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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    An editorial writer bears some arms

    At age 60 years and six months I fired my first guns last Tuesday. I have vague memories of shooting a friend’s BB gun when I was a kid, but that doesn’t count.

    These were serious guns. A semi-automatic Glock .45-caliber handgun, a Mossberg Model 590 pump action 12-gauge shotgun, and a Daniel Defense semi-automatic M4 .223-caliber rifle.

    Growing up in Providence, R.I., I had no exposure to guns, except for the toy variety. Dad, a Providence firefighter, never kept a gun in the apartment. Fear of crime was not on my radar. Burglars would have had a tough time getting away with anything in our nosy, densely developed working-class neighborhood of tenements and single-family homes.

    As an adult, I never sought out a gun as security. Years of working as a reporter convinced me that having a gun in the house increases the chance of someone you love dying via a suicide, domestic dispute or accident. Studies bear that out.

    But as I progressed to the position of The Day’s editorial page editor, I found myself writing and editing opinions about guns. The debate has long raged in the country over how broadly to interpret the Second Amendment’s stipulation that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    In 1934, Congress banned the sale and possession of machine guns, short-barrel shotguns and rifles, silencers and explosives. But in 2008 the Supreme Court ruled that a ban on handguns in the District of Columbia went too far and violated the Second Amendment.

    The debate really heated up Connecticut following the 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown after a gunman, armed with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle, fatally shot 20 first-graders and six educators before killing himself.

    Subsequent state legislation banned the sale of semi-automatic rifles and large-capacity magazines, though gun owners could retain the rifles they had. The legislation also adopted other restrictions, including stricter background checks and broader gun permit requirements.

    Editorially, The Day argued in support of these restrictions. Gun rights advocates were outraged, attacking the logic of the new restrictions and calling them unconstitutional. The courts, however, have upheld the constitutionality of the law.

    Taking aim

    That's how a gun-control editorial writer ended up in a remote field in Sprague firing guns for the first time in his life.

    Every Monday morning I call in to the Lee Elci show on the conservative talk radio station 94.9 News Now, verbally jousting with the host about politics and policy. Lee said he knew a couple of guys, experts in firearms with military and law enforcement backgrounds, interested in giving me a little hands-on experience.

    It took months to finally mesh schedules, but last week I found myself riding in Lee’s four-wheel drive truck over a long, rutted and snow-covered dirt road to the makeshift shooting range. There was a group of us gun learners, including Day Staff Writer Martha Shanahan and columnist and Assistant Sports Editor Mike DiMauro.

    Our two cordial instructors asked to remain anonymous, concerned that if they were identified, bad guys could target their home arsenals.

    Having heard the safety instructions and inserted ear plugs, I awkwardly gripped both fists around the handle of the Glock and eyed my target 18 feet away.

    Bang! The gun jolted in my hands. I aimed again, fired, this time ready for the recoil. I hit the target with all five shots. My shooting went better then some, not as well as others. Martha was our crack shot overall.

    Next the M4, now illegal for sale. Deadly. A red dot in the scope helped me quickly line up my target. The light trigger allowed for quick shots — bang, bang, bang — the scope assuring accuracy.

    Then the 12-gauge, black, ominous, filled with a variety of birdshot, buckshot and slugs. Bracing the gun against my shoulder as instructed, leaning forward, I pulled the trigger. BANG! The results were devastating, buckshot tearing apart the torso-shaped target. Broad shouldered and strong for an old, editorial writer, I handled the recoil well. Others, however, came away rubbing arms and shoulders after firing several rounds with the shotgun.

    In a later exercise, our instructors interspersed “good guys” and “bad guy” targets, our challenge to hit the right ones. Not surprisingly, the semi-automatic and scoped M4 did the best job of avoiding collateral damage, though I did OK with the handgun in hitting the right targets.

    The intended takeaway was that the semi-automatic, now illegal, provided the best chance in a “home defense environment” to hit and kill invaders while avoiding collateral damage. Point taken.

    But, it occurred to me, in the hands of the wrong person it would also provide the superior opportunity to pick off shoppers in a mall or kids heading for school buses. The only difference between it and a military rifle is that it is not fully automatic.

    It's great if the cops have them, but I don't see the need for civilians to possess that fire power.

    My hosts made the argument that armed with such a weapon they stood ready to protect the country from slipping into tyranny or to defend their homes should civil order break down. That I found chilling, the stuff of self-fulfilling prophecy.

    If you see a need for home security of the gun variety, that legal 12-gauge could do the trick. With even modest aim, the dispersed buckshot would stop an intruder dead in his tracks, as they say.

    But I'll pass. I managed to survive 60-plus years without one.

    Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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