The Verdict Is In: I'm an NRA-Hating, 2nd-Amendment Absolutist, Gun-Nut Gun Grabber

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My inbox is overflowing, obviously, with letters from partisans on all sides of the gun debate. (E-mails prompted mainly by this article.) The geographic split is huge, and troubling for those who would like to see America a more unified place: Those correspondents who identify the state of their residence and are opposed to gun control are mainly -- overwhelmingly, really -- from the South and West (and a bit of upper Midwest). Those who are opposed to concealed-carry are mainly Northeasterners. Much of the mail is entirely sane, and non-insulting, but a large proportion of it (large, even compared to what I get in my Middle East mailbag) is filled with invective. Although I have to admit, I do enjoy getting mail within the same hour accusing me of being a "gun-grabbing libtard" and a "NRA-ass-kisser."

The argument from the Left frequently boils down to the accusation that my belief in the right of law-abiding and government-licensed individuals to be armed in order to participate in their own defense means that I want to recreate the Wild West in modern America. The argument from the Right comes down to this: Any regulation of guns (I support most of the proposed gun control regulations advanced by the Brady Campaign) means that I'm willing to see the Constitutional rights of my fellow Americans impinged in order to satiate the collectivist desires of liberals who so cowardly they don't want to even protect themselves.

Here are two letters that are typical of my mail. The first is from someone who thinks that my call for more stringent gun control makes me something of a socialist wackjob:

You are such a block head. The NRA has a valid point. The DVDs and violent films that have made mass killing 'fun', have a lot to do on why we see so many deranged young killers out there. This Newtown killer was immersed in that killing/game culture. If you cannot see that, you need to stand back and take an objective look. It would also help a lot, if you refrained from drinking that Obama, cool aid. Remember, most of the Hollywood elite, all of Congress, are protected by their personal bodyguards. Why should they feel threatened as I would if I did not have the ability to protect me and my loved ones.

Give up my guns, and just call  911 and wait 20 minutes? Never.

There's this, from the opposite side:

Do you really think most Americans can be trusted with guns? You're out of your mind. Everyone walking around with guns is a nightmare. What about the rage that is inside people? If they have a chance to bring out their rage, what do you think would happen? We'd have blood in the streets everyday. How could you write an article that means more death all around?  Shame on you.

There are plenty of letters like this one, however:

Straight to the point here: Thank you for writing in support of a hybridized approach to gun control and gun ownership rights, rather than coming down in support of one of the standard, simplistic, for-or-against arguments that we usually see or hear. Thank you for seeing this grave and complicated issue as something more than an easy choice between two opposite, all or nothing positions.

It is unfortunately rare that public discussions seriously address the challenging complexities of the issues faced by this country. Issues are typically presented to the public as though only two possible solutions could ever exist, one liberal and the other conservative.  Democrat versus Republican. Blue versus Red. It gets tiresome, diminishes the level of the discussion, and actually makes it more difficult to ever move to an effective solution because it prevents us from fully examining the issues and seeing them clearly.

It is reassuring to read your opinion piece that recognizes valid points on both sides of the gun control issue, and that looks for a solution that blends support for both public safety and individual rights. Perhaps it may help some people to see that we need more than one-step thinking on this and other issues. I hope so.

I'm going to keep addressing different issues surrounding this issue on Goldblog, but I wanted to take quick note of an argument I find particularly weak, the "Columbine-had-an-armed-guard-and-look-what-happened" line we've been hearing about so much lately. (I'll get to Wayne LaPierre's idiocies later, but everyone else seems to be dealing with those.) This is from The Atlantic Wire:

It's kind of like the first time two days ago that LaPierre told the nation that we needed to put an armed guards in every American school to prevent more school shootings. This, despite the fact that there was an armed guard at Columbine High School in 1999, but 13 people died from gunshot wounds anyways.

It is true that the armed guard at Columbine did not stop the two shooters. But deriving definitive lessons from a single incident seems unwise, and discarding the idea of armed security nationally because it failed at Columbine seems precipitous. The Secret Service failed to keep JFK alive. Did this mean that we should have discarded the idea that our presidents receive Secret Service protection? The CIA failed to stop the terrorist plot that resulted in the attacks of 9/11. Did we discard the idea of intelligence-gathering after 9/11, on grounds that it didn't work in advance of the attacks? Or did we try to make the CIA better at its job? More quotidian examples abound: The police in Chicago have failed to stop the murders of more than 400 people this year. Does this mean that the concept of policing is fundamentally flawed? Or does it mean that Chicago has to work harder to get this right, to devise policies that result in the most effective deployment of government resources? On occasion, the burglar alarms in private residences fail to sound. Does this mean that all burglar alarms are a bad idea?

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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