The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

January 26, 2013

Cross: Enjoying freedoms comes with a risk

— My wife frequently accuses me of being old-fashioned, usually when I’m about to leave the house wearing wing-tips or a cardigan sweater.

I prefer the term “traditional.”

My taste in firearms is similar.

A concession to practicality, my turkey gun sports flat-black metal and a synthetic stock and forearm.

Otherwise, the firearms I enjoy most are those with classic lines and constructed of finely machined, blued steel mated to walnut.

Those modern, military-style rifles now at the center of the gun control debate, with their utilitarian construction and angular lines, hold no appeal for me.

I have no need or desire to own one. If a ban were implemented tomorrow against the unrestricted sale of the military-style weapons to regular folks, well, I really don’t have a dog in that hunt.

But while I have no fondness for Picatinny rails, barrel shrouds, folding stocks, muzzle-flash suppressers or 30-round magazines, some gun enthusiasts do.

And really, Bushmasters, AR-15s and the like, are just guns that through the passage of time and technology, have come to look different than the traditional sporting arms I own.

The same could be said about automobiles. A car built in 1953 looks considerably different from one coming off the assembly line in 2013.

Millions of law-abiding gun owners are watching closely as, in the wake of recent events, Congressional discussion focuses on gun control.

While it is true that facts frequently get trumped by emotion and political expediency whenever that body convenes, no law-abiding Americans are going to lose their firearms in this debate.

It’s really hard for lawmakers to ignore that pesky thing in the Constitution called the Second Amendment.

But Constitutional protections notwithstanding, some conditions to our right to own and bear arms have been part of the landscape of gun ownership for years.

If you’re a felon, forget about owning a gun.

Since 1934, ownership of fully automatic weapons, silencers and short-barreled shotguns has been severely restricted and regulated.

One no longer can buy a firearm through the mail and have it shipped to a home address as Lee Harvey Oswald did in 1963 when he ordered a scoped, military-surplus, Italian Carcano 6.5 mm rifle from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago for the princely sum of $19.95.

Nor is it possible to place an order from a mail-order catalog for a Browning shotgun, as I once did in 1980.

I can’t remember even being asked to show any identification when I picked it up at the service counter.

More recently, the sale of high-capacity magazines for certain firearms, notably assault-style weapons, was banned until that restriction expired in 2004.

New gun control legislation requiring more thorough background checks, a ban on high capacity magazines and the sale of military-style weapons, recently was introduced in Congress.

As things stand, passage of any such legislation is questionable.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of this national discussion of violence is that it has expanded beyond the issue of guns to include the media, our culture and mental health issues.

In the meantime, proponents of more restrictive gun legislation argue that if just one life is saved through such measures, it would be worth it.

Does anyone really need to own a high-capacity magazine or military-style rifle? Probably not.

But then, the same could be asked of the cars we drive. Does anyone really need a car that can go from 0-60 mph in four seconds or reach 100 mph? Both can be deadly in the wrong hands.

As Americans, we enjoy the remarkable freedom to make choices. Human nature ensures that that freedom always will entail a degree of risk.

Undeniably, there is a culture of gun ownership in America. Fortunately, the 310 million guns out there are owned mostly by law-abiding, responsible citizens.

But like meeting another car on a two-lane road at 60 mph, the potential is always there for something terrible to happen.

We trust that the other driver isn’t texting, drunk or otherwise distracted, that he or she is following the rules of the road.

The risk is tolerable because of the freedom, convenience and mobility automobile travel affords us.

Nevertheless, it’s a gamble. Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts to make a roadway safe, of enacting the most thoughtful traffic laws, there always comes a time when someone is going make a poor choice.

And then, bad things surely will happen.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.

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