I've had guns on my mind this week. First, I was in southern Illinois, interviewing an extremely nice family. The grandparents could scarcely contain their joy as they told me about their weekly visits with their 3-year-old grandson.
Then I happened to notice a gun cabinet in their back hallway. It had a glass front and a whole array of what looked to be hunting rifles. I found myself wondering whether a 3-year-old boy would long to play with those guns and whether he was likely to try to get into that cabinet.
The next morning I heard and read a slew of news reports about a U.S. Supreme Court case from Florida, where it's legal to carry concealed weapons. Someone had tipped off the police that three men were standing at a bus stop and that the one wearing a plaid shirt had a gun.
The police checked out the tip, frisked the fellow in the plaid shirt and found that he indeed was carrying a gun. He also turned out to be 16 years old, under the age for legal possession of a hand weapon. The question before the Supreme Court was whether it was a violation of his privacy to stop and search him based only on a tip when there was no evidence that he was going to commit a crime.
The justices seemed rightly skeptical about whether a tip was sufficient reason to violate someone's constitutional rights. Still, I continued to ponder: What would the public outcry have been if the police had not followed up on the tip and the 16-year-old had ended up shooting someone?
Then came the horrifying news that a 6-year-old in Mount Morris Township, Mich., had taken a gun to school and shot and killed a classmate. Now we learn that the gun allegedly had been stolen, that the small shooter's father was in prison and that the boy had been sent by his mother to live with his uncle in a crack house, where at least one other illegal gun was found.
I was still trying to digest the horror of that story, when reports started coming in from Wilkinsburg, Penn., where a man went on a rampage, shot and killed two men, and wounded three others.
Yes, I've heard all the arguments: The vast majority of guns are kept only for sporting purposes or for rare instances where self defense may be necessary. Besides, guns don't kill people; people kill people. We have so many gun laws on the books we can't even enforce them all. And besides, the constitution grants us the right to "keep and bear arms."
But unless we can figure out a way to keep guns away from children, crazies and criminals, we may be in danger of letting one right overwhelm all the others, makng it impossible to enjoy the "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" that our nation was founded to protect.