Gun controversy result of bigger issues

So now we’re really famous.

The TV truck has been to town, Eugene’s KMTR in this case, interviewing local parents and school officials about the fact that the Sweet Home School District’s policy does not forbid staff members and faculty, who have proper permits, from being armed. (That gun store they displayed in their report, by the way, wasn’t in Sweet Home, though I’m sure a lot of local residents would actually appreciate the opportunity to be able to shop locally for that product selection depicted.)

That hot news out of the school district, of course, comes after Sheriff Tim Mueller’s declaration that he won’t use his deputies to take people’s firearms away from them – regardless of what Washington says.

The furor over the whole gun issue has been bubbling for decades and it represents two mentalities that are vying for the upper hand in our society: the more traditional view of personal liberty, responsibility and self-reliance vs. the idea that we have social responsibility that outweighs our personal responsibility (largely through government) and that we collectively have rights that include adequate food, shelter, education, medical treatment, protection from private violence and the right to engage in personal choices that don’t harm others.

News reports (none of these in Sweet Home) from just the last week illustrate some of these:

n An Oregon state employee who filed a discrimination suit after he was denied insurance coverage for an operation related to his transition from a woman to a man reached an agreement with the state to pay him $36,000 and change its policies so that it now provides insurance coverage for all operations, prescription drugs and other treatments related to medically necessary gender-reassignment surgeries.

n The Roseburg School Board suspended its legal challenge to the state ban on Native American mascots after learning it was likely to lose a court battle and that the state Board of Education can withhold money if schools don’t switch their nicknames, mascots and logos. The Legislature could still take action on this issue, but unless it does, teams such as the Indians of Roseburg will have to develop new identities.

n Increasingly, machines are replacing workers – most of them middle-class workers, and those jobs aren’t coming back (so long as the electricity stays on).

n Women have gotten the green light to go to the front lines in battle, as long as they can meet the physical requirements established for men. This isn’t really new ground, as understaffed military leaders have been putting women on temporary assignments in combat zones for years, but this makes it official.

n The federal Education Department has decided that school districts must provide students with disabilities fair opportunities to play on a traditional sports team or have their own leagues.

Without going into tiresome detail and analysis of each of these, I will say that neither the gun issue nor any of the rest of these stories presents a black-and-white case of something that’s necessarily entirely right or wrong on all counts.

For instance, if I lived in Roseburg I might feel some outrage over the fact that what I might consider hyper-sensitivity on the part of a few Native Americans with loud voices has led to the tearing down of what, in my view, is really an accolade. The nicknames being complained about were chosen because they portray strength and aggression – and honor.

But to some descendents of the indigenous people of America, who lost their freedom to roam across the land (and display the very behavior that makes those nicknames desirable) with the incursion of Europeans, it’s an affront. I get that, but maybe there are much deeper issues here and the whole nickname thing is just something people who have other beefs can score points on.

Generally, when the name “Viking” or “Saxon,” (both of which I’m descended from) are used to depict athletic and community prowess, that makes me feel, well, rather positive.

Similar pros and cons weigh on both sides of every issue represented in the headlines above. There is always unfairness in life. We all want the best deal we can get and sometimes it doesn’t happen for us.

If we could all have our cake and eat it too, I’d love to see special leagues set up for disabled youngsters to play sports, because such activities are great for them. But when school districts are charging parents extra fees and trimming costs, and high schoolers are bucking hay to keep their sports alive for the youngsters who aren’t disabled, and far outnumber those who are, well, it’s not hard to see how this latest dictum is going to create more problems for everyone.

Should government guarantee everybody has a job? In one sense, doing that would be a positive, since unemployment is not good for people – physically, mentally or emotionally. We don’t have to look too far in our own community to see results of unemployment: public monies going to social programs instead of infrastructure and law enforcement and education, crime and family problems, health issues such as obesity and substance abuse, etc. that are all directly related to high unemployment rates.

The fact is, even in the gun issue, there are pros and cons. There will be people who possess guns who shouldn’t. But those people also have access to baseball bats, knives, and other convenient tools of violence. If someone wants to kill someone else badly enough, there are means available.

The bottom line is it’s people who kill people, and taking away guns may lessen the number of people who die by bullets.

But the other side of the issue, a number of our readers on the next page have pointed out rather effectively, is the impact firearm ownership restrictions have on personal safety and what the writers of our Constitution recognized: the right to bear arms is a protection against the type of government control and encroachment into their personal lives that many of them knew by experience.

Yes, people die by guns who shouldn’t and I hate that. But is exposing the entire population of the United States to a government that speaks softly but carries a big stick less dangerous? That’s the bigger issue, I believe.

A quarter of a century ago, I don’t think most of us anticipated the limits on free speech, the growth of government surveillance, the size of the debt that our descendents will be paying off, etc. If we didn’t see it coming then, what other surprises await us?

That’s why the principles behind the Second Amendment, which some call outdated, are not. They are as relevant today as in the late 1700s, and they outweigh the sad reality that some will abuse the rights they have been given and should be punished accordingly, but no more.

George Mason, a delegate to the convention that created our Constitution and the “Father of the Bill of Rights,” once stated: “… when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British parliament was advised…to disarm the people. That it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them. But that they should not do it openly; but to weaken them and let them sink gradually.”

James Madison, also a signer of the Constitution and a framer of the Second Amendment in the first Congress, before he became president, saw it similarly: “(T)he advantage of being armed (is an advantage which) the Americans possess over people of almost every other nation…(I)n the several kingdoms of Europe…the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”

These weren’t a just a bunch of rich right-wingers, counting their cash with one hand and writing this stuff down with the other. These men, if they hadn’t been forced to feed and give up their beds to British soldiers in their own personal homes, knew people who had. They knew what it was like to be taxed without a vote – without any say in what was going on. It was a bad deal.

They realized – from bitter experience – why citizens who can’t defend themselves are subject to any abuse an unscrupulous ruler (smooth-talking or not) feels like inflicting on them.

Do we? That’s the real issue here.

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