Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Walter Carpenter of Montpelier.
With all this talk about our beloved Second Amendment I want to ask a question. It is probably an ignorant one, but I possess a solid reason for asking it. After all the massacres of innocent Americans lately (four more Americans died a couple weeks ago in New York state, felled in a shooting by a man with no criminal record except a traffic conviction), I want to ask about those Americans like me who do not love guns or who do not feel (even if they do own guns) the compulsion to own an arsenal of military-style weapons for any of the reasons given by the NRA on why it is necessary to own them.
As far as I know there is no constitutional amendment on our behalf like there is for the NRA. Despite all the bills out there on the federal and state levels calling for things like background checks or regulation of assault-style weapons (Colorado just signed one. Vermont’s are languishing.) to hopefully reduce the 30,000 or so Americans lost annually to gun violence, there is no legislation I know of to guarantee the rights of unarmed citizens from wanton victimization by the Second Amendment. While the NRA and other gun aficionados can tout the second as their unfettered right to own unlimited firepower, perhaps we need an amendment of our own to protect us from getting shot at in public places anytime America’s longstanding gun culture gets a hair across its brow.
We never learned who shot at us, why they did it, or what weapon they used. If the gun firing at us had been one of those available today perhaps even the infinitesimal forewarning we were lucky enough to get may not have been enough to save us.
I survived a drive-by shooting (Boston, 1972) and want to know the answers to these questions. I was 17 years old, sitting at a park one summer’s night with some friends when a strange car pulled over out of the darkness and compelled us to hit the dirt for our lives as the bullets flew over us. We had maybe a second’s warning before the anonymous shooter fired at us. This warning — A group of Vietnam veterans fresh from the jungles of Southeast Asia were with us that night. One of them just saw the rifle barrel protruding from the window of the unknown car and shouted the warning just in time. — is probably why we survived with no casualties. We never learned who shot at us, why they did it, or what weapon they used. If the gun firing at us had been one of those available today perhaps even the infinitesimal forewarning we were lucky enough to get may not have been enough to save us.
Twenty years later I lost a female friend to semi-automatic fire at her work as a town clerk in New Hampshire. The gun was wielded by a local citizen and deer hunter who had been a responsible gun owner with no criminal history. I knew him, but not well. He lost it over a denied zoning permit, bought the semi (easy enough to do back then), and three women went down that day. One survived, though barely, and is crippled for life.
In light of these experiences, in light of all the recent tragedies we have suffered as a nation, I want to know the answer. Do we need a constitutional amendment of our own to secure our rights not to become indiscriminate targets? Do we survivors have to hear the sounds of those shots fired at us in our sleep so that the Second Amendment can go on unimpeded? Forty years later I remember the pandemonium and the unimaginable fear of wondering whether I would live to see age 18, or even the next five minutes, as vividly as when the bullets were ripping through the leaves above our heads.
Does anyone in this state, in this country, give a damn about the survivors of our national fetish with guns?