bans."

(See: )

Why not write another opinion piece?  Let us know how you intend to find a solution to such a seemingly "intractable" agenda through "compromise".

Those of us who believe in reasoned discourse can't wait to hear your proposals.

Aug 09, 2007 02:03 PM

we compromised in 1934, that wasn't enough for the gun banners.

we compromised in 1968, that wasn't enough for the gun banners.

we compromised in 1976, that wasn't enough for the gun banners.

we compromised in 1986, that wasn't enough for the gun banners.

we compromised in 1989, that wasn't enough for the gun banners.

we compromised in 1994, that wasn't enough for the gun banners. 


WE WILL NOT COMPROMISE ANYMORE! THE RIGHT FOR THE PEOPLE TO BEAR ARMS SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Aug 09, 2007 04:39 PM

I was a bit disappointed with the "Geography of Guns" portion.  I expected where the major factories are, like Prescott, and places in the west marked "NO GOVERNMENT SERVICES BEYOND THIS POINT" meaning your on your own from now on.  

Of course hunting is gun oriented.  You have to kill something before you eat it.  Timing is everything.  Never chew on a live elk.

Robert Leavitt

Henderson, Nevada 


Aug 10, 2007 11:04 AM

And let us not forget that the Framers of our Nation and Constitution were well aware that the Second Amendment was merely affirming a pre-existing Right, exactly the same as the First does. George Washington, as President, made a speech specifically citing private gun ownership as the main bulwark against tyrrany. For those of you playing 'stupid', he meant an overreaching Government. There wasn't any distiction made as to type of weapon either: it was perfectly legal for someone to own a cannon, if he/she could afford one.

For those talking about 'reasonable' compromise, let me ask you something: You ladies who are reading this, would you support a 'reasonable' reading of the 20th Amendment? Would you trust 'reasonable' interpretations of your Voting Rights?

For the Black readers: how about a 'reasonable' reading of Amendments 13, 14, and 15? Didn't you suffer enough under Jim Crow, and slavery before that? The white Union generals who liberated your forefathers during the latter stages of the Civil War sure thought they should be armed, and not only for military service either, because they knew that a gun was the best guarantor of Freedom.

If you, for any reason (or none at all), choose not to own a gun, fine. Nobody is forcing you to. Stay away from mine, OK? If I do something bad with one, send me to jail for it. That's what is meant by malum in se. But don't you dare try to take them away because I 'might', or because someone else has done something wrong with one. Or because they're 'scary' and they make you nervous. That's your problem, not mine.

If you are ever turned away illegally from a polling place, call me: my rifle and I will be along presently to enforce your Right to Vote. Or if a natural disaster strikes your neighborhood, and the criminals come to loot and rape because they know the police are occupied elsewhere. Call me. I'll be there to protect you. And so will my fellow gun owners, because we know the difference between right and wrong, and we know which side we're on, even if you don't.

Aug 10, 2007 11:09 AM

A Gun Control Compromise

I have been accused of being an extremist in defense of the right to own and to carry, anywhere you see fit, any type of weapon whatsoever, in any way you wish, without asking permission from anyone. I suppose it is time to reconsider and announce I am ready to accept "reasonable gun laws".


So.... which 50% of the victim disarmament laws are we going to repeal this year? Since my long-term goal is to remove all legal restrictions from guns, I am willing to use the same logic that the merchants of victimhood use when telling me that I must compromise. I will not demand the immediate repeal of all federal, state, and local laws against gun owners, but will compromise and only seek the removal of half of them. This year.


Compromise means meeting halfway; not banning this type of gun today, then that type of gun tomorrow, followed by registration of handguns next week. No, we gun owners compromised when the 1934 National Firearms Treason was committed. Then again in 1968 and regularly since then. This "compromise" is only moving in one direction, and that isn't compromise at all. A true compromise would have been if you said you wanted the 1934 NFA and once you got that, there would be no more victim disarmament laws proposed ever again. Not this sneaky, incremental banning of self defense. It is your turn to accept compromise. I am truly willing to meet you half way. I would even accept the repeal of only one victim disarmament law as long as I get to choose which one. If you choose, then I stand by my demand for abolishing 50% of them.


Well, Sarah Brady; Chuck Schumer; Mike Bloomberg; which gun owner vilification laws will you help me get rid of first? You couldn't possibly oppose this plan could you? All we are asking for is "reasonable restrictions". Only an extremist would refuse to compromise. Right?
Aug 13, 2007 11:57 AM

Sometimes loopy??? What disturbs me is that you openly admit to drinking (even a little), going  shooting and then call the rest of us "loopy". I'm a responsible gun owner and avid shooter. Even the guy down the street with an assault rifle next to his bed knows proper firearm safety, and is probably the most responsible gun owner on the block.

 As for your story about the gang members, I probably would have done the same thing. The LAST thing I would want to do is get in a gunfight. However, if it had come down to a gunfight, your "baby steps" wouldn't do much good. Also, if the bad guys know you may be carrying a lethal weapon the whole thing might never have happened. Criminals thrive in areas where citizens are unarmed and stay away from areas where they risk life and limb in their wrongdoings.

Aug 21, 2007 11:19 AM

Its all fun and games for folks like