Many Americans still cling to their guns

Two days before the mass shooting in a Louisville bank, I was sitting in the county fair building of my small Kentucky hometown watching as 150 guns were auctioned off.

Just a week-and-a-half earlier, a disturbed young woman slaughtered three children and three adults at the Covenant School in Nashville. That tragedy was on my mind as the auctioneer worked his way through the handguns, rifles and shotguns lined up on tables at the front of the room. As he moved along, his three teenage grandchildren held the firearms above their heads for the bidders to see. It took the entire morning to get through the stash.


It was a scene that would have made the big city anti-gun zealots lose their minds.

Here, though, the sale is an annual event, a tradition that draws a few hundred hunters, collectors and bargain-seekers hoping to find a steal among the new and used weapons.

The mood is festive; jokes and pranks are in good supply. A few sales back, I walked in the door and nodded a greeting to an auctioneer I recognized as a friend and found myself the unknowing high bidder on a worn-out single shot 20 gauge I had absolutely no use for. My surprised look got a good laugh from the crowd.

Guns are embedded deep in the culture here, as they are in most of rural America. They’re considered as much tools as they are weapons, and I doubt there are very many homes in the county that lack a firearm. They’re often the most prized possessions passed from generation to generation.

Here, guns don’t live in the shadows. You’ll still occasionally see a rifle resting in a rack in the back of a pickup. They’re not cloaked in fear and blame. It’s not about the Second Amendment, but rather second nature. Guns have always been part of their lives.

But here is not where the future of guns will be decided. Increasingly, life in small-town America is dictated by policies made by those in urban centers who view rural dwellers as bumpkins who, in the words of Barack Obama, cling to their guns and religion to stave off change.

As I watched the bidders compete for firearms, my mind went to the protesters who stormed the state Capitol in Nashville after the Covenant shootings demanding that something be done about guns. The same cries are being raised in Louisville this week. Both are red states with Republican supermajorities in their Legislatures. They’re not likely to bow to the pressure. Not this time, anyway.

But until a few months ago, Michigan also had a Legislature that shielded responsible gun owners from the crusaders who believe the answer to horrible acts of violence is to strip away rights from those who are least likely to commit them.

The legislation passed by Michigan’s new Democratic majority in response to the shootings at Michigan State University in February will not stop the next mass murderer in this state. Those same laws haven’t ended shooting sprees in California, or in Chicago, or anywhere else.

I’d make a bet that none of the guns sold off at Saturday’s auction will end up in the hands of a deranged killer. (Every purchaser had to pass a federal background check before taking possession of their new firearm.)

But it is their rights that will fall to those seeking easy answers to this crisis, and someone else to blame.

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