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GREG HARTON: Acquiring the target

Violence solutions require focus of gun advocates, foes

In the Walker Room of the Fayetteville Public Library, about 150 people sat and stood for Thursday evening's panel discussion on what to do about gun violence.

If I were a betting man, I'd guess I might have been the only person in the room toting a concealed handgun carry permit in my wallet. Well, state Rep. Charlie Collins, sponsor of Arkansas' campus carry legislation, was in the audience. I don't know that he's got a permit, but again, if I were a betting man ...

The event, put on by the League of Women Voters of Washington County, wasn't a debate between opposite sides. It wasn't intended to be. Rather, the league and all four panelists largely embraced the position that guns are a problem, that the National Rifle Association's powerful defense of firearms aids and abets mass murderers and reduction in the number of shootings will happen only when the number of guns in the United States is reduced.

I don't necessarily dispute any of those points, although I'm more defensive of gun rights than a lot of folks there might have been. On the issue of gun-related regulations, I'm in a spot more dangerous than an open field in the Arkansas deer woods for a 12-point buck this past weekend: I'm a gun owner who supports the right of Americans to own firearms, but not every firearm that can be imagined, designed and marketed by the gun industry.

Who, after all, ever empowered the gun manufacturers to be the final arbiters of what kind of fire power anyone with enough money can acquire?

No, I wasn't toting a gun, if you're curious. I got my concealed carry permit a few years ago primarily to clear up any ambiguity about my authority to carry a gun when I travel Arkansas' roads and, by virtue of reciprocity, the roads of most other states. Most Arkansans I've spoken to who have them don't carry constantly. But it doesn't bother me if someone does for self-defense.

I'm convinced most concealed carry permit holders are the people striving to behave within the law, who are more likely to behave responsibly with guns.

With the Texas church shooting a month after the Las Vegas concert massacre, those gathered Thursday seemed to have a mix of urgency that something -- anything, it seems -- must be done, mixed with a dash of hopelessness that today's elected representatives in Washington will do anything to reduce gun violence. I attended because I wanted to hear specific legislative proposals that would stave off some of the shootings our nation experiences too terribly often.

I was disappointed.

The recent shootings have sparked understandable outcry for change and a lot of social media posts by people outlining generalized antagonism for guns and disgust that the nation can't take steps to reduce or eliminate the number of guns in private hands. Like at Thursday's forum, the undercurrent of comments can easily be interpreted as opposition to the very existence of guns in the country.

I troll social media and I was at Thursday's events because I'm looking for sensible solutions that don't treat the two handguns (purchased) and one shotgun (inherited) I own as evil instruments of terror. In my view, the gun itself is neutral; it is a human being's interaction with it that converts it into a tool for good or evil.

But with 300 million guns in the country, it's not unreasonable to be critical of the gun industry for its profit-driven promotion of gun sales, its continuous development of the next big must-have weapon and its push to make fast-firing rifles with high-volume bullet capacities popular and easily attainable. Self-defense and hunting do not require 30-round magazines unless you're incredibly bad at it.

Somewhere, there's an answer, but it will require a shift in attitudes, on the one hand, about the inviolability of the Second Amendment as a pass for everything the gun manufacturing industry wants and, on the other hand, regarding gun control advocates' lumping of gun owners/advocates into one category that includes mass shooters and practitioners of gun violence.

Responsible gun ownership is not a oxymoron.

The discouraging aspect of Thursday's meeting isn't the passion with which participants want to do something. Who, after all, can witness the violence and not share a sense of outrage and sadness? It was that after two hours, all that was achieved was a further stirring of passions against all guns, a general call to "contact your elected officials" and elect pro-gun control candidates, and advocacy to "change our culture" to make guns less acceptable.

The gulf between those who respect and value guns for legimate uses and those who appear to view their very presence as a threat to society is wider than ever. Nothing in this country regarding guns' role in violence will change until both groups can respect one another's concerns and find common ground to end irresponsibile and abusive handling of guns and moderation of a gun industry that's out of control.

Commentary on 11/13/2017

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