Second Thoughts

Alan Korwin is a smart guy. So why does he love guns more than people?

I got shot on a fall day in 1974. I was on the Dakota prairie, hunting pheasants with fellow college students. A friend and I were "blocking" -- standing at the mouth of a draw that drained a dry marsh. The rest of our party crashed through the dense, brittle reeds of the slough, driving the game toward us.

But not a creature was stirring ahead of the stalkers. Just as I turned away and set my shotgun down, I heard my blocking partner utter: "Here they come."

I glanced over my shoulder. The sky was full of pheasants. They were flying right at me, very low. As I reached down for my 12-gauge, I was struck in the back by a volley of birdshot fired from the marsh. I went down -- in retrospect, more out of alarm than the force of the pellets. "You shot me!" I screamed. "Stop shooting!"

Alan Korwin
Paolo Vescia
Alan Korwin

Nobody heard. Guns blazed. It sounded like Verdun. Beautiful ringnecks flapped furiously overhead. Some fell amid mists of feathers and blood. Rolling onto my back, I raised my shotgun and fired vainly at a rooster fleeing the fusillade.

I was lucky. Whoever hit me was a good distance off. I didn't even bleed. I had a welt on my neck, a few pellet pocks in the back of my faux leather jacket. Everyone thought it was hilarious.

Less funny was the day three years later when one of my hunting pals accidentally shot another student in the chest with a .22. The victim in that incident was lucky, too. I believe he recovered more fully than the shooter.

I relate these anecdotes so you understand that I was reared in a land where firearms were ubiquitous. I got sound training and, like nearly everyone else, I hunted for sport. It was -- and remains -- a wholesome pursuit. I know how to use guns, and know well the damage they do. I respect them so much that in my own household, there have never been guns.

More than once, Alan Korwin reminds me of his favorite dueling truisms: Chairman Mao said that power comes from the barrel of a gun, Ronald Reagan averred that power comes from the barrel of a pen.

Korwin fires both barrels.

He is not your stereotypical Second Amendment crusader. He is prone to garish shirts and plays a mean guitar. He does not wear a sidearm in public. He does not take guests to his home to fondle his arsenal. He won't even admit to owning any guns. He is witty, well-groomed and has enjoyed success as a writer, consultant and lecturer. He speaks not with a squint-eye twang, but articulately, in a measured Bronx brogue. He writes even more elegantly than he speaks. He has authored and published (through his Bloomfield Press) seven books on gun laws. His first tome, The Arizona Gun Owner's Guide, is in its 19th printing. It has sold in excess of 100,000 copies.

Last Friday, Korwin convened his annual Bill of Rights Day luncheon. He and a dozen other men -- mostly professionals -- met at Omaha Steakhouse to observe the birth of the hallowed document, which was ratified on December 15, 1791, in Philadelphia. The parchment was read aloud with reverence. The group broke bread and bemoaned society's indifference to erosion of the rights bestowed in the bill.

These gentlemen venerate the Constitution. As do I. I just can't get past all the cadavers, can't fathom the myopia that renders them invisible -- expendable -- to my fellow patriots.

Korwin and his pals put the most constitutional stock in the Second Amendment, which supposedly guarantees the right to bear arms. I put mine in the First Amendment -- freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly. I also yearn for freedom from mindless bloodshed -- the types of freedoms enjoyed in other Western democracies where guns are not the currency and their victims are scarce.

Korwin is convinced that any tinkering with any part of the Constitution is a full frontal assault on the whole.

I don't see the Constitution as inviolable. The framers weren't atavistic morons. They didn't intend that their Second Amendment would create an environment where in 1998, firearms accounted for 30,708 deaths, and three times that many injuries.

Consider this: There were only 29,000 people living in Philadelphia when the Bill of Rights was drafted. Did the founding fathers envision an annual slaughter equivalent to the erasure of every soul in their City of Brotherly Love? The progenitors of the republic would hang their heads in shame at what their abstruse little "well-regulated militia" provision has wrought.

Not Alan Korwin. He hews steadfastly to the letter of the beloved Second.

"If the solution to the guy in the gutter with a hole in him is to deny my right to guns, I would be against it," he says.

What he is saying, in essence, is that those 30,708 bodies are the price we pay for freedom.

In Arizona, the height of revelry involves shooting guns into the air. With the holidays imminent, it's fitting that Korwin is freshly exorcised by "Shannon's Law," a seemingly innocuous statute designed to reduce random gunfire.

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