Despite a table filled with everything from tiny pistols to shotguns to a so-called assault weapon similar to that allegedly used in the recent Newtown, Conn., shootings, the five middle-age-and-older people taking the gun-safety course at New Haven City Hall last weekend could be considered dangerous only by those harboring as irrational fear and loathing of firearms.
“My husband died four months ago, and I felt vulnerable,” said Pat (I'm withholding her last name), who was one of three women there and had responded to her loss by buying a .38-caliber pistol she prays she'll never need for protection. But in case that day ever comes – and to keep herself and others safe in the meantime – the 70-something widow paid $30 to attend the daylong seminar sponsored by New Haven-Adams Township Park Department and led by two National Rifle Association-sanctioned instructors, Wayne Doenges and his son, Mark.
“I like to see ladies in the class. They start with a clean slate. Men think they know everything, so we have to untrain them,” said Wayne Doenges, a former New Haven city councilman, Army veteran and NRA instructor for more than 40 years.
Some of the instruction might seem so obvious as to be unnecessary – if not for the seemingly relentless drumbeat of tragedies linked to carelessness, indifference or downright stupidity. And so along with tips about cleaning, ammunition and the differences between various types of weapons and ammunition, the class stresses the three basic rules: Always keep guns pointed in a safe direction; always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot; and always keep the gun unloaded until you're ready to use it.
Gun-control advocates often paint NRA members as rootin,' tootin', shootin' lunatics, but the undeniable truth is that gun-related accidents could be all but eliminated simply by obeying those common-sense guidelines. Mark Doenges, in fact, believes safety training should be mandatory.
But not even that would prevent gun-related violence, because the equally obvious fact is that people who use guns to steal, terrorize or murder couldn't care less about safety guidelines or the law. Many of them have demonstrated they know how to shoot only too well; what they lack is fear of punishment and a basic respect for other people's property and lives.
So could the measures proposed this month by Tom Henry and other “Mayors against Illegal Guns” possibly prevent the kind of carnage seen in Newtown and elsewhere? Everybody in his right mind is against “illegal” guns, but Newtown killer Adam Lanza's guns were perfectly legal.
It was his use of them that was illegal, not to mention immoral.
“People ask why I have so many guns. I say, 'Why do you need so many golf clubs? They do different things,' ” said Mark Doenges. A .22-caliber pistol is a vastly different weapon than a 12-gauge shotgun or the semiautomatic version of the Thompson submachine gun that Doenges demonstrated on the New Haven Police Department's firing range. Some are better for target shooting, others for hunting and still others for self-protection.
And even if you don't “need” an assault-style weapon similar to the AR-15 that Doenges owns and Lanza possessed that terrible day, why should law-abiding, well-trained Americans who enjoy shooting and hunting with them be penalized?
As Wayne Doenges pointed out, assault-style weapons often shoot bullets far smaller than those used in long-range rifles not covered by any proposed ban.
I am not advocating a return to the Wild West. Background checks, sensible limits on ammunition and magazines and mandatory training do not greatly undermine the 2nd Amendment. But make no mistake: Many of the people advocating seemingly benign gun-control measures today would gladly take away all guns tomorrow.
They are unconstitutionally, dangerously wrong – as wrong as those who branded Reagan a dangerous cowboy while urging retreat in the face of an evil that might still exist had he and others not been willing to confront it.