Gail Collins on the gun debate

We all know the issues. So do we need one more voice to weigh in on the gun debate? When that voice is as funny and insightful as Gail Collins’; Yes we do.

Have Gun, Will Travel

Published: July 31, 2009

Plaxico Burress, the former football star, appeared before a grand jury in Manhattan this week to explain how he came to carry a concealed weapon into a nightclub. Burress, you may remember, had cannily tucked his loaded pistol into the waistband of his sweatpants when he went out for a night on the town. The gun started to slip, as objects in waistbands are wont to do. When he grabbed it, he accidentally shot himself in the thigh.

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Gail Collins

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This is what is known as a bad plan.

The reason I am bringing all this up is that Burress’s spokespeople keep pointing out that he did have a permit to carry a handgun in Florida. (It was expired, but as the waistband business demonstrates, this guy does not excel in attention to detail.) So the story gives us an excellent entry into the question of whether states should be required to recognize other states’ gun carry permits.

The Senate recently held a debate on just such a proposal, during which the sponsor, John Thune of South Dakota, said that if people from his state were able to go to New York and visit tourist attractions while carrying their concealed weapons, “Central Park would be a much safer place.”

This suggests how much Americans have to learn about each other. Central Park is way safer than South Dakota. There were no murders and three serious assaults in Central Park in 2008, compared with five murders and 341 assaults in Sioux Falls alone. There was a horrible near-fatality in the park this week, but it involved a rotting tree limb that fell and hit a man on the head. If South Dakotans would like to come to visit carrying concealed chain saws, it is possible that we can do some business.

The vote on the Thune amendment was 58 to 39 in favor, which, of course, in the Senate world means that it was defeated. But it will be back. These days, whenever Congress feels the yen for a good old-fashioned debate about a hot-button social issue, it goes for guns. This year, we have already been blessed with legislation giving people the right to carry concealed weapons in national parks. Maybe soon there will also be a Plaxico’s Law, affirming that a gun permit, once granted, is good for a lifetime, just like Social Security numbers.

I like to think this gun obsession is progress of a sort, since it has almost completely replaced the offering of divisive gotcha amendments on abortion or gay rights.

Given the fact that lawmakers yelling about assault rifles and Glocks very seldom feel compelled to quote from the Bible, you’d think we could work toward a sensible national consensus on guns. Senator Charles Schumer of New York offered to work on a compromised concealed weapon bill that would only apply to truck drivers who haul valuable cargo around the country. Maybe, in turn, the other side would be a little more rational about regulating weapons sales at gun shows.

One barrier, of course, is the National Rifle Association, which is dedicated to the cause of making everybody as loony as possible on the subject. Another is the suspicion on the part of gun owners that people who favor gun control look down on them.

In that Senate debate, opponents of loosening the current laws did get a tad carried away, particularly when they kept equating carrying a concealed weapon with being a mass murderer. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey claimed that the newly empowered gun owners coming into his state would be “like Richard Poplawski, the white supremacist, armed with an AK-47, who allegedly murdered three Pittsburgh police officers on his front porch.”

Perhaps Menendez was having a bad day, what with a large chunk of the New Jersey Democratic Party teetering on the verge of indictment. But given the fact that nearly half the householders in America have guns, it doesn’t make sense to suggest that they’re all homicidal or that only good gun owners are the hunters. There are an estimated 250 million guns in America. Jim Kessler of the Third Way, a nonpartisan think tank, noted that if the noncriminals only used them for hunting, “there wouldn’t be a varmint left in the country.”

Gun advocates tend to think of themselves as representatives of small-town or rural values. But their worldview is so dark, you’d think they were living in a dystopian Gotham City. Senator Thune said he was worried that his daughter might have to drive home from college through states that would not allow her the protection of a pistol in the glove compartment. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia fretted about his elderly father checking into a motel without a loaded gun to keep the criminals at bay.

In New York, I have never heard a single parent say they were afraid their kid couldn’t make it home from school unarmed. However, we do worry a little bit about idiots wandering into nightclubs with Glocks tucked in their sweats.


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