Pensacola, Florida
Sunday August 19th 2018

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Gun Crazy

Grappling with America’s Obsession

By Jeremy Morrison

As the rally wrapped up, two men lingered on the lawn in conversation. Talking about freedom, and fear. Talking about guns.

“People are waking up,” said the man with the clipboard and petition. “They’re seeing that the federal government is going crazy.”

The men were two of many that made their way to the Milton rally in support of Second Amendment rights. The gathering was in response to proposed gun legislation currently on the table at the federal level.

“This is a semi-automatic weapon,” said the man, throwing his clipboard onto the grass. “That thing’s not going to do anything to you. You’d have to be crazy, pick it up and start firing.”

The clipboard is not a semi-automatic. It actually holds a petition urging Florida’s state legislators to pass a bill similar to 2010’s failed HB 21—known as the Florida Firearms Freedom Act—which basically aimed to put state law above federal law when it came to guns.

“I’m gonna present this to Greg Evers,” the man said. “Sheriff Hall, I just got him to sign it.”

Rumblings in the nation’s capital have made the Second Amendment crowd a little jumpy. In Milton, the men on the lawn look at additional legislation and increased regulation as an overstep by the federal government.

And they are freaking out about the possibilities.

“A lot of us feel like this is the last straw,” the man with the clipboard said. “If this goes, it’s over.”

This Time is Different

When President Barack Obama recently delivered the first State of the Union of his second term, the gallery was peppered with individuals impacted by gun violence. Many of them were from Newtown, Conn.

“It has been two months since Newtown,” Obama said. “I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different.”

On Dec. 14, Adam Lanza entered Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. The 20-year-old carried a semi-automatic .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle, a 10mm Glock and 9mm SIG Sauer P226. He used the Bushmaster to kill 20 children and six adults, before shooting himself in the head with one of the handguns.

Lanza had access to the legal firearms in his home. His mother—also shot and killed—was a gun enthusiast.

The tragedy injected renewed passion into America’s national conversation about the Second Amendment and gun legislation. In mid-January, Obama committed himself to the debate.

“Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try,” the president said. “This is our first task as a society: keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged. And their voices should compel us to change.”

The president advocated for—among other measures—universal background checks and the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban. He also pushed for limited magazine capacity. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has proposed a bill doing the same.

The National Rifle Association takes a different view.

“It’s not about keeping the kids safe in school,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre addressed the National Wild Turkey Federation convention in Nashville, Tenn. a couple of days after the State of the Union. “They only care about their decades-long, decades-old gun control agenda: ban every gun they can, tax every gun sold and register every American gun owner.”

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said he would be surprised if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even brought the proposed legislation up for a vote.

“Senator Feinstein’s legislation has already had a trial run for 10 years, and it was proven a failure,” Miller referred to the previous assault-weapons ban that sunset in 2004. “I think her bill is a non-starter in the House and probably in the Senate as well.”

Like many conservatives, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has predicted “a flood of gun legislation going nowhere.” He suggests better enforcing existing laws and focusing on issues such as mental illness.

“I’ve owned guns all my life. I own an AR-15. I saw the movie ‘Django.’ I like Quentin Tarantino,” Graham said at a post-SOTU press conference. “But there are many moving parts to this … me owning an AR-15 is not a threat to anyone because I’m not going to abuse the right to own that gun.”

Gun Culture Club

Guns have always been part of the American story. From Concord to Columbine, from the Wild West to the grassy knoll.

“It’s part of our culture,” said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan.

America’s Founding Father’s saw fit to incorporate the ‘right to bear arms’ into the U.S. Constitution, making guns a pillar of the country’s very foundation.

“Without the Second Amendment how can you protect the other amendments in the Constitution?” posed State Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker). “I think we need to protect it and hold it in the highest regard—an armed man or woman is a citizen, an unarmed man or woman is a subject.”

Former Santa Rosa County Commission chairman Byrd Mapoles attributes America’s relationship with firearms to the pivotal role they played in the country’s early days.

“I think it goes back to the frontier days,” he said, “when you had a horse to ride on and a gun to kill your food.”

Mapoles recalled how important guns were in his own family. He can still remember his grandmother’s shotgun resting by the front door of her house.

“The maddest I ever saw her was when she realized her shotgun wasn’t by the front door,” he laughed. “She said, ‘Who got my shotgun? Put my shotgun back where it was.’”

Morgan, too, recalled a loaded shotgun reliably in the corner at his grandparents’ house. In a bedside drawer was a loaded handgun. Guns were a part of everyday life. The sheriff got his first as a young boy.

“You got your first rifle, it was usually a single-shot .22 rifle, or a 4-10 shotgun,” Morgan recalled, explaining how he and his friends would take their guns to school. “Guys would pass their guns around—‘Wow, you got your first .22, or whatever.’ We never heard of gun violence.”

When wrapping his head around modern tragedies like the Newtown killings—what the sheriff described as “every parent’s nightmare and, really, every community’s fear”—Morgan does not lay blame on guns.

“I would say the core issue is emotional and mental problems,” the Sheriff said, suggesting the country take a “clinical,” unemotional approach to Second Amendment debates in the wake of such tragedies.

Supporters of the Second Amendment tend to emphasis the inanimate nature of firearms. They stress the fact that guns are cold and lifeless tools at the mercy of humanity.

“I think mental health plays a tremendous part of it. Guns are not the issue,” said Sen. Evers. “Guns do not kill people, it’s folks that use guns. But folks use knifes. Should we ban knifes? Folks use baseball bats. Should we ban baseball?”

This camp bristles at the notion of further restrictions on guns. They don’t feel such measures would have the desired effect of curbing gun violence.

“I certainly think it is appropriate to have the discussion about violence, but we need to address the causes of violence and the issue of access to mental health care,” Rep. Miller said. “Until we address the root issues and motivations behind violence, we are not going to see any marked reduction in gun crimes.”

Locally, law enforcement officials take a similar view. They read currently proposed gun legislation as misguided.

“You could outlaw all the guns and we’d still have gun violence,” said Pensacola Police Chief Chip Simmons. “If you’re a criminal, you don’t care about gun restrictions.”

Simmons pointed out that the legislation’s biggest targets—assault weapons and magazine capacity—didn’t correlate to what he sees on the street.

“They make a big deal about the assault rifle,” the chief said. “We see handguns more than any other kind of gun.”

Morgan is more blunt in his assessment of further restrictions on guns.

“The argument is so fallacious on its face that I’m surprised we can say it with a straight face,” the sheriff said.

The nut of this tact is this: society can’t be safeguarded against criminals and crazies, and law-biding citizens shouldn’t have to suffer as a consequence of the attempt of such.

“To rush out here and pass more restrictive laws that will only be followed by law-abiding citizens is not the solution,” Morgan said. “You’re working the wrong end of this problem.”

The sheriff stresses the importance of maintaining the Second Amendment’s integrity.

“An armed citizenry is a good thing,” Morgan said. “Not a bad thing.”

Gun Love

In late January, a man walked into the Cobb Community Center. He promptly dropped a gun onto the floor.

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