I was at a holiday party on Friday when the subject of gun control reared its head somewhere between the appetizer table and the wine bar.
The host -- my friend Alan -- is a Canadian who thinks the American attitude toward guns borders on the insane. While Canada, with tight limits on gun ownership, is relatively free of gun violence, the United States, awash in enough guns to arm every man, woman and child in the country, suffers repeated incidents of gun-related killings -- most recently the horrific slaughter of 6- and 7-year-olds in Newtown, Conn.
Appalled by the situation, Alan said assault weapons, like the one used in the Newtown killings, should be banned. Overhearing this, our friend Miles turned from pouring a nice Syrah to protest. "Are you going to take away my two AR-15s?" Miles asked.
Miles has spent much of his life running a business in Alaska. He bought the two assault-style weapons for himself and his son. He is not a gun nut, a right wing wacko or a paranoid survivalist standing ready to defend himslef in the case of civilization's fall. He just likes using the guns as a hobby.
The discussion politely turned back to wine, but, later, it made me think how, in a perfect world, reasonable men like Alan and Miles would be put in charge of coming up with a solution to gun violence. There is no simple answer. Banning certain weapons and large capacity ammo magazines may help. It would seem as if Americans should prefer emulating Canada, Britain and Australia, where guns are hard to get, rather than, say, Somalia, where guns are abundant and frequently used. But we do have the 2nd Amendment and a long history of gun use in this country. We are different, and advocates of gun control need to be realistic about what is possible.
On the other side, fans of firearms need to shed their paranoia and engage in less-strident discussion. It may be that the "fun" of owning certain types of guns is not worth the deadly cost to society. Gun enthusiasts need also to acknowledge that the National Rifle Assn.'s latest idea about putting an armed guard in every school is no panacea. There was an armed guard at Columbine High School in 1999 and he was unable to prevent the mayhem perpetrated by two heavily armed teenagers.
The remedies need to be comprehensive (and include, among other things, more taxpayer funding for mental health programs), but we will not get there if we merely shout at each other across a gaping divide. If we can approach the challenge with a common goal in mind and a realization that we are all in this together, something effective just might be achieved.
That's why I nominate Alan and Miles to start the discussion -- maybe over a good glass of wine.