This is the gun debate

ESCANABA — Boil away everything else and this is what the gun debate comes down to for hard-core gun owners: Their hobby is worth more to them than anything else.

It’s worth more than your life or the life of someone you love.

It’s worth more than the subtle fear we all have now when we’re in public places — concerts, movies, malls etc.

It’s certainly worth more than the fact that every single school in this country has long since instituted active shooter drills and protocols. (This still boggles the imagination.)

The reality is, given a choice between doing anything to end the madness as described above or giving up their assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, hard-core gun owners — the ones who shout the loudest and have come to speak for the majority of silent gun owners who would probably welcome a compromise — will choose their toys every time.

I realize guns owners will howl when they read this. I will get hate mail — nothing new there. I will probably get a few muted threats of violence. I will most certainly be clubbed with the standard-issue, NRA-approved talking points, including:

– If we ban one type of gun, weapon or magazine then “liberals” will eventually ban them all.

– It’s the person, not the tool. (This is the one that goes, “Why don’t we ban cars then? Cars kill people, too.”)

– Mental health is the problem, not guns.

– I own a gun and I’ve never shot anyone.

– We have to protect ourselves against the government.

– We never used to have this problem.

– There’s nothing that can be done.

But these people know the truth whether they admit it or not.

They know the gun debate isn’t about the Second Amendment because no one is seriously proposing to take away all guns. (Tactic: Take one stupid thing said by one stupid person at one time somewhere in the past, extrapolate to everyone who is a Democrat, and voila, instant everlasting gobstopper of a gun argument.)

They know it’s not a hunting, target shooting or self-protection issue because there are plenty of other options for those.

They know assault-style weapons and high capacity magazines aren’t just tools that are safe in anybody’s hands. If that’s the case, I’m buying myself a fully-armed Blackhawk helicopter just because I think they’re cool. Don’t worry. You can trust me. Trust me on that.

They know mental health isn’t the crux of the issue because most people — including most of the shooters — aren’t clinically mentally ill. They’re more often depressed, lonely and angry. It’s impossible to say this is a mental health issue when nowhere else in the world do they have the mass murder problem we have. Are gun enthusiasts saying we’re just more nuts in America? Call me a patriot, but I don’t buy it.

They know we didn’t used to have this problem because in the past we didn’t have or weren’t stupid enough to allow low-cost semi-automatics like the AR-15 (the mass murder weapon of choice but by no means the only culprit, by the way), which comes with a 30-round magazine, which many owners discard in favor of the perfectly legal 100-round magazine.

They even know that, yes, there are plenty of things we could do, starting with banning the tools that make mass murder so easy that anyone can do it. (You want to keep your AR-15? Fine. Ban magazines.)

I know they know these things are true because I don’t think gun owners are dumber or more immoral than the rest of us. I think they’re smart, caring people who work hard and care for their families, just like (gasp) liberals.

But they do care more about their hobby than they care about anything else, and in defense of it they convince themselves that the NRA is a guiding light and willingly consume and regurgitate its propaganda. (Sorry, but that’s exactly what it is.)

Why do hard-core gun owners do it? I can’t say. Selfishness? Maybe. Politics? Certainly. But maybe it’s also because the mass murder virus hasn’t directly touched their lives yet.

If so, well, sadly, the way things are headed, it eventually will.

— — —

Andrew Heller, an award-winning newspaper columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Follow him at and on Facebook and Twitter. Write to him via email at