Of cars, booze, guns and angry mothers


Years ago, when I was much younger and dumber, I sometimes drove after drinking too much, occasionally even with a beer in hand. Once a state policeman stopped me leaving the small town of Joseph, Ore., and asked me to count backwards, touch my toes and walk a line. Fortunately, he knew me, and so he just suggested gently that I get in the passenger seat and let my wife drive home.

There was also the time after a full and fabulous day at the ski run, when, sipping that last beer as we headed for home on the back roads, I hit a patch of ice and slipped into the barrow pit. Again, fortunately, the only damage was to my ego, and all my law-breaking and stupid behavior took place at low speeds on quiet roads.

Then along came Mothers Against Drunk Driving with its memorable acronym, MADD. Mothers across the country stood up and screamed at the press, at lawmakers, and at law enforcement agencies to do something about the rash of young deaths on our roads caused by drunk drivers. I remember a dance sponsored by a group I was a part of -- we organized a team of sober drivers to get people home -- and the body shop owner telling me with great pleasure that there were fewer horrendous accidents to clean up.

I can’t remember the specific laws that MADD helped enact, but I do remember hearing about the stiff laws in Scandinavian countries; a driver there who got one ticket for Driving Under the Influence lost his license forever. Here in America, we also stopped feeling tolerant toward drunk drivers; MADD’s campaign worked.

I’ve been thinking about this as we stew over gun laws and deaths -- mostly young deaths -- caused by guns and the people who misuse them. It seems to me that there are clear parallels. First, we are not going to get rid of guns any more than we were going to get rid of cars or alcohol. Second, there are laws already on the books. Third, there are cars with speeds too fast for safety, just as there are guns too powerful for civil society. Fourth, registration and insurance are already in the picture. Finally, no reasonable person thinks that gun deaths can be eliminated entirely, but just as with drunk drivers, everyone thinks we can do better.

I think the parallels might give us a starting point. First, we could start enforcing existing laws. Second, let’s be reasonable: Can we agree that private individuals should not own or use rocket grenade launchers, any more than workday commuters should drive Indie cars on the highway? Let’s work our way back down the line, and agree that there is a place for “public gun racks,” confined places where sportsmen and women can fire weapons that are too dangerous to shoot out in the open. Such guns would have to be registered and kept there.

As for constraining the users of guns; Yes, it would be good to ferret out the mentally unstable. Theoretically, we could make everyone get a license, just as we do with the owners of cars. But that’s too radical for some. I understand that people who have concealed weapons permits, the folks who have jumped through legal hoops and are licensed, tend to be the safest gun owners and users around, as safe as most law enforcement officers. But it seems to me that the mentally unstable guy with a gun trick up his sleeve (and yes, this is mostly a male problem) might have trouble passing a competency test. We seem to do pretty well with cars and drivers’ licenses, taking tests, registering when we buy and sell: Why not do the same with guns?

We might even create safe places for people to store their guns if there is a fear of instability in the family, suicide threats or threats of violence -- safe places that anyone could use without explaining why. Is that too hard? One thing is clear: What we have now is not working.

Tragically, most gun deaths come at the hands of people the victims know. The most unfortunate ones are children who find a loaded gun at home and play their way to death. Maybe parents or responsible guardians deserve jail time when such things happen. Maybe guns would be watched more carefully, given such a law.

It seems to me that this kind of close watching by friends, family and community is especially necessary. After all, that’s just what MADD made us all do –– and amazingly enough, it worked to change dangerous behavior -- behavior that had once been considered normal by everyone.

Richard Wandschneider is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an op ed service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Joseph, Oregon.

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 betsym@hcn.org.

John R Pence
John R Pence Subscriber
Mar 26, 2013 02:33 PM
"Public gun racks" "weapons too dangerous to shoot out in the open" WHAT? Who gets to make those decisions? I can agree on a few of the ideas in the article but then them seem to go out into left field. Let the government start by doing a better job of prosecuting the law breakers. Driving without a license? Happens all the time. Drunk driving, 14th conviction? Something seems to not be working. Granted, MADD has done a great job of focusing on a problem and I am greatful for that. But it is a fact that many repeat offenders of a number of serious crimes are just that. Repeat offenders. How about longer MANDATORY sentences for some of these crimes. If they are behind bars they can't repeat.I am never going to be for registration of firearms. All that does is make it harder for law abiding people. It will never help get any of the stolen and otherwise illegal firearms of the streets and out of the hands of the criminals.
Jack Daggett
Jack Daggett
Mar 26, 2013 07:13 PM
Just a few thoughts:
* I agree with John Pence in the previous comment.
* The only RPG's in the US are owned by the military.
* I doubt that Mr. Wandschneider owns a firearm.
* Automatic weapons have been illegal in the US since 1936.
* The right to own an automobile is not provided for in the Constitution.
* Every new firearm sold in the US comes with a keyed lock that will render it inoperable for safety purposes.
* The Department of Justice does not prosecute individuals who falsify information on the FBI background check form. Even those with a mental illness.
* The term "Assault Weapon" is a military name for a class of weapons. Civilians are not allowed to own such weapons. (There are very few exceptions with a Federal Firearms License)
* The solution to a problem comes from those who understand it best. The lawful gun owners and law enforcement understand the problem.
Deb Dedon
Deb Dedon Subscriber
Mar 28, 2013 05:21 PM
And the women of MADD understand the drunken driver problem. Cars with an intoxicated driver are lethal. And the survivors of January 8, 2011 in Tucson, of Columbine, of Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown know that guns with large magazines kill more people than guns with small magazines.

Tell ya what. Let's let everybody carry a gun - shotgun, hunting rifle or a Colt 45 or equivalent, six rounds max. If your skill is so poor that you can't hit your target with a shotgun, rifle or six shooter, a responsible adult should take that thing away from you.
Linda VanFossan
Linda VanFossan
Mar 29, 2013 10:18 AM
Well said, Deb! I couldn't have put it better.
John W Stephens
John W Stephens Subscriber
Mar 30, 2013 01:06 PM
Typo first off: "Indie" is short for independent. "Indy" is short for Indianapolis.
Those who seek to limit the right of the public to arm themselves always seem to suffer from a failure of imagination. They look at conditions today and extrapolate the future from that. Works great until it doesn't. Those who can imagine a future where the financial system fails and police and military can't be paid, where might becomes right, are labeled "survivalist" or "nut." Deb and Linda seem to share this lack of foresight. For instance, what if your "target" is a gang of twelve?
John W Stephens
John W Stephens Subscriber
Mar 30, 2013 03:27 PM
My line above, expanded: Homeland Security planners are encouraged to imagine--it’s the basis of All-Hazard Emergency Management. It filters down to me through my training as a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member. http://www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams
Here’s the rub, though. Imagination does not seem to extend to failures of government. No one involved in the current discussion of mass murder wants to imagine what would happen during a financial crisis where the government failed, chaos ensued, and personal and family protection devolved to the provider of last resort: me.
I take that obligation seriously, and with an All-Hazards approach. Preparation is key, as the magazine ban demonstrates. Just for curiosity, I shopped for a 15-round magazine for my handgun. Sold Out. Sold Out. More Sold Out. Surprised?
No one should be surprised. Our economy supports manufacturing to need. If you make more than is needed your business fails. So don’t expect to be able to buy your emergency supplies during an emergency.
So here is a situation that I can imagine: Congressional foo poisons the bond market and the Treasury Bond yield soars, Fed intervention shrinks the value of the dollar, capital dries up as investment stops. The government defaults and no one wants dollars. A well-organized criminal element goes after things of real value: food and water and living goods, which, as a CERT, I have stored for just such an emergency. No longer being paid, the police and military return to their own homes to protect their own families. After they clean out the supermarkets, gangs head to the suburbs and target occupied houses, reasoning that those sheltering in place will have stockpiled food and water. Since there are three of them, each with two gats with ten shots each, they know that they can overpower the mag-limited homeowner.
That my legislators can’t imagine this scenario I find implausible. That they won’t imagine it I find realistic. They don’t want it to happen; neither do I. But, to me, it illustrates why the discussion takes on meaningless arguments. Even “The Thinking Gunfighter” misses possibility: “The perceived need for massive quantities of ammo, reloading, and precision shooting at distance is largely a figbar of people's imaginations. There is simply no evidence to support the contention that any of those conditions occur during armed confrontation involving the Private Citizen.”
The Armed Citizen - A Five Year Analysis http://thinkinggunfighter.blogspot.com/[…]/self-defense-findings.html
American citizens have the right to arm themselves to defend against the possible, not just the probable.