Column, 691 words

The New Agenda on Guns We Need after Newtown

This time, the debate has to be about more than not offending the NRA's sensibilities.

Donald Kaul

I’m glad I retired five months ago.

Think of it: I was spared writing about the presidential election, an event so vacuous it made reality TV seem interesting. If there was any serious discussion of an important national issue — global warming, our obesity epidemic, transportation policy, the morality of drone attacks on civilian populations, the environmental consequences of fracking, existential implications of the designated hitter — I missed it.

Instead, we got a campaign of misrepresentations, exaggerations, and outright lies. The Republicans were by far the worst offenders but President Barack Obama didn’t cover himself in glory either.

I was happy with the result of the presidential election but I didn’t regret not covering it. And I was entirely content to go on not writing about things. (If I could make a living at that, life would be perfect.)

But then Newtown happened. A misanthropic young man who never seemed particularly violent killed his mother and then broke into an elementary school and massacred little kids, teachers, and the principal.

nra newtown shooting cartoon

Good Company, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

And the very air changed. The holiday season suddenly turned somber. You looked at the small children around you differently, as fragile, precious gifts to be cherished and, above all, protected.

Obama struck that note in his moving speech at the memorial service. Speaking for us all, he said: “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

Nice words but somehow, not enough. Not nearly enough.

That’s when I figured I should write a column about it. During my 50-year career, every time some demented soul would take a semi-automatic gun and clean out a post office, a school, or a picnic, I’d get up on my soap box let loose with a withering diatribe about guns, the National Rifle Association, and weak-kneed politicians. Did it about 75 times, give or take.

And in every case the main effect was a spike in gun sales.

Still, I thought I’d give it one more shot…er, chance.

Obama’s speech was fine as far as it went but it didn’t go very far. Neither have any of the other responses I’ve heard.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein said she was going to introduce a bill to ban the sale and importation of assault weapons. Great, but the bill wouldn’t apply to weapons already out there and in defining illegal weapons it listed more than 900 exceptions.

Nine hundred!

The thing missing from the debate so far is anger — anger that we live in a society where something like the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre can happen and our main concern is not offending the NRA’s sensibilities.

That’s obscene. Here, then, is my “madder-than-Hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore” program for ending gun violence in America:

Repeal the Second Amendment, the part about guns anyway. It’s badly written, confusing and more trouble than it’s worth. It offers an absolute right to gun ownership, but it puts it in the context of the need for a “well regulated militia.” We don’t make our militia bring their own guns to battles. And surely the Founders couldn’t have envisioned weapons like those used in the Newtown shooting when they guaranteed gun rights. Owning a gun should be a privilege, not a right.

Declare the NRA a terrorist organization and make membership illegal. Hey! We did it to the Communist Party and the NRA has led to the deaths of more of us than American Commies ever did. (I would also raze the organization’s headquarters, clear the rubble, and salt the earth, but that’s optional.) Make ownership of unlicensed assault rifles a felony. If some people refused to give up their guns, that “prying the guns from their cold, dead hands” thing works for me.

Then I would tie Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, our esteemed Republican leaders, to the back of a Chevy pickup and drag them around a parking lot until they saw the light on gun control.

And if that didn’t work, I’d adopt radical measures. None of that is going to happen, of course. But I’ll bet gun sales will rise.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is his first column since late July, the month he had a heart attack and decided to take a break.

  • mike_inw

    have missed your writing ……..

  • MaryJ

    SO glad you are back.

  • TrishN

    Thank you.

  • floortrader

    what stupid women would take a mentally challenged kid to a gun range .Lets not forget the demoratics have cut the mental health budget for 30 years.

  • Tom Sacco

    The West Wing
    Season One, Episode 7 “The Portland Trip”

    Matt Skinner: You know I never understood why you gun control people don’t all join the NRA. They’ve got two million members, you bring three million to the next meeting, call a vote; ‘All those in favor of tossing guns?’ (snaps fingers) Bam. Move on.

  • Elizabeth Whitehouse

    What a great piece. And you are so right about the Second Amendment. Until that goes, Americans will continue to see gun ownership as a right. Interestingly some two thirds of the country have never taken advantage of that right. The 301 million guns in private hands belong to a mere third of the population, mostly white,male Republicans.

  • Chris Lindsay

    surely your last few paragraphs are hyperbole. Repealing the 2nd Amendment & declaring the NRA a terrorist organization are as far from real solution as the calls to ban videogames and violence on t.v.

    • ESGreco

      Chris, this is called a sense of humor. Donald Kaul makes strong points about things that aren’t funny by using his satirical wit. I encourage you to read his past columns as well to sharpen your own funny bone.

  • Anne

    Great to hear your voice again.

  • Jaylah

    I am SO glad to see your writing again. I understood your desire to retire and you certainly deserve a retirement just as much as anybody else. However,I always found it a bit more than I could imagine that you would NEVER have anything to say (that we would also want to read) about life in this country again. (Which is why I could never bring myself to delete your bookmark.) So I suggested retirement with an occasional foray back when something struck you as being worthy of comment, and I’m SO happy to see that you’ve taken that suggestion. :)

    Welcome back, Mr, Kaul!

  • connie cuttell

    Glad you are back.

  • SallyBGood

    Mr. Kaul, it’s wonderful to have you back. As usual, you are right on the money. Happy holidays to you, and stay healthy. We need you.

  • Wayne from Sheboygan

    Hey OT: This is great news knowing that you’re OK. And a real treat besides. I could actually visualize the NRA headquarters being razed to the ground. A wonderful thought. Every now and then they show the young victims’ pictures on TV. Four. That’s as far as I can get. That’s all I can handle. Apparently the victims’ ages finally grossed out the public at large. It’s been a long time coming. No more mistaking hot dogs for vegetables…you’ve still got a Pulitzer in you.

  • ESGreco

    Thanks to everyone who has commented here and sent those two dozen (so far) notes to express their excitement about Don’s return. I have forwarded all your kind words to him and will try to post some highlights to the OtherWords blog soon.
    —Emily Schwartz Greco, Managing Editor

  • Tom Ryan

    In Mr. Obama’s first statement about the shooting he said that he, “reacted not as a President, but as a father.”

    Ok, I understand that. Now react as a President. Take on the NRA.

    P.S. — Mr. Kaul, thank God you’re back. Don’t leave us again.

  • Jane

    I really like your idea. They may have a chance of working a little if they could be carried out, of course. I am sad to say, however, that i also agree with you that fun sales would rise in response to these actions. How can we change the personality of our greedy, angry, gun-obsessed population? I don’t know and i wish i did. But if Australia could fix their small problem, it seems we could take their knowledge and action and use it. It has worked for them.

  • Paula Berg


    Thank you for getting back in the fray. Just remember not to get too heated up, your heart can’t take it. As a former teacher, I was devastated by the loss of those precious children and their teachers. The answer for me is in seeking peaceful protest and organization to spread that peace. You know how well that worked for MLK. But we still must try.
    Keep it up and bless you with a happy Solstice. Bring on the new 5th world.

  • rich

    Your ignorance is appalling. Drag someone from the back of a Chevy pickup until they saw the light? What is your thought process on this? The NRA a terrorist organization? You acutally call yourself a journalist? You are nothing more than a member of the KKK. The NRA has not led to anyone’s death as perceived by someone of your ilk. Please stop with writing about something that is just an obtuse opinion that takes into account nothing but ignorance. There was a reason the 2nd amendment was written. Look it up and try to figure out why before writing such an article that really is disgusting.

  • Papa T

    Welcome back. I often disagree (as I did with this column), but have always enjoyed your writing. Hope to see you on Ragbrai again!

  • Nancy Lo

    Welcome back! We missed you! Wish all that could happen, especially the dragging McConnell and Boehner around in the pick-up til they saw the light part.

  • David Van

    I think Donald makes some good points. But I want to talk about the repeal of the 2nd amendment a bit.

    I understand he is angry, I am too. We all should be. I too want a radical re-thinking of the gun in society but I’m an anarchist and don’t think the state is going to save us from the state. However, that doesn’t preclude us trying to defang the beast, so for the most part, I think I agree with him with a few exceptions. I also think that coming at it from the proper philosophic position is helpful as well.

    I think it’s a bit strong to say “repeal” the 2nd amendment. At the same time I think it’s an obsolete idea that by mere arms we could create a real revolution and free ourselves from tyranny today but then I think that’s not really where the revolution is these days. In fact, it’s not really revolution we need but evolution. So I’d agree with at the very least, a radical re-write of the 2nd amendment, and more importantly, a real conversation with everyone in America in an attempt to bring us together in a conversation about violence in general, state based or otherwise.

    The truth is, we’re supposed to be evolving past this belief that “might makes right” and some of us don’t want to do that.

    It’s that simple. Some of us don’t want to evolve.

    Read the rest here:

    Newtown Changes Everything, And Welcome To Year Zero

  • concerned citizen

    Wow, this guy is a REAL Nut-Job! Somebody make sure he doesn’t have any firearms before he snaps! Take his soapbox away…he’s deranged.

    • Bonnie Dennis

      someone involuntarily commit him NOW before he goes gun ape crazy on NRA members.

  • jan

    We missed your columns. We really did.

  • Donna Hughes

    I just saw your piece in the Des Moines Register this morning. Welcome back to the soapbox! I have only one thing to add: There should also be ample rewards for those who rat out anyone who is hiding an assault weapon in his/her possession.

    These things happen because there are so many of them available, and easily acquired in one way or another. His mother used extremely poor judgment by having this stuff around, but it was available to her, and consequently to him. Also, so many of these mass murderers seem to be fulfilling some sort of warped fantasies that include these gnarly weapons – fantasies that were inspired by movies, TV and video games. If they were not capable of putting themselves into these fantasies in reality with the exact weapons and gear then they might not even start down that road.

    Yes, time to rework the 2nd Amendment. Funny how it is usually the right wingers who want a strict interpretation of the Constitution but it seems not to be the case with the 2nd amendment which could only have conceived of muzzle loading firearms at the time it was written.

    • Joshua Tolley

      You seriously think the founders didn’t anticipate that technology would progress?

    • Rog Jerry

      Donna, your Facebook page says you have 25 years experience as a firearms engraver. Given your comments above, guess I won’t be sending any work your way.

    • John Gillespie

      13 pieces of silver for them right Donna? The gestapo would have surely loved you living in Berlin in 1943. I imagine anyone hiding jews would have probably feared people of your ilk.

  • Lorraine Greene

    Let’s recap….you defend the communist party because it led to fewer deaths than the NRA? You want to drag people around the parking lot from the back of a pick up truck? You want to repeal the 2nd amendment? Why not all of them? And the part about prying the guys out of the hands of dead guys works for you? I have not read your opinions before nor do I care to continue the practice. You sound a bit confused and unbalanced yourself.

  • kulolo

    Needs to be said. No “ban” will be enough. Certainly, there should be legitimate access to firearms for shooting sports. The only way that can be accomplished safely is with federal registration of every firearm, and supervision on the level of federal probation for each owner. Yes that will be expensive, but not as expensive as the constant toll of victims of firearms violence.

    Repeal the 2nd. Stop the export of thug culture to Mexico and stop the incredible toll of firearms murder. Only the gun nuts will object.

    • John Gillespie

      Exporting the thug culture TO Mexico? Who is paying you to write this junk?Mexico has full registration now, and gues what? The governements of several countries, including Mexico itself are the biggest supplier of weapons to the drug cartels. Registration sure hasn’t made Mexico any safer for anyone except criminals.

  • Concerned American

    Okaaaay, somebody hasn’t taken their meds this morning. Keep them away from guns, trucks and rope.

  • reb2u

    I pray that if the jack booted thugs do come after our weapons, it is this jackass Donald Kaul leading the charge. But no people like him never do their own dirty work or fighting for their beliefs. They send the militarizes and police of the world to enforce their agendas. Donald says the 2nd amendment is vague and unclear and so we should do away with it, but truth is our founders knew exactly what they were writing and why. It was placed into the Constitution along with the other 9 amendments or none of the 13,then,states would not ratify the Constitution, and join the union. They placed these restrictions on federal government and gave the people,all the people, the right and ability to enforce all 10 of the amendments,just in case the federal government got out of control. Donald Kaul wants to see what true mass murder looks like with true military weapons,let him take a look at the 80-100 million murdered in Soviet Russia AFTER the people were disarmed. Let him also take a look at Cambodia and the 30 million murdered by their nations military, AFTER, the people were disarmed! So, let this leftist,progressive,communist hack, go to China Where Mao he loves so much murdered 80 million of his people AFTER they were disarmed. If he personally wants to take guns out of the American people’s hands, fine let him start and lets see how far he makes it. You know the stories never make the news about guns saving lives. There was a escaped black felon who murdered several people here in Mississippi,after he escaped, until he was shot dead in a driveway by a 13 year old child, after the felon had shot his dad in their driveway trying to rob the guy and steal his van.But those stories NEVER make national headlines! Far as I am concerned Donald Kaul can go to the Hell ASAP as this is what he and those like him are trying to make this nation into!

  • american

    The last three paragraphs don’t sound like he’s joking.

  • john

    The reason I carry a gun is because of idiots like this moron.You need a little time in isolation and shock treatment.

    • Damdoc

      I can see why he had a heart problem.. harboring that rage is not healthy.. Perhaps we should add him to the NICS check list to deny him a gun for the day he snaps totally.

  • bondmen

    Donald Kaul exhibits the paranoid and deranged characteristics most progressive liberal socialists do when it comes to the objects of their hate and derision. He is an enemy within and a potential domestic terrorist to all real Americans who cherish freedom and liberty. Who pays for his soap box anyway?

  • Tarrow

    Kaul, you useless piece of scum..I’m warning you, you old piece of GMO eating, fluoride drinking, mercury vaccine taking, t.v. watching brain dead imbecile..go get a rope to hang yourself real quick, because there’s a lot of people after you now thanks to your disgusting picture. You look like the typical pedophile as well.

  • opaww

    You are more then welcome to come and try and take my guns from me. Oh wait you are the let others do it for me type and will never life a finger to do any such thing. Really the government should take away the First Amendment rights you so much enjoy so asses like you will STFU.

  • jjgnc

    All I have to say is this: Come get it, bitch.

  • NoReasonableAlternative

    This is a typical Left Winger that has lost his wing-nut. How is threatening with serious bodily harm or death by this fool any different than what he claims the NRA is responsible. You see, people like this guy is why America is going down the crapper, it has nothing to do with the NRA. The true meaning of NRA is No Reasonable Alternative. You Left Wingers are a piece of work.

  • eddie257

    What a tough guy! I got an idea, lets publish Donald kaul’s personal information for every NRA members to see. It worked with Lohud. Now they have armed security (ironic, right?)

  • jantha

    I love how you liberals are so tough with other people’s lives. I’ve fine with your plan, as long as YOU are the one going door to door enforcing it.. tough guy.

    While you’re at it, why don’t you take away Obama’s drones that have killed hundreds of children. Or, are those deaths acceptable since they’re in another country?

  • Bonnie Dennis

    This man had a heart attack back last summer, I feel this affected what little brain cells he had left prior to this occurrence. Explains a lot of lack of intelligence!!!

  • Baltic49

    Kaul: Your suggestion to repeal the second ammendment is, simply put, stupid. There was and continues to be good reason for it. Because of people who think like you. History is riff with the death of tens of millions of the stupid, naieve, and ‘trustful’ when it comes to “the state” deciding it is not good for the “citizen” to have access to guns. It is interesting to note that the second ammendment is SECOND you nitwit. The founders knew what evil lurks in the hearts of men and that any attempt to usurp the declared god-given freedoms should be met with resistance. Jefferson warned, as many did and have since, about the abuses of the state. My grandfather was arrested in 1939, taken to a prison in Pskov, Russian and murdered. By that time, the soviets had disarmed the citizens. Oddly, he was a “party member”, but he had, by then, become disenchanted with the “hope and change” of the bolsheviks. Speaking out with such sentiment cost him his life. You choose to not own a gun, I respect that, but if you think, for one second, that this combat veteran is going to turn them over, you don’t know what fireworks are really like. My suggeston, go back into retirement.

  • Desert War Dog

    Like all slop jar liberal/progressives he is full of threats and take ’em out and shoot ’em. Not the first such low life to scream and holler the same things.

    Question …. Is he going to be coming over to my place to take my weapons away from me?

    Answer …. No.

    Why? Because when the actual shooting starts he like all the rest of his “kind” will be hiding under the bed or behind the door wetting their panties.

    I await his arrival Kaul. Come and get ’em.

  • Matt

    Mr. Kaul,
    You may have written for 50 years and that’s great, but you do not seem to have mastered reading. There is nothing in the second amendment to our Constitution which is misleading or vague. The right of the people to keep and bare arms shall not be infringed. Even the nitpickers on the Supreme Court have understood this. The 2nd Amendment is the reason we still have our other freedoms and rights. Learn the history of our nation sir. A militia is not the army. Militiamen are unpaid volunteers who defend their rights, their homes and their lives with their own weapons. Perhaps you should do some research into what happened to the British army when it marched into Appalachia after routing the Continental Army. It met a militia of backwoods hillbillies and was slaughtered with the same muskets those men used to feed their families. If a citizen did not have the right to possess adequate weapons to defend themselves against foreign invaders as well as a corrupt government rest assured we would long ago have succumbed to one or both.