Southern Illinois is gun country.
Our kids grow up hunting turkey, waterfowl, deer and many other critters. In some communities, the first day of deer season remains a school holiday.
Southern Illinois is home to the World Shooting and Recreational Complex. Every year, thousands or marksmen from around the world gather in Sparta for The Grand American, the largest trapshooting event in the world. The shooting sports are in our DNA.
Despite Southern Illinois’ visceral attachment to hunting and the shooting sports, who could help but be moved by the recent tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida? A lone gunman, a 19-year-old former student, entered the school with an AR-15. By the time he left just a few short minutes later, 17 people had been fatally wounded.
Predictably, the shooting ignited another round of debate about gun laws in the United States. We’ve seen and heard it before — after Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after Sutherland Springs, after Las Vegas.
But, something feels different this time.
That something is the voice of survivors. Americans are seeing and hearing videos recorded during the course of the assault. For the first time, Americans are hearing hundreds of survivors, many articulate beyond their years, asking the government to protect them and their peers from future attacks.
This is where this horrid tale becomes predictable again.
Despite the horror and carnage of Parkland, many Americans, including the state legislators representing Southern Illinois, are taking stands for the inviolability of the Second Amendment.
We are staunch supporters of the Second Amendment. We believe Americans have the right to own rifles and shotguns for hunting and sporting purposes. We believe Americans have the right to own handguns for self-defense and sporting purposes.
However, we also believe the Second Amendment is not absolute.
There are limits on First Amendment freedoms — the famous example being “You can’t yell ‘FIRE’ in a crowded theater.” There are libel and slander laws that prevent citizens from untruthful attacks by the written and spoken words.
And, in the past, some limitations, limitations that have been determined to be legal, have been placed on firearms. It is illegal for a private citizen to own a fully-automatic rifle.
We aren’t alone in this belief. We can cite conservative icons like Ronald Reagan and Antonin Scalia.
“I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense,” Reagan said in a 1989 speech. “But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.”
In his opinion in The District of Columbia v. Heller, Scalia wrote, “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” It is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
As a matter of full disclosure, in his 1989 speech Reagan was speaking about a specific school shooting. The weapon used during that shooting was not a “machine gun,” it was a legally purchased semi-automatic version of an AK-47.
We agree with President Reagan and Justice Scalia. Not all weapons are appropriate for civilian use. We also understand that banning specific classes of rifles, large capacity magazines and accessories that can make a semi-automatic fire as quickly as an automatic will not end murders or even mass shootings.
No laws stop all violations. If that were the case there would be no need for courts, police or prisons.
Yet, if we stand by and do nothing, we are all complicit in the killings yet to come. And, that’s the truly scary part. Southern Illinois’ gun heritage will not protect our school kids from harm. That is readily apparent by the Jan. 23 shooting that occurred at nearby Marshall County High School in Kentucky.
Interestingly enough, businesses that sell these weapons are a step ahead of our legislators. Walmart quit selling these high-powered rifles several years ago. Dick’s Sporting Goods as well as a Kroger subsidiary have recently announced they will discontinue the sale of these guns.
Banning military-grade weapons, including the AR-15, will not negatively impact the deer, turkey and waterfowl hunters of Southern Illinois. It won’t affect the trapshooters that flock to Sparta every August. It won’t affect your ability to protect yourself or your family.
However, making this kind of firepower unavailable to the person capable of doing the unthinkable, might save the life of your child, your grandchild, or the little boy and girl who lives down the street.