We can talk smarter than this

"Gun sales have been hitting all-time highs this holiday season in Jackson County and Oregon, propelled by fears that President-elect Barack Obama's administration will enact laws clamping down on assault rifles and ammunition."

— The Tidings, Dec. 8

Good to know that some slices of this bludgeoned economy are thriving. The article went on to lay out what you'd expect: dramatic numbers (background checks on new weapons purchases were up about 40 percent in November), the worried reaction to Obama's campaign pledge to renew the expired federal ban on assault weapons, the ongoing argument over what is and isn't an assault weapon, and entrepreneurial anecdotes about "people who have bought AR-15s for around $700 "¦ and sold them at gun shows for $1,200 to $1,400."

For the amperage that runs through the gun issue, you had to go to the online comments following the story. A heart-warming sample: "Now, for the pro-gunners ... you idiots, the serial numbers and purchases are tracked. If anyone comes to get your precious gunsy-wunsys, they'll know exactly where to find them. As to where to find you, that's all too easy ... all anyone needs to do is wait until Sunday and then scoop y'all out of your churches like jelly beans from a barrel."

"They can try. I have the Constitution and a recent Supreme Court decision to back me up."

"I am just SO afraid. I live in fear all the time. The bad guys are just around the corner waiting to get me. But I am ready. I have my stack of guns and buckets of ammo. I am also four and half feet tall and drive a monster truck."

"You got a problem with us short people? ... I thought so. Scratch a lefty, find a bigot."

"No gunz? How in heck tarnation will I evah get Clevon to marry my pregnant Betsy May Sue without mah shotgun?" (This one quickly skidded downhill from there).

"Funny how the radical leftists on here so full of bluster would never talk the talk face to face, guaranteed. But behind a glass monitor they can hide, just like behind mommy's skirt."

"Wow, I wish I could be just like you. Can I sniff those masculine sweaty armpits of yours to get a contact high?"

Great civic dialogue, huh? And anyone who thinks that after decades of brawling there might be some magic insight to bring these folks together has more faith in the power of the pen than me. But could we slow down for a deep breath?

Recent events make it tough to deny that we, all of us, are stepping into completely uncharted territory. Do we really want to do that by expanding both the reach of deadly weapons and our contempt for those who hold different views on deadly weapons? My crystal ball isn't clearer than anyone else's, but this sounds like a prologue to the world of Mad Max movies.

Maybe it is. Some say human nature will inevitably drive us to violence as comforts and vital resources dwindle. They have some historical evidence. I'm just not sure why we should buy anyone's version of the "inevitable" outcome of circumstances we've never experienced before. Human nature is a mosaic of impulses, some of them at odds with the reptilian brain's command to kill or be killed.

So without expecting Kumbaya here, how else could we talk about guns? One online commenter sounded ready: "I suspect a large majority of the posters who make a mockery of gun owners as being rednecks or uneducated have never ever fired a gun. Don't knock it til you try it. Believe it or not, firearms used to be an integral and accepted part of society until the media (and politicians) needed a scapegoat to explain the behavior of criminals." That I can hear, even without fully agreeing.

In hopes of sparking fresh conversation, here are two premises: 1) In a country where anyone can be arbitrarily identified as an "enemy combatant" and imprisoned indefinitely without evidence, where leaders admit breaking privacy laws to pursue evil-doers and declare that "You're either with us or with the terrorists," the impulse to arm yourself against tyranny is not paranoid. And 2) America suffers too many senseless gun injuries and deaths, and smart open-minded people could work through the devilish details to find a better balance between the right to bear arms and the reduction of carnage.

Come on. What are No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5?

Jeff Golden is the author of "As If We Were Grownups," "Forest Blood" and the new novel "Unafraid" (with excerpts at www.unafraidthebook.com).

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