Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Solution to gun violence: one bullet per gun

Monday’s Supreme Court decision pretty much convinces me I’m going to die in a hail of gunfire.

Understand, that’s just the optimist in me talking. I’d much rather die of multiple gunshot wounds than terminal illness, flesh eating bacteria or chronic boredom.

The 5-4 decision roughly thrills half the country that believes more guns are the solution to deadly gun violence and confounds the other half that believes it’s utter lunacy to think the solution to deadly gun violence is more deadly gun violence.

On this issue, I lean straight up.

Anti-gun people are loath to admit it, but everyone’s manners become more refined in the presence of a loaded gun. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used to quote Al Capone, who was known to say: “You can get more accomplished with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.”

Predictable reaction to the court's decision means it's time for me once again share what one friend helpfully dubbed “The Barney Fife Amendment.” Here it is:

Every one over the age of 18 gets to carry a loaded gun, holstered or concealed, any where they want, any time they want. That means every place people gather -- offices, airplanes, sporting events -- plenty will be packing.

But you get just one bullet. One bullet per person.

Use it or lose it and, in addition to any existing criminal charges, you need to go before a judge and explain what happened to your bullet before he or she decides whether or not you get another bullet.

Guns don’t kill people. People don’t kill people.

The bullets are the killers and the astronomical number of them invariably leads to deadly recklessness.

One Minnesota firm, Alliant Techsystems, boasts on its web site ( that it makes up to 600 million bullets each and every year all by itself.

The most hateful, paranoid person on the planet would be hard pressed to enumerate 600 million people in history who really deserve to be shot.

An attorney once told me there are three types of homicides: unnecessary, justifiable, and praiseworthy. If everyone was entitled to just one bullet, many of those serving hard time at tax-payer expense for unnecessary homicides would today be productive citizens.

The jails are full of otherwise good men and women who in moments of drunken or drug-fueled rage emptied guns at victims who didn’t deserve lethal ventilation.

But if a drunk or crack fiend had just one bullet, most of them would miss their targets and they’d be subject to the laws of the land.

Judge: “Why did you shoot your bullet at Mr. Smith?”

Mr. Wesson: “Well, it sounds silly, but I didn’t like the way he was looking at me.”

Judge: “Is that any reason to shoot a man?”

Mr. Wesson: “Nah, but I was really drunk.”

Judge: “Well, it’s a good thing you missed. I’d advise you to stay home with your kids instead of engaging in barroom staring contests. Understood?”

Mr. Wesson: “Yes, your honor.”

The crossfire of pro- and anti-gun groups has become the rhetorical equivalent of trench warfare. The mindsets are so ingrained that any attempt to breach the deadlock with fresh thought is automatically shot down -- even by people who are organizationally opposed to shooting anything.

Years ago I proposed The Fife Amendment to a spokeswoman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence. She reflexively dismissed it saying, “Our theory is that even one bullet can kill someone.”

True, I said, but doesn’t it stand to reason that fewer people would be shot if everyone had just one bullet?

“Well, yes, but . . .” she began reciting familiar arguments before realizing she’d descended into what she called “wonk babble.”

“Sorry, but it’s hard to think about new ideas.”


Out of fairness, I called the National Rifle Association, the scary, dour people with the bumper stickers that are always alluding to their “cold, dead fingers.”

The NRA spokeswoman’s reaction to my proposal caught me completely off guard.

She burst out laughing. And she continued to laugh. It was such a joyful laugh that I felt a rush of sweet affection for this unseen, distant stranger. It had me hoping nobody would have to pry anything from her cold, dead fingers for many, many happy, productive decades.

I called back the next day and, I swear, she was still laughing. Seven years later, she still hasn’t gotten back to me, and I to this day I imagine her still sitting there still laughing maniacally as teams of psychiatrists study her behavior.

One bullet per person might be a silly idea, but there just aren’t any new ideas coming from either side, certainly none that at least one person in the pro-gun lobby finds so ironically disarming.

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