Column: Guns enable our worst impulses

Column: Guns enable our worst impulses

Don Wooten

They’re in local headlines every day, so let’s talk about guns.

I was about six years old. My younger sister and I were playing in our parents’ bedroom. We started rummaging around in dresser drawers. That’s when I found my dad’s revolver.

Next to it was a small, square box with several bullets. I carefully loaded them into the gun, a six-shooter, and aimed it; at what or whom I cannot remember. I hope it was not at Julia, even in pretense.

I then removed the bullets, put them back into the box, and pulled the trigger several times to make a clicking sound. I recall thinking that I was doing something wrong. I couldn’t say what, probably that I would to get into trouble if mom or dad knew that I had been fooling around in their dresser.

I returned gun and bullets to the drawer, carefully concealing them under the clothes where I had found them. Multiply that incident several thousand times each year. Kids find and fool around with guns.

* * *

Many years ago, a young friend was at a party when she came into possession of a handgun (I don’t recall the details). She asked if it was loaded. When assured that it was empty, she put the barrel into her mouth for a laugh, then pointed it at the wall opposite and pulled the trigger.

The bullet went through three rooms, one filled with people, No one was hit. Stuff like that happens a lot. Fooling around doesn’t stop at childhood.

* * *

Guns are like ants: they’re everywhere. Guns are what we played with as kids. If you didn’t have the toy replica, you pointed your index finger and approximated the noise that you heard on Saturday Westerns. Guns and horses were the real stars. Gene Autry, Hop-a-long Cassidy and Roy Rogers were accessories.

We were imprinted with the notion that real men owned, handled and fired guns. In the Mafia, using a gun to kill makes one "a made man.”

Killing is what men have done from mythic times to the present, from Cain to Assad. It is so ingrained in the human psyche that our amusements are built on it. Murders take place each week on television. Movies are drenched in blood. Our youngsters play electronic games in which killing scores points: good training for drone warfare.

Killing is something that ethologists dealt with when studying links between animal and human behavior. When animals fight over females — a prime motivation in all species — they go at it to the point of exhaustion; until one gives up and escapes. Scientists consider this a kind of built-in inhibition against killing your own kind.

Humans also have this kind of inhibition, but only if the contest is with bare hands. It’s just too hard to kill that way. But we have invented easier means, and guns are at the peak of that mechanical evolution. It’s tough to fight to the death without tools. Pulling a trigger is no work at all. It’s so easy that a gun is what a person reaches for when a flash of anger momentarily clouds one’s reason, or when reason fails altogether.

We try to control this testosterone problem with anger management, mental health programs, enforced social norms, and religious teaching, even as our amusements work against our nobler, more pacific instincts. What we can’t seem to manage is the multiplication and enhanced destructive power of guns.

* * *

There was a time when the National Rifle Association worked to do just that. The group was formed to promote the interests of hunting and gun safety. To this end, the organization endorsed some forms of gun control. At one point, the NRA decided to move out of Washington because it had nothing left to do there.

Then, under the new leadership of a gun zealot, and with the financial interests of arms and ammunition makers at heart, the organization steadily lost its mind. It has reached the point where it has now enshrined concealed carrying of loaded weapons into state law and has even lobbied "stand your ground" legislation into passage, making America a far more dangerous place, under the guise of making it safer.

* * *

Of course, the ludicrous position we are in would not be possible without ignoring the first thirteen words of the Constitution’s Second Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State ..."

Anyone conversant with the English language would recognize this as the rationale for not infringing the right of the people to keep and bear arms.

With the rationale gone — states now maintain a National Guard for which weapons are supplied — it would seem the ground on which the amendment stands has caved. I’m surprised the Supreme Court’s "originalists" haven’t noticed this. They might also examine the argument for the amendment in the first place.

Weapons are a fact of life in our country, the most violent of the Western nations. Men still like — and apparently sometimes need — to kill animals, even if they don’t eat what they kill. But all weapons are not equal and we have to keep those designed for war out of domestic circulation.

In my late teens, I learned to use a rifle and won a marksmanship medal with it. Then I grew up and went on to more important things. So should we all.

Don Wooten is a former Illinois state senator and a regular columnist. Email him at:


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