Front Doors: Thresholds to Danger and Promise

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I don't remember the knock at the front door. It was a long time ago, maybe 58 years. I can remember it was in the early evening. Things were getting dark. I can assume this was in mid-October to mid-November.

Aggressive Men at The Front Door

The location is easy to remember; it was home isolated at the end of a 100-yard driveway. The old, white farmhouse located in the middle of a cotton field. Along with serving on a County Board of Supervisor, my father farmed cotton. It provided work for the family and some income each year. The family lived OK; My mother's school teacher salary made a large portion of the family's income. Though my father served as a county supervisor, we were a distance from basic government services like the sheriff. Once some saddles were stolen by thieves in the night, and it took a full day for the deputies to respond.

My mother opened the front door to the house. We seldom used it, so this was unusual. Normally, friends came to the back door off the kitchen. My dad wasn't home. We had a boxer dog, but he was chained outside, so he couldn’t provide protection beyond some in-the-distance barking. If he were nearby, he definitely would’ve challenged these men at the door.

Mom stood in the doorway as two strange men tried to sell her a magazine subscription. They were threatening and pushing at the screen door. I could feel her intimidation and helplessness. I was worried about her well-being and felt something awful could happen. Rushing to a nearby bedroom to retrieve a Mauser pistol, I announced I’d return as fast as possible.

Writing A Check

Returning quickly, I stood at my mother’s side like a soldier. The interaction did not escalate. My mother wrote a check to buy a subscription to Children’s Digest and pushed it under the screen door. Soon, they disappeared into the evening.

The whole incident was a non-event, but it was profound and stuck in my memory. A magazine was ordered, a check provided. Mother learned the subscription was never processed, which may imply some other nefarious purpose for those strangers, but we don't know.

I didn't realize it at the time, but another encounter in Holcomb, Kansas had tragically ended with a family killed in the early morning. Over the years, this established a need for caution, vigilance, and preparation. Ours was a caution; Holcomb was a monumentally tragic warning.

Resolute Defiance

Over the years, this incident created my strong dedication to self-defense. Feeling vulnerable that evening and deeply concerned about my Mother's well-being, the opportunity to provide a defense was formative.

As a 13-year-old, the ability to retrieve dad's pistol and stand guard to the side of my mother was powerful. I remember not feeling like a victim because I was ready to go. At a minimum, I’m sure my countenance was resolute and convincing to the men on the other side of the screen door. Whether they perceived I retrieved a pistol, I can never know. However, I’m sure they saw my firm defiance on the other side of the screen door. The check provided the rationale to move along.

Emotional Bases

My support of gun rights over the years is based on various personal factors, but I believe that experience many years ago provided an emotional base. Most of all, I do not want to feel helpless, and my dad’s Mauser pistol provided significant support. It made things equal. Perhaps it gave me the upper hand.

If I’m reflective about the issue, the critical conclusion is that others have had similar experiences. Fred Guttenberg’s tragic loss of his daughter Jaime in the Parkland shooting is powerfully compelling. While I’m reassured by my mother’s safety, others are repelled by their tragic losses of dear family members.

No Consensus on Guns

The experience is not uniform and, in many ways, contradictory in the conclusions it carries us towards. While these emotions could be unifying, they underlie the current debate. Policy direction seems to swing based upon the most current cable news reporting.

This variety of experiences has not provided a path to consensus. While I believe the availability of firearms and necessary training is fundamental to family safety, others with different experiences only see firearms as unmitigated instruments of death. With the differences in personal experiences being so intense and the issue being divisive, the cultural impact emphasizes partisan political gains and losses. This has precluded a durable policy solution protecting fundamental rights.

For years, we have felt an impasse between Democrats and Republicans about bipartisan firearms policy. Mass shootings continue to occur in schools and public places, but no consolidation of national policy has developed.

We continue to hear from Democrats with redundant talking points about background checks, limiting magazine capacity, disqualifying individuals on the TSA and terrorist watch lists, and banning assault and semi-automatic firearms; the only proof they mention seems to be contested hearsay statements. The Republican answer appears to be on the strategic defensive with the main talking point being essentially "just say no."

Additional political funding has come to those supporting gun control, and legislatures have enacted new gun control legislation in various states. From the sidelines, I observe that as a practical matter Democrats and Republicans find no advantage in a solution. It appears a partisan gain for each to keep the fight going.

Bipartisan Achievement Trumping Partisan Political Gain

On the other hand, if we believe that bipartisan achievement should trump partisan political gain, the opportunity is present by pursuing a bipartisan implementation of the leading Supreme Court decision about the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: District of Columbia et al. v. Heller, decided in June 2008. You can read the full conclusion here, but essentially:

“The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

The Court goes on to mention that, like most rights, the Second Amendment is not unlimited. If there are laws in place forbidding firearms being held by certain people (felons, mentally ill) or in certain areas (schools, government buildings), those rulings should be upheld.

A Bipartisan, Comprehensive Gun Control Policy

I believe this opinion is the most considered statement on gun policy in American history. It came out of a real case and controversy where Dick Heller, a D. C. special police officer at the time, was authorized to carry a handgun while on duty at the Federal Judicial Center but not in his home.

He felt a crime could happen against him in his neighborhood, so he requested to register a firearm. The District had developed an administrative process to obtain a permit for the registration of firearms. The practical effect of the policy, however, was to deny nearly all registrations that were presented.

It’s time to pass bipartisan comprehensive gun control legislation.

Last year, President Trump expressed his interest in such legislation. Measures were introduced but did not move through Congress. One could argue the imperative generated by school shootings at Parkland and Santa Fe soon dissipated. I hope the President doubles down on the need for this bipartisan effort before another school shooting. In these polarized times, the nation would welcome a proactive unifying measure to address this vexing issue.

When Congress Again Convenes

When Congress reconvenes in January 2019, they must take up the implementation of the ten-year-old Heller decision. Though there will be much give and take in the process, I recommend the following as critical elements of any bi-partisan legislation.

  • A legislative statement of the fundamental right, as expressed in Heller, to own and keep firearms for family and self-defense in the home.

  • The primary enforcement of firearm laws should rest with the local government, specifically the sheriff in each county. Laws such as this can most effectively be implemented and enforced locally, especially if there is Federal financial support and coordination to sheriff departments throughout the United States. As the Eighteenth Amendment taught us, a centralized administration generates an adversarial relationship which is not conducive to advancing a culture of firearms safety.

  • The emphasis must be on safety. Safety comes primarily through training and participation with others who are knowledgeable about proper firearm use. The active training and development of an individual owning a firearm is critical and implied by the Second Amendment. It must be a priority for the nation's sheriff’s departments and Congress, and the states must provide sufficient funding to support it.

Front Door:  A Promising Threshold to A Less Divisive American Politics

Instead of accepting a permanent impasse regarding gun policy, or a partisan national "solution" forced by a bully majority in the three branches, we must unite to demand a balanced legislative affirmation of Heller v. District of Columbia. A productive dialogue in this area could be the front door to a less divisive American political process.