During the recent gun rights rally in Bel Air that was sponsored by the Harford County Republican Central Committee, one likely candidate for sheriff next year uttered the ultimate sound bite.
Jeff Gahler, a veteran state trooper whom one would believe has bona-fides when it comes to the subject of guns and gun crimes, was quoted by my colleague David Anderson on the subject of the push for more gun control laws in the wake of last December's elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn: "As God-awful as Sandy Hook was, the answer is actually more guns, not less."
Gahler was the GOP nominee for sheriff in 2010, when he lost to incumbent Jesse Bane, a Democrat, by about 3 percent of the vote. He's gearing up to take on Bane or whoever else runs for the county's top law enforcement job next year. His "more guns" statement is bound to appeal to a certain segment of the Harford County voting population, but not to me.
I did not grow up among guns and seldom saw or touched a real one in my youth. Once, my father and I went with neighbors to the mountains and did some target shooting with a handgun. My father was a good shot, but I always had the impression he didn't like guns; just like he'd talk about the war, where he served in the Pacific with the Marines, but not so much about the combat part.
I was talking on the phone the other day with my father, who will turn 92 in a few weeks. At one point, the subject turned to guns, or more accurately, the national debate about control and some of the views I have heard locally on the subject, including Gahler's.
"It's amazing this has come to dominate every conversation, so much of the news," said my father, who lives in Florida near where Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, was shot to death by a neighborhood watch coordinator in February 2012. The shooter, George Zimmerman, said he believed Martin posed a threat to him and that under Florida's "stand your ground" law he had the right to defend himself. He was later charged with murder, but the case hasn't gone to trial yet.
"They still talk about it a lot about it down here," my father said about the Martin case. "Sometimes that's all they talk about, guns, guns, guns. The war? Hell, they aren't fighting."
I don't hunt or target shoot. I have, however, owned handguns on occasion and had plenty of opportunities to procure them without going through any background checks or registration requirements. I'm ambivalent about guns, though not about regulating and limiting them.
The first thing most people hear about guns and gun safety when they are growing up is: "Don't point it at anyone." Later, that tends to get amended to "unless you intend to shoot them."
A fellow I worked with in the taxicab business in Baltimore in the early 1980s refused to carry a firearm on the grounds that "a gun goes looking for trouble." Many of us who drove cabs in the city in the '70s and early '80s often debated the need for protection, as some years it seemed like guys were getting killed at the rate of one a month. At least 20 people whom I knew well enough to have a drink with, share a meal or gamble and party with have died as a result of gunshots fired by others. Most, though not all, were holdup victims. Several carried handguns and some had them in their possession when they were killed. Their so-called protection didn't do much protecting.
I've had handguns pulled on me a half a dozen times. Call it being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or whatever you wish, but it's been done by two holdup people, an angry poker player and three cops, one in Bel Air, one in Baltimore and one in Prince George's County. For those of you who haven't had the experience, there's no more helpless, scared feeling then having a gun pointed at you by a total stranger. Finding out you just had a heart attack at age 59, as I did in 2008, doesn't even come close.
None of this is to suggest I don't support a person's right to own a firearm for home or business protection. Let's just say my personal experiences have shaped my views about guns, and very few of them have been positive. When somebody tells me they are opposed to more gun controls, my initial reaction is to ask: "Have you actually ever had one pointed at your face? Would you have the (fill in the blank) to shoot someone if you feel threatened?"
There is an often quoted platitude that "guns don't kill, people do," and therein lies the crux of the problem. Once a gun goes out on the street, it invariably goes looking for trouble and often finds it. Of that I have no doubt and which is why "more guns" won't do anything – except kill more people.