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COMMENTARY: A retired Marine sounds off on guns
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COMMENTARY: A retired Marine sounds off on guns

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Ed Palm

Ed Palm

When people living near Air Force bases would complain about jet noise, the stock reply on the part of base public affairs officers was, “That’s the sound of freedom.” It’s probably only a matter of time before our NRA-mascot Republicans start saying that about the ricocheting sounds of gunfire at mass shootings. Witness what Senator Ted “Cancun” Cruz said following two mass shootings within a week in March: “Every time there is a shooting we play this ridiculous theater.”

Cruz was feeling put-upon for being asked to consider gun-control measures that he claimed would do “nothing to stop these murders.” I beg to differ.

A case in point would be Brandon Scott Hole, the 19-year-old who killed eight people at the Indianapolis FedEx Hub on April 16. His mother had contacted police in March 2020, worried that her son might try to “commit suicide by cop.” That led to an FBI interview, the confiscation of a shotgun at Hole’s house, and a temporary mental-health hold. But that didn’t stop Hole from purchasing two assault rifles, one in July and another in September of the same year. If we had a nationwide system of universal background checks that flagged people with mental-health problems, eight people in Indianapolis, including Brandon Hole, might still be alive.

Clearly, Indiana’s red-flag law proved inadequate in this instance. It was President Reagan who pulled federal funding from mental health facilities and made it next to impossible to involuntarily commit a mentally ill person to a mental hospital. A return to the bad old days of forcing a troubled person to take time out for treatment might not be a bad idea.

It might also help if private gun sales and gifts of guns had to be registered with the police and if unregistered guns were subject to confiscation. We have to register our cars. Owning a gun is an even weightier responsibility. And, no, gun registration would not be a prelude to confiscation. America is not like that, and never will be. (Contrary to popular paranoid belief, Hitler didn’t confiscate guns when he rose to power in Germany.)

And I firmly believe private citizens have no business owning military-style weapons—whether or not they qualify as “assault” rifles. Their sale should be banned. In 2017, the Las Vegas body count might have been greatly diminished had the shooter not been able to acquire 14 AR15 rifles.

A popular business slogan holds “good” to be the “enemy of greatness.” When it comes to gun-control measures, perfect would seem to be the enemy of good. Granted, there is nothing we can do that would absolutely keep the wrong people from getting guns. Republicans therefore seem to believe that’s what we should do—nothing, lest we inconvenience lawful gun owners (or offend the NRA). Whatever we can reasonably do to mitigate the risk, we need to do.

This year, to date, there have been over 130 mass shootings in America. Quibble if you will over the criteria—at least four people shot regardless of the circumstances and motives—but the fact remains that President Biden is right. “It is a national embarrassment.” And it is too high a price to pay for the freedom to keep fetishizing guns in America. Our founding fathers would be appalled if they could see what their Second Amendment has wrought.

A former enlisted Marine and a Vietnam veteran, Palm retired from the Marine Corps as a major and went on to an academic career. He lives near Lynchburg and can be contacted at

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