by Hugh Downs
"Years ago, presidential candidate
John F. Kennedy distinguished himself from his opponent Richard M. Nixon by
saying that he, Kennedy, knew who he was and that Nixon did not know who he was.
"Firearms, in whatever numbers or whatever
configurations, are not the problem. The problem would seem to have its roots in
national attitudes we have toward correcting things. Where did we develop the
idea that personal grievances or social wrongs can be redressed by shooting the
"For example, we do not have the greatest
number of handguns per capita. We just have greatest number of deaths from these
weapons. Israel and Switzerland are both ahead of us in number of handguns per
capita. But they don't have very much of this kind of crime. Almost every home
in those countries has at least one sidearm, given a person on completion of
compulsory military service. They have the guns, but they just don't seem
inclined to shoot each other.
"The assault rifle debate takes our
attention away from the underlying problem: how to effect a change in our
national attitude toward settling differences by violence. This is what we
should be focused on. But we seem to be fixated on a buzzword like 'assault'.
"Hunters, professional armorers, and
firearm historians say the term is imprecise. Some claim there is no such thing.
One common term, known as an assault rifle, refers to a long arm or carbine
capable of automatic fire with ordinary military ammunition or big-game
"Legislators who initiated the ban claim
that semi-automatic weapons have no sporting use. But semi-automatic rifles have
long history in hunting and other sports. The famous BAR, or Browning Automatic
Rifle, is a semiautomatic hunting rifle; so is the Remington Model 7400.
Semiautomatic shotguns have been on the market for many years.
"The banned rifles differ from non-banned
ones only in small decorative details: decorations like a folding stock, a
bayonet mount, or a flash suppressor. Otherwise, the banned 'assault weapons'
are ordinary rifles. They are not automatic military weapons.
"Unlike Britons, Americans are citizens
and not subjects. And there's a very great difference between the two. Americans
do not worship their government as god, which is a thousand-year-old tradition
in Japan. Nor, like the Japanese, do we believe that government is infallible,
as if government authority were an extension of family authority.
"Americans are not Canadians either. We
are unlike both the strict Quebecois and the English-speaking subjects of the
British monarch. Americans are different and require different rules and laws.
"Maybe when we Americans learn to
responsibly manage our guns, and our drugs, and our automobiles, or any other of
the dangerous things in life, maybe then we will know who we are.
"For Perspective, this is Hugh Downs, ABC