Dear Bill

Dear Bill Crane:
I assume you are the William Crane who lives on Saint Simons. Before I comment in a neighborly fashion on your interesting column in the Brunswick NewsBrunswick news this morning, let me share my experience with firearms:
As I approach my eightieth birthday, I remember my ninth, when my father gave me a .22 caliber Remington rifle that would fire as quickly as I could work the bolt and pull the trigger. My parents were separated and I knew he was trying to annoy my mother who had refused to let me have a BB gun.
“He needs it to protect you and our daughter way out here in the country,” he told her.
Like any responsible parent, he regulated my use of that firearm by telling me I should never point it at anyone unless I intended to shoot them, and never shoot anyone unless I intended to kill them. “And if you kill someone outside, drag him into the house before you call the sheriff.”
Ironically, he was the only person at whom I ever pointed my new rifle. That happened a few weeks later when he got drunk one night, forced his way into the house, and tried to claim his conjugal rights. Awakened by my mother’s angry screams, I ordered him out of the house at gunpoint. He left–but had his way a few days later when I was at school. Had I shot him dead that night, I would not have the beloved younger brother who is now a senior deputy attorney general of one of our great western states.
When I was fourteen, I went to a sporting goods store and bought without benefit of license or background check my first handgun: a .22 semi-automatic target pistol. It never occurred to me to shoot anyone when I took it to my high school to practice on the ROTC firing range. All of the M1 rifles we drilled with had firing pins, but it never occurred to me or any of my fellow cadets to bring our own .30 caliber bullets in order to settle adolescent scores.
On my seventeenth birthday, I joined a well-regulated militia (the National Guard) partly because that was the only way I could purchase from the government a surplus M1, the basic combat weapon of the Army and Marine Corps during WWII and the Korean conflict. A semi-automatic, it fired eight rounds as fast as the trigger could be pulled.
By the time I started college, I had assembled a personal arsenal that would have allowed me to fire about two dozen rounds without reloading.
But by the time I started graduate school at the age of twenty-one, I had sold or given away all my firearms. Ten years later, as a liberal faculty senator at the University of New Hampshire, I argued against allowing the campus police to arm themselves with M1 rifles–the same kind that members of the Ohio National Guard would use to kill students a year later at Kent State.
Since then, I have tried to ignore the gun control debate except when I come across something so dreadful that I cannot in good conscience fail to respond. In other words, something like what you wrote. Here goes:

You began your column with a reference to “the dozens needlessly slaughtered . . . on the Las Vegas Strip.” Under what conditions would there be a legitimate “need” to slaughter dozens in Las Vegas?
You then claim “there would have been virtually no way to prevent or stop the shooter from taking a semi-automatic weapon, disassembled, into his hotel suite, over a period of days, then reassembling and opening fire on the masses assembled below.” Why do you refer to only a single semi-automatic weapon that was disassembled and reassembled? Why don’t you acknowledge the shooter had multiple semi-automatic weapons modified to fire at full automatic.
The major flaw of your column is that you try to distract readers from the gun control issue by focusing on helping the mentally ill.
In your last paragraph, you claim that “Seizing or further restricting access to firearms among our citizenry is not a realistic solution.” But the “solution” you tout in your title (“Finding the will to help the mentally ill”) is far less realistic than straight-forward and enforceable federal regulations limiting the kinds and numbers of firearms citizens may own.
Which brings me to the most shameful part of your column: your choice of an epigraph attributed to Rosalyn Carter: “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
We need great leaders who will take you, Mr. Crane, and many others where you and they don’t want to go.

Julian Smith