Cumberland Times-News

January 12, 2013

Let’s try

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— Guns are an important part of my life. Kids are an important part of my life; regular kids, grandkids, your kids, my kids or the kids of somebody I will never know in a town I will never visit.

If you told me that I would have to choose between guns and kids, the decision would be easy. Kids.

Kids on sliding boards. Kids in Little League uniforms. Kids pledging allegiance. Kids coloring outside the lines. Kids becoming adults, having their own kids and living to ages that irritate those who calculate actuary tables.

If you told me there was one thing that we could do in America to absolutely make sure that nothing ever happens again like happened in Newtown, Conn., at Sandy Hook School in December 2012, I would say, “Let’s do it.”

Even if you told me there was something we could do to simply lessen the chance that Newtown would happen again, that we could keep 20 elementary school children and six of their teachers from being murdered, I’d say, “Let’s do it.”

But there isn’t just one thing we can do, and there isn’t any guarantee that we can prevent this kind of horror.

But, still, I want to try.

Let's try.

But let’s not take such polar positions that it becomes gun lovers vs. gun haters, that it has to be a certain way or the highway. There are extremists on both ends.

Do not underestimate the power of the gun vote, especially in a small local voting bloc such as a state delegate’s district.

I watched local gun people go into Elmer Gantry mode at the LaVale Fire Hall and whip themselves and others into a frenzy over a blip on the firearm radar screen of the Maryland speaker of the house, not a man who lived on the Eastern Shore or in Baltimore, but in Cumberland’s South End. The local organized gun vote was the main reason Cas Taylor lost the next election and with it our remote part of the state lost unprecedented political power in Annapolis.

I watched Jim Zumbo, a veteran and respected outdoor writer, the man who sponsored me into the Outdoor Writers Association of America, be temporarily removed from the Outdoor Channel and fired by Outdoor Life because he said something askance about military-style, high-capacity, semi-automatic rifles. Zumbo said he didn’t believe there was a need for them in the hunting world.

On the flip side, I’ve listened to gun haters envision a nearly crime-free world that would be achieved by making gun ownership illegal, the most recent former attorney general of Maryland among them. When J. Joseph Curran Jr. wrote, “A Farewell to Arms ...” Maryland’s top state government lawyer wasn’t trying to compete with Ernest Hemingway, he was trying to make handgun ownership a crime.

As always, the truth and the answer lie somewhere in the middle. There is no perfect destination, but the best ending will come from thoughtful negotiation and the desire to save lives rather than the desire to save face.

Although I have not always been supportive of the National Rifle Association, especially the disparaging of good politicians based on a ballistic perception of their worth, I think this time around NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre is correct.

It makes sense to place armed police officers in public schools. Even if we let the legislative process play out, even if certain firearms become banned from public ownership, it still makes sense to guard our schools with properly trained and armed police officers.

Do you feel more safe in the presence of an armed police officer? So will the children.

Are there those out there who hate the NRA so much that they can't recognize a good idea offered by the organization? Yes, there are.

I am sickened by the tragedy in Newtown, but I am saddened that 99 percent of the focus on preventing a similar incident is on gun control, on keeping law-abiding citizens from owning certain firearms.

Legislation is on the horizon at both the federal and state levels that will, if passed and signed, eliminate ownership of certain kinds of guns. Similar effort needs to be put into protecting schools or increasing the ability of law enforcement agencies to know about deeply disturbed individuals in their own communities. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act needs to be modified.

I was one who thought the NRA may be somewhat conciliatory in statements following Newtown, but now that I see that some gun haters are using Newtown as a springboard into a deep regulatory pool that could even include confiscation, I can understand why NRA has taken the hard-line stance.

The people who draw up the laws and the governors and federal officials who sign them need to use this time to be moderators, in the true sense of the word. Don’t confuse compromise with weakness.

The answers here will not come via a liberal/conservative labeling and confrontation. They will not come from one political party or the other. They will not come by forwarding funky emails supporting the individual causes. They will come from Americans who love guns and Americans who hate guns and Americans who fall somewhere in the middle.

All of us love children. Let's do the best we can in a reasonable way. If responding to Newtown cannot bring us together as Americans, what can?

In my opinion, the crafters of gun legislation on any government level need to be cautious about wording.

I believe there are many gun owners out there who are willing to talk about potential restrictions on the ownership of some firearms. But, if legislation is written that appears to reach into Uncle Vernon’s gun cabinet and remove his .22 caliber, semi-automatic squirrel rifle, he too will take the hardline stance.

I don’t know this for a fact, but I believe it to be an accurate guess that there are more gun owners who do not belong to organized firearm groups than do.

Somehow, the gun owners of America who are not represented by a national organization need to make their voices heard, no matter where they stand on the issue. An email, phone call or letter to your appropriate political representative is the place to start.

Speaking of political representatives, thank you, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia for stepping up, for saying it is time to talk about guns as a part (that’s right, a part) of preventing mass murders.

West Virginians are among the most reasonable people I know. They are also the least political-party conscious folks around, sticking, for the most part, to issues, not dogma. Manchin’s willingness to talk is a good example of that.

The senator has already taken heat for his compassion, via picketers in Charleston and Martinsburg. Manchin’s effort is important because he hunts and shoots, as do a large number of his Mountain State constituents. The senator’s position is a fine example of doing what is right rather than what could be considered politically expedient.

I find it appalling that as I read my 4-year-old granddaughter a kid’s book on a Saturday afternoon, while another family member is watching a football game on television, that we are all subjected to a movie trailer that shows a bound young lady about to have her arm severed by a chain saw.

That’s the kind of stuff I put in a can at the top of my driveway so guys in a big truck can pick it up every Monday morning.

C’mon! Cigarette commercials are banned, but this isn’t?

A look needs to be taken and action proposed about the fictionalized violence that can be witnessed, especially by young eyes.

First Amendment, you say. Tell that to the cigarette manufacturers.

No. I don’t smoke. Never have. Although I rubbed for 15 years before I wised up.

One of the reasons the Republican party lost the presidential election and seats in the Senate and House in November is because it had little or no recognition of the American demographic evolution taking place.

Those of us who cherish our right to own and use firearms in responsible ways need to pay attention to that lesson.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at