Before offering even the most minor restriction on guns in America, advocates must genuflect to “the hunter.” Alone in nature, with only his rifle for food, survival and protecting the vulnerable, the hunter has become an icon of America’s mythic past and a guardian of its present values. I have no quarrel with hunters, although I don’t see why the attitudes of those who shoot animals – that are often beautiful and that do not shoot back – should be the sacred touchstone of gun policy. In one of my favorite old New Yorker cartoons, two young bucks look over a woods teeming with men with guns, and one says to the other, “Why don’t they thin their own damned herds?” And so Congress has cast a cold eye on the regulations the president proposed yesterday, addressing an issue that no candidate dared even to touch in the last election. Obama’s “sweeping” package seems a modest list, which includes renewing the 1994 assault-weapons ban; prohibiting the sale of magazines with over 10 rounds; banning the possession of armor-piercing bullets; toughening gun-trafficking laws; and requiring background checks for all gun sales. The NRA responded with a repellant video that called Obama an “elitist hypocrite” because his daughters have secret-service protection in their school.
The proposals do not seem to gut the Second Amendment. Whether they will help thwart future killing sprees, I don’t know; but restricting some people’s access to some weapons seems a more hopeful step than arming everybody in sight.