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SPOTLIGHT
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Fantasies versus real-world tragedies

Published on -2/11/2013, 10:10 AM

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You remember that serious conversation we were going to have about guns? Here's how serious it has turned out to be.

Recently, President Barack Obama described himself in an interview with the New Republic as an avid skeet shooter. Conservatives scoffed at the claim, whereupon the White House promptly whipped out photographic proof.

It was a meaningless exchange, except insofar as it suggests the White House implicitly accepts the dubious formulation, held by some gun advocates, that if one has no personal experience with guns, one cannot speak about guns. By extension of that logic, Rick Santorum can never say another word about abortion. But of course, he will. Because the logic is illogical.

Not that that was the most unserious moment in this supposedly serious conversation. No, that came when Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that we must avoid new gun restrictions because guns are a citizen's protection in the event the federal government decides to enslave us.

It gets better. Meaning that it gets worse. Gayle Trotter, senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum, a right-wing think tank, testified a woman ought to have access to a "scary-looking gun" to protect herself and her children in the event her home is invaded by "five violent attackers."

Trotter and LaPierre's scenarios have one thing in common: their absolute farfetchedness. Tyranny is not imminent.

And Trotter apparently has had too many viewings of Jodie Foster in "Panic Room."

Unfortunately, the lunacy of such fears is lost on the most rabid gun advocates, for whom the Second Amendment is absolute. Mind you, the First Amendment is bounded by restrictions, the Fourth has been eviscerated by the courts, but somehow, the Second is supposed to be this inviolate thing that must not be restricted in the least, even though "the right to keep and bear arms" was guaranteed in an era of muskets.

If we cannot restrict civilian ownership of military-grade weapons -- the most controversial of the gun control policies advocated by the White House -- can we restrict civilian ownership of Stinger missiles? Or tanks?

Surely a "scary Predator drone" would rout Trotter's imaginary bad guys even faster than a "scary gun." Not to give her any ideas. No, the point is, there is something wrong with a debate that requires us to treat the fantastical as if it were likely. But the only thing that is "likely" here is continued tragedy.

This "serious conversation," remember, got started on Dec. 14, with a massacre in a quiet little New England town. Since that day, the shooting has not stopped, nor even slowed.

In Miami Gardens on Jan. 17, a 15-year-old boy was shot and killed.

In Albuquerque on Jan. 19, a 15-year-old boy allegedly shot his parents and three of his siblings to death.

In Houston on Jan. 22, three people were shot on a community college campus.

In Chicago on Jan. 29, a 15-year-old girl who'd performed at President Obama's inauguration was shot to death.

And in that same city, six days later, Shirley Chambers buried her last child. Ronnie Chambers, like all three of his siblings before him, was killed by gunfire. How must it feel to have lost all your children to guns? That is not hypothetical. It is one woman's tragic reality.

Too many deranged or criminal people have access to too much firepower and we are paying the price in carnage and blood. This is the ordinary everyday of American life -- and death. That's what we should be talking about. Not LaPierre's doomsday scenarios or Trotter's old movie plots.

They ask us to consider what could happen. Better we consider what does.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. lpitts@miamiherald.com

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