Ah, the ‘freedom’ to bear arms
NEW YORK ― Koreans must wonder what is it about Americans and their love of guns; every day you see reports here of unbelievable mayhem.
If it’s not a mass shooting, such as the one that killed a dozen people at the opening of the Batman movie in Colorado, then it’s every day stuff for the inside pages: a hold-up, a jealous husband. Oh yes, another slaughter, the latest, six killed at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee.
Guns are so easy to get here it’s a wonder more people aren’t getting killed. Any psychopath could spray the stands at a baseball game with automatic weapons or pull out a pistol on a bus and start shooting. The number of people who own guns has gone up since the Colorado shooting.
Gun advocates argue, if people in the audience for the Batman movie had had guns, someone would have shot the guy. Gun owners, already in the tens of millions, are stocking up on guns on the theory that President Obama, if reelected, will want to introduce legislation making gun ownership more difficult.
Not that Obama is doing a thing to crack down on gun ownership now. Neither he nor Mitt Romney, presumably his Republican opponent in November, want to antagonize the great American gun-slinging electorate by promising to deprive any of them of their God-given right, sanctioned by the U.S. constitution, to own a gun. Oh, maybe Obama would like to make it harder to own an automatic weapon. Thanks a lot. That should inhibit people from buying maybe submachine guns.
Here in New York, puzzlement about gun ownership is probably most acute. Mayor Bloomberg does not like to see New Yorkers going down to Virginia and back with guns as if they’d been on a routine out-of-town weekend. In New York, guns aren’t used for hunting deer or target practice. They’re responsible for people getting killed every day for just about any reason ― drugs, robberies, vengeance, anything.
Maybe I’m in a shrinking minority of those who don’t want guns and wouldn’t think of packing one in my bureau drawer in Washington for use against the next burglars who want to loot my house. I am quite sure I wouldn’t know what to do with a gun even if I desperately needed to use it.
The last time I fired a pistol was in historic War Zone C, a jungle area north of Saigon, in I think 1967 or 1968. I was with U.S. troops on patrol, writing for a paper about GIs looking for bad guys. We ran into a Viet Cong camp from which the VC had fled as soon as they heard us coming.
We had made a lot of noise, the GIs firing blind into the bushes to make sure no one was there waiting to ambush us. When we got to the camp, rice was warm in blackened cooking pots and chickens were running around for dear life. A sergeant handed me a pistol and suggested I take a shot at one of the chickens. From about 30 feet away I missed, though judging from the way the chicken picked up speed the bullet may have ruffled a few tail feathers.
I didn’t do much better a few years before during basic training in the army. Those were the days when the M-I rifle was the basic U.S. infantry weapon. The M-16, noted for jamming, never regarded as the equal of the AK47 favored by Communists and terrorists, did not come into widespread use until Vietnam.
In my day you had to ``qualify” at the range with an M-1 or you might be ``recycled,” sent through basic training again. I barely qualified. In fact, I think the sergeant who was grading us, who had tried his hardest to show me how to shoot straight, gave this dumb college kid a break on the score.
Tens of millions of Americans, though, think they’re good enough shots to own pistols or rifles, the more automatic the better. May be that’s because we haven’t fought a war on our own turf in which hundreds of thousands got killed since the Civil War, the bloodiest in U.S. history.
Koreans know better. About 4 million people got killed in the Korean War, civilian and military, Koreans, North and South, Chinese, Americans and others from United Nations allies, the Brits, Canadians, Turks, and French among others. The war may rank as the bloodiest in Asian history.
Freedom from fear of guns is a luxury that Koreans take for granted. You’re not afraid to go down remote alleys in Seoul at night on alert for anyone lurking in the shadows as in American cities.
In fact, in the U.S., a lot of neighborhoods are simply off limits, no man’s lands where no one ventures, day or night. That’s the freedom that the freedom to carry a rifle, as gun advocates wrongly claim is enshrined in the U.S. constitution, has given us.
For real freedom from guns, though, you have to go to the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas where wildlife roams freely in a lesson the rest of the world should emulate. Never mind those hundreds of thousands of troops on either side of the line, waiting to fire when anyone lights the fuse.
Columnist Donald Kirk, www.donaldkirk.com, has been covering war and peace in Asia and the Middle East since 1965. He’s reachable at email@example.com.