A few days on the flipside of the coin

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We don't make the national news a whole lot out here on the central Oregon coast. And when we do, it's usually because we've done something on the sliding scale of visually interesting things that make up so many newscasts: Kite festivals in the beautiful department, houses tumbling into the sea in the brutal one.

But last Sunday night someone shot a Lincoln City police officer, setting off on an often-high speed chase that covered nearly the length of our 50-mile long county. Hitting spike strips outside the small town of Waldport, the shooter was stopped, but escaped into woods, resulting in a five-day manhunt through forest and hundreds of empty beach homes. It made news all over the country, and when I Googled it 11 hours into the manhunt, the first place it popped up was the Washington Post. I still find that kind of amazing.

As the week moved along, there no progress in the manhunt and the shooter still has not been found. The officer, however, has progressed nicely. Despite being shot in the abdomen by two high-caliber rounds and losing 10 litres of blood (the body holds six) he is expected to make a full recovery, though it may take months or even years.

With that lack of news on the suspect front and the best news possible on the victim front, people's thoughts start turning to the "why" of the thing. I find myself ruminating on two things: bullets and bizarre behavior.

I am not a big gun control person as a matter of passion. Yes, if I could, I'd roll back the second amendment and just make all the guns go away. But that is ridiculous; the genie left that bottle centuries ago. You could make guns illegal tomorrow, and there'd still be millions upon millions of them on the streets. I fear it would be a different kind of Prohibition law, though similar in its ineffectiveness.

I also think it ignores some basic tenets of this country's history and beliefs. Guns, for better or for worse, are part of America, and while I may hate them -- I do -- they are part of what defines us. You can't really be part of the living breathing Bill of Rights for decade upon decade and not be a big part of this country. To just decide to remove it as a "cure" for one problem just seems too simplistic for me. Can I prove this? No, but it just seems to me this is one of those things involving the law of unintended consequences.

What I'm real big on controlling, however, is bullets. No one needs a bullet whose sole purpose is to kill people. (No one, save for the police, anyway.) I've discussed this with people, and most agree with me, but some don't; they cite gun-users rights to use them recreationally. That argument makes no sense to me.

We don't let people under 21 drink, even though they would like to recreationally do so. We don't let people burn fires anywhere they want even if they would like to recreationally do so. We have decided the threat to the common good is so high, that we are willing to curtail some people's freedoms. Bullets whose sole purpose is to kill people should fall under the same category: Someone's right to own a killer bullet isn't as important as society's right not to be killed by one.

The other thing I'm pondering on the flipside of freedom is the First Amendment. In the days before the alleged shooter, David Anthony Durham, nearly killed Officer Steven Dodds, his friends said he'd become increasingly paranoid. He talked of the police and FBI being out to get him. Aliens -- and not the kind from south of the border -- also came up in his conversations. Some people think it was because he'd broken up with his long-time girlfriend in recent weeks. Others think it had something to do with some pain medication he may have been on. Some say it had been in recent weeks that he seemed to have broken with reality, others say it had been longer.

In light of this, many people have wondered why his friends or family didn't do something. And when they find out Durham had an affinity for guns, they wonder even more vocally: "Couldn't they see this guy was nuts?" It reminds me a lot of what happened in the wake of the shooting in Tucson: a lot of finger-pointing, second guessing and wondering why someone else could have screwed up so badly.

Here, too, I think that's simplistic. If we locked up every person that made paranoid ramblings, we'd run out of room to put in them in a matter of days. And that's assuming we could have a definable standard; one man's lunacy is another's creativity. Indeed, the First Amendment allows that we can say these types of things, and once again I shudder to think what kind of country we'd be in centuries ago we'd decided that anyone who had thoughts like Durham should be locked up.

This does not mean there aren't people who are mentally ill, nor does it mean there aren't some people who should be genuinely incarcerated for the threats they pose to society. Clearly, men like Gabrielle Giffords' shooter in Tucson and the gunman at Virginia Tech a couple of years ago were a threat to society and should have been given mental health treatment.

But it's far too easy, in retrospect, to say that "something" should have been "done" about Durham. Paranoid ramblings, even ones from a gun collector as he was, should never be cause to lock someone up. There's just far too many people whose right would be abused in the name of protecting us from the few who we might stop.

God help us, that's the American Way.