Tuesday, December 26, 2006

To celebrate the Prince of Peace's birthday: a gun (airsoft gun)

It's no accident that one of our most cherished holiday movies is "A Christmas Story."

What's more quintessentially American, even on the Prince of Peace's birthday, than desperately wanting a gun.

In the film, set in the 1940s, little Ralphie Parker yearns for "an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and 'this thing,' which tells time." His petitions fail to convince mother, teacher or Santa, all of whom warn that he's gonna shoot his eye out.

They got it wrong.

What makes more sense, in George W. Bush's America, than giving a kid a gun for Christmas? If the President has his way, generations of future Americans will be patrolling Baghdad. They might as well know how to defend themselves from the people we're supposed to be helping.

According to the Professional Gun Retailers Association, some 200,000 guns will be given as gifts this Christmas season, and more than 100,000 of them will be youth-sized rifles and shotguns.

For those who can't convince their parents to arm them with the real thing, there's still a place on the Christmas list for paint ball or laser tag equipment. Or, even more fun, the popular new pellet guns that look satisfyingly like lethal weapons and are used to play airsoft, a military-style game that's been especially popular in Asia.

As the Associated Press reported last week, airsoft-type weapons "have gotten at least one teenager killed in Florida and have caused scares at schools around the country in recent months."

If those shepherds on the hillside near Bethlehem had been equipped with airsoft rifles instead of wooden crooks, they might have had less trouble keeping watch over their flocks by night.

Can't you just see them, kneeling at the manger, Kalashnikov replicas reverently at the ready and mock Glocks tucked into their rope belts?

The police, of course, are not so enthusiastic about kids, or anybody else, carrying around what look for all the world like real weapons, especially when the required bright orange tips identifying them as fakes have been removed or blackened.

"That was the case last January in Florida's Seminole County," reports Amy Forliti of The Associated Press, "where 15-year-old Christopher Penley was shot to death by a SWAT officer as Penley brandished an airsoft pistol at school. The muzzle of the 9mm lookalike had been painted black."

I know, I know. The whole anti-gun thing can be overdone. If you try to keep toy rifles out of the hands of children, they'll just jerk the handle from the toilet plunger or whatever else is handy and point it at you.

Goo-goos always go too far.

Consider the idiotic "zero-tolerance" policy against weapons at Portsmouth High School in Rhode Island. Based on it, the principal has refused to let Patrick Agin use the photo of himself in chain mail, holding a broadsword, as his senior portrait in the yearbook.

Patrick is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which researches and recreates medieval history. The school would have let him run the Middle Ages glamour shot as a paid ad in the yearbook, but not in the senior snapshot section.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing. But don't blame the ACLU.

Blame whoever made such a dumb decision.

Kids will be kids.

That sawed-up Christmas tree you toss in the alley next week could become, with a little pruning, some latter-day Ralphie's sawed-off shotgun.

David Hawpe's columns appear Sundays and Wednesdays on the editorial page. His e-mail address is dhawpe@courier-journal.com.

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