The "crazy" thing about the gun debate in America is how misguided and off-base both sides of the issue are. An example from one side is The Times' Dec. 1 editorial on the Washington state police officer shootings, "Crazy about guns"; from the other side, we have almost any fundraising appeal over the last year from the National Rifle Assn. Both sides offer little compromise on this issue, making the gun debate one of extremes. Our leaders ignore the important truths needed to formulate and articulate policy proposals that address the reality of life in America in a constructive and collaborative way.
The Times' editorial decries the "typical American response" of those living near the scene of the crime in Washington who said they'd seek to protect themselves by possessing firearms. What The Times neglects to mention is that a bullet from a "good guy" provided swift justice to the suspected cop killer days after the police shootings and potentially ended what could have become an even more horrendous trail of murder and mayhem. Self-defense is valid whether the bullet comes from the barrel of a law enforcement officer's pistol or one used by a soccer mom, grandma or any other American gun owner.
As for our so-called craziness about guns, was it "crazy" for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule last year that American citizens have a right (not simply a privilege) to keep handguns for defensive purposes in their homes? Is it "crazy" for people who are justifiably scared by predatory criminals to feel more secure by exercising their right to own and carry a firearm? Doesn't this hold true for individuals, regardless of whether they wear a uniform (law enforcement blue or military camouflage) or civilian clothes?
The ambush killings of those four police officers in Washington state is a tragic example of America's dysfunction in dealing with violent criminals. The suspected killer had already been in jail in Arkansas for committing a series of crimes but was paroled after action taken in 2000 by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee. The killings had nothing to do with our tradition of firearms ownership by responsible, non-criminal citizens.
What is missing from The Times' editorial and from the ongoing national debate is the following:
First, we need to recognize that guns are present in more than 40% of all homes in this country -- like it or not. Any credible discussion of this issue must acknowledge that reality.
Second, gun owners and non-gun owners alike are in universal agreement in this country that violent, predatory criminals should not possess, have access to nor easily obtain firearms.
Third, we all wish that mentally troubled individuals would not own, possess or acquire guns.
Both sides of the debate need to acknowledge they actually agree on several key issues. I am a gun owner, and I do not intend to surrender my rights because of the acts of criminals, mental midgets or a sentimental wish of how things might be somewhere else (The Times muses about Canada's low homicide rate). I am hungry for action that moves our common agenda forward.
I've dedicated my life to the pursuit of policies that would make a difference, not pit one group of law-abiding citizens against another over whether they own guns or hate guns.
So my response to the issues raised by The Times is this: I'm ready to launch a major effort to educate Americans on firearm safety in a non-political, non-judgmental way, just as we do on sex education and drug education. If The Times really wants to make a difference, it should help me promote the simple rules of gun safety.
The bottom line is this: We must stop debating the polemics of guns and instead show wisdom and maturity to begin to resolve the problems of the negligent misuse of guns. Though a cliche, the following is nevertheless true: Guns aren't ever the problem; guns in the wrong hands are always the problem. How we address this problem will determine the future of gun safety in America.
Richard Feldman is the author of "Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist." Previously, he was executive director of the firearm industry's trade association and a regional political director for the National Rifle Assn.