In the 1930s and 40s, the United States was worried about big nations building up big armies. Today, one man with a gun can shock and frighten a nation or a town like Westport.
A mentally disturbed person with a gun has killed many in senseless shootings from Newtown, Conn., to Oslo, Norway. Westport, like towns all across the United States, has been tormented by the thought, "Could this happen here?"
National law enforcement and mental health experts are working to stop these terrible events. But there seems to be no solution in sight. There are many problems: How do you tell a rational person from an irrational one with a hidden gun? Some shooters look like sane people.
Some time ago, heading for my commuter train to Westport, I was mugged in Grand Central Terminal during the rush hour. He was a nice looking young man, about 20, who pushed a gun against my chest and asked for my money. He got it. When I entered our Ellery Lane house in Westport that night, my wife said I was as white as a ghost. This happened awhile ago, but I still have dreams about it.
Many terrorists are male, in their early 20s and single. So far, no major shootings have been by women. Schools and colleges seem to be targets for some of these shootings. We must protect our schools, but we must not make them look like fortresses.
Where do these mad men get their guns? Many are stolen or bought from other crooks. Gun buyers must be given background checks. This effort has been fought by gun lobbies in many states. This is very upsetting. Public opinion polls indicate that a majority of Americans believe in background checks. But few senators or Congressmen who are up for re-election dare to cross the gun lobby. The gun lobby has money and plays hardball. Congressmen who oppose background checks should not be given contributions, and they should be targeted in their next election.
It Is hard to convince hunters that we are not going to take away their guns, which they consider part of their way of life. Farmers have always had guns on their farms, and they probably always will. They may need them to protect their livestock, but they don't need high-powered, semi-automatic assault rifles. The hunting states will continue to fight new gun laws, including background checks. I once worked on "Hunting and Fishing" magazine and learned some of their opinions. I do think background checks will be accepted by most people. It took time for seat belts to be accepted. But now they are.
The gun issue is historic, complicated and emotional. Many Americans have been touched in some way by the problem of gun control in America. But we must not let one insane person with a gun put our nation or Westport in fear.