Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any pumpkins; they would have shown vividly the violence these guns could do. But we didn’t let that slight disappointment stop us. At a remote rifle range, we blasted away. Or, to be precise, I blasted away, as my two friends, a law enforcement officer and a military man, supervised my amateur gunsmanship.
I was here because I wanted to sort out what I thought about guns. The massacre in Killeen last October, when a man named George Hennard killed 23 people with a semi-automatic pistol, had the effect, almost against my will, of making guns and the horror they can cause a subject of interest, just as Scud missiles suddenly became interesting during the war with Iraq. I didn’t think individuals had any more business owning semiautomatic pistols than they did owning Scud missiles, but owning guns is a constitutional right. And in this 200th anniversary year of the Bill of Rights, I believed more strongly than ever in absolute freedom of speech, in trial by jury, in the free exercise of religion, in the right to confront witnesses in court, in the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, and, even after hearing many hoodlums take the Fifth, in the right not to have to testify against yourself. But did those convictions mean that I had to be an absolutist about the Second Amendment as well? Did supporting the Bill of Rights require that I believe that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” as strongly as I believed that there should be no law “abridging freedom of speech, or of the press”?
At the shooting range, my two friends explained with great care how each weapon worked and what its proper purpose was. I began with a Smith and Wesson .357, a standard police handgun for many years. It is a six-round revolver with a double-action trigger pull, which means that pulling the trigger first pushes the hammer back and