WASHINGTON -- Looking for a stocking stuffer this year? You might think about an AK-47 or a Glock or an even more exotic expression of your civil rights. And if you live in the correct state and have taken the proper legal steps you don't have to worry even if you or the person you intend to present with a firearm gift have been convicted of a violent crime.
You might be a little cautious, if the intended recipients of your generosity have spent some time under lock and key for manslaughter or armed robbery or other crimes where a gun comes in handy. They might get angry they didn't get the gun they really wanted and blow you away with the one they did. It has happened before, you know. In one recent case, a former violent thug got his gun back, got drunk and murdered a friend. Oh, well. Guns don't kill people. People kill people. But wait! The guy admitted if the gun hadn't been present, the crime wouldn't have happened.
A number of enlightened state legislatures under urging from the all-American folks at the National Rifle Association have been engaging in a process called "restoration." That's when they adopt a law that says former felons, barring extraordinary circumstances, can have their Second Amendment rights restored by appealing to a judge. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, of course, is the one the U.S. Supreme Court a couple of years ago certified as protecting the individual right of Americans to bear arms.
Now if you have been convicted of violating a federal criminal law, you probably can forget waltzing down to the local firearms emporium to buy some legitimate hardware. The Feds still prohibit you from owning a gun. But most ex-cons at all levels know where to find a street vendor, so no big deal. After all there are an estimated 300 million guns in the continental United States, enough for everyone.
Rumors have it that when Santa Claus makes his American run, he picks a sleigh decked out with twin 50 caliber machine guns just in case he is mistaken for a black helicopter from the New World Order. Also approaching Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's house unannounced is probably not a good idea. To refresh your memory, Scalia wrote the court's majority opinion establishing the Second Amendment as pertaining to individual and not collective rights as some wimpy scholars argue. One never knows when Rudolph's glowing nose will be mistaken for an incoming, infrared shell.
There was a time back in the Tommy gun days of the 1930s when Congress adopted a law putting guns off limits to anyone convicted of a violent crime. Then in 1968, Congress, responding to a nation upset about riots and assassinations, expanded the ban to include those convicted of non-violent crimes. President Lyndon Johnson praised the bill and signed it and even the NRA thought it was a good idea. It backed the legislation.
But that was before the NRA, which once spent much of its time catering to hunters and promoting gun safety to youngsters, was taken over by those more interested in expanding gun ownership with little or no restriction. The group not only pushes the interests of the gun manufacturers but also opposes most every sensible approach to firearms control. It spends lavishly on Capitol Hill and openly threatens lawmakers who oppose its policies. High on its agenda is not only restoration of gun rights for felons, but also legalizing the carrying of weapons in churches, college campuses, national parks, grocery stores and even saloons.
Are we crazy? The answer is more than obvious. Why, several years ago the NRA even put out a Christmas card with old St. Nick brandishing a weapon -- just what every kid wants to see. One of the main items on this year's NRA Christmas wish list is a bill pending in Congress that would make it all right to carry a weapon from a state where it is legal to one where it isn't.
Boy, grandma will be glad to hear that. She always feels better when her far-off relatives show up armed to the teeth. Before that the only thing under the tree was a Red Ryder BB Gun special.
E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at firstname.lastname@example.org.