December 26, 2012 —
The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT casts a long shadow. Towns all across the nation have held candlelight vigils for the slain children, their teachers and principal and to mourn with the families who lost innocent loved ones. School districts everywhere are reexamining their safety policies and emergency plans. From state houses to the White House to Capitol Hill, an important debate about guns and gun control has begun, and this time around almost everyone is starting from the premise that the status quo is no longer acceptable.
What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary was just one of 16 mass shootings in the United States this year that left 88 people dead, but this newest incident appears to have changed the national conversation. Against this backdrop, rural America needs to weigh in on a debate that in the past has often pitted rural interests against those of urban America. Rural Americans are stakeholders and need to be heard.
Up to now, the hard-line positions of a well-financed gun lobby have successfully dominated the debate. We believe the time has come for individual gun owners at the grassroots level to speak up in a thoughtful way without simply mouthing the established rhetoric of the National Rifle Association (NRA), whose top lobbiest, Wayne LaPierre, proposed last Friday that armed police officers be placed in every school as a solution. Hunters, sportsmen and gun owners need to be deeply involved in offering common sense suggestions for addressing America’s gun-violence problem.
We in the Upper Delaware Valley live in a place where hunting has been a way of life since this land was settled. Most of us know hunters who, if they can, traditionally take off a day or so from work at the beginning of rifle season. In a lucky year, they will be able to put game on the table for many a winter meal. In addition, not only do we have a large number of local hunters, but our fields and forests attract thousands of visiting or vacationing hunters who come to our region as a sport and travel destination, giving a boost to our local economy after summertime’s tourists have departed. For those who think we should not kill Bambi or Bambi’s mother, the reality is that if the state did not manage the size of the deer herd (by controlling the number of hunting licenses it issues), our farms and yards and outdoor habitats would be overrun by these creatures.
Now comes the hard part. Over the years, people on either side of the gun control debate have become mired in the ideology of their own positions. The time has come to reconsider our strict ideologies and to work toward a consensus that seeks practical solutions.
“What we’re looking for here,” President Obama said last week as he tried to frame the debate, “is a thoughtful approach that says we can preserve our Second Amendment, we can make sure that responsible gun owners are able to carry out their activities, but that we’re gonna actually be serious about the safety side of this….
“The fact is, the vast majority of gun owners are responsible … but I am also betting that a vast majority of gun owners agree that we should keep a small few from owning a high-capacity weapon of war.”
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy wondered in a television interview why anyone would need to possess such high-capacity, military weapons. “You don’t hunt deer with these things,” he said. “And I think that’s the question that a lot of people are going to have to resolve their own minds: Where should this line get drawn?”
We at The River Reporter ask our many hunters and gun owners along the Upper Delaware to write to us and to offer thoughtful, concrete suggestions for how to address this national scandal while preserving the Second Amendment.