WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 21: National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre calls on Congress to pass a law putting armed police officers in every school in America during a news conference at the Willard Hotel December 21, 2012 in Washington, DC. This is the first public appearance that leaders of the gun rights group have made since a 20-year-old man used a popular assault-style rifle to slaughter 20 school children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, one week ago. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Updated: April 3, 2013 6:13AM
I have owned a shotgun for more than 25 years: a 12-gauge Mossberg pump action, purchased for around $300 at K-Mart. I have fired hundreds of practice rounds over that time span, have killed but one living creature, and am still in possession of my original Firearm Owner’s Identification Card issued to me in Illinois.
But I do not recite the trite phrase “proud gun owner,” or begin my declaration with a protest and admonition about the Second Amendment. I essentially bought the shotgun as a tool, same way I bought my last table saw.
My family and I built a summer cabin in northwest Wisconsin way back in 1986. We had little money but ample time, so we found a bargain lake lot in the Chequamegon National Forest. It was remote and beautiful and wild, in addition to being less regulated by building codes, so I could apply my amateur carpentry skills and my youthful enthusiasm to constructing a house from the ground up.
Only problem was that the land had also been a foraging route for a male black bear. When he came rumbling through the woods on his summertime pilgrimage, sniffing for berries and honey and whatever else he could scrounge, he came face to face with our new cabin.
The family had been out for a swim, so Mr. Bear athletically sprung up and crashed through a window screen and trashed the kitchen before settling down to feast on the contents of our trash barrel.
Returning unawares to the cabin, we spooked him with our commotion on the steps, so he dove through another screened window and disappeared into the forest.
An exciting adventure, to be sure, and we were lucky only to have a couple of window screens to repair and a mess to clean up.
But I had three little children at the time, and after getting advice from a neighbor who was a bear hunting guide, I bought the Mossberg and several boxes of deer slugs, in the event the bruiser ever decided to break and enter while we were home.
He did, in fact, maintain his visitations, roughly once every 10 days, usually late at night. A couple of raids on our outside garbage, and once he nearly swamped my fishing boat to get at some juicy night crawlers. From then on, I rigged a pulley to keep our trash high in a tree.
But he seemed to want to avoid the house itself; so though I had several clear shots that summer if I wanted them, I let him be. He was here first.
And once we bought our first puppy, who began marking his territory all around our lot, we never saw old blackie again.
Meanwhile, the Mossberg was kept hidden and locked, toted outdoors once a summer for cleaning and target practice, and on one hot and mosquito-plagued June, to dispatch a skunk that had sprayed that same puppy six times in a scant two weeks.
Today, I still have the old Mossberg, but I wish to make it clear that Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, does not speak for me.
In fact, his very public recalcitrance in the aftermath of the slaughter of 20 first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut by a mentally unbalanced kid using his mother’s Bushmaster AR-15 has been embarrassing, if not downright disgraceful.
Asked at a U.S. Senate hearing why he objected to universal background checks for gun owners, LaPierre stated: “Let’s be honest. They will never be universal because criminals will never submit to them.”
As Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois told LaPierre, frustrating criminals was precisely the point. Were we ruled by LaPierre’s logic, we would also have to repeal our laws against rape and murder because “criminals will never submit to them.”
Yet, I am not just one gun owner distancing myself from LaPierre.
Following the murders at Sandy Hook, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut commissioned his staff to conduct a poll that found 74 percent of NRA members supported reasonable gun restrictions, such as universal background checks and a limit on the size of ammunition clips.
And another poll conducted recently by the Pew Research Center found that 85 percent of all gun owners concurred.
The reason that LaPierre clings to his absurd minority position is that he is not speaking for me, nor for the other 85 percent of all U.S. gun owners, who are concerned about the killings at Sandy Hook, Arizona, Colorado, Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech and too many other places.
His interests lie with the gun manufacturers. LaPierre and his $1 million annual salary are bankrolled by the corporations that make weapons and reap profits from selling them.
So his paying job is to resist any and every law that might prevent one additional firearm or bullet from being purchased. He is, essentially, a lobbyist for gun makers. A shill for gun sellers.
Plainly speaking, money is more important to LaPierre than the life of a child. This fact is not written for drama or emotive effect. It is a straightforward explanation for LaPierre’s kneejerk opposition to any form of gun control, to the voices of most of his own constituency, and to American society’s efforts to heal itself.
David McGrath is emeritus professor of English, College of DuPage, and author of “The Territory.” firstname.lastname@example.org