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Last December, Newtown, Conn., suffered the massacre of 20 school children and six teachers by a madman armed with military-style weapons. Coming on the heels of earlier mass shootings, it plunged the nation into a debate over guns and violence. It asks us: “What kind of country do we want to be?”

On one side are those for more gun control, groups led by or related to shooting victims, many law-enforcement agencies, and citizens appalled by the nation’s television-inspired drift into violence.

Opposed are defenders of the status quo, gun enthusiasts who get their jollies from high-powered weapons, citizens comforted by a bedside pistol, the gun-making industry and its lobbyists and perhaps organized crime.

Their leader is the National Rifle Association, whose 4.5 million members include many hunters, some believing more gun control is a step toward outlawing sporting weapons.

President Barack Obama has come down forcefully for more control, no doubt influenced in part by experiences as a community organizer in gun-drenched Chicago.

But effective measures require bi-partisan congressional action, and many red states are enamored of their guns.

Here I should summarize my experience with firearms.

At 10, Dad gave me a shotgun, and explained gun safety. I have since hunted regularly — first rabbits, later game birds and deer, never with more than three rounds in my weapon.

If you cannot down a deer or get a double on a covey rise with three shots, you need shooting practice, not an automatic weapon.

So I strongly support responsible Americans owning sporting guns.

As for self defense, I have walked alone, day and night, in New York, Chicago, Washington, Moscow, London and Tokyo, unarmed and unmolested. But, sadly, we lost a depressed family member because there was a gun at home when the depression became unbearable.

Inner-city crimes and suicides, usually involving handguns, run America’s total to about 30,000 deaths by gunshot every year. Some attribute that to our frontier upbringing.

Closest to us in frontier heritage are Canada and Australia. Today, we are five times worse per capita than Canada, 10 times worse than Australia (settled by extradited British criminals), 40 times worse than Britain — embarrassing statistics for a nation that hopes to lead the world toward a better future.

So here is where I come out on gun control: There is no reason for civilians to own military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The only purpose of those weapons is to kill people.

Since many crimes and suicides are committed by mentally unstable individuals, we need a massive effort to preclude them from access to any gun, for their own and the public’s safety.

The NRA proposes arming school teachers. But handguns are difficult to shoot accurately. A frightened teacher, confronted by a madman, is more likely to hit her students than the assailant.

Violence on television and in electronic games teaches children that violence is normal, and killing is fun. Tone it down.

The NRA claims “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Rebuttal: “It takes both.”

Questions that should be asked: First, why are other countries so much better in controlling gunshot deaths than we are? What can we learn from them?

And second, how much money is the NRA receiving from arms manufacturers and their lobbyists?

Where are they spending it?

Finally, proponents of doing nothing fall back on the Second Amendment to the Constitution:

“A well-regulated militia being necessary to a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

That Second Amendment is conditioned on the need for an arms-bearing militia. Webster states that “the term ‘militia’ as used in the Constitution refers to the forces (National Guard) over which the states and the federal government have concurrent jurisdiction,” not to nonmilitary civilians.

For the Constitution’s framers, “arms” meant a single-shot musket, not an assault weapon holding 100 rounds. Such weapons have no civilian purpose. They were legally banned in the past, and should again be removed from civilian ownership.

Tighter gun control is the only acceptable answer to “What kind of a nation do we want America to be?”

Except for the president, politicians will not lead. We citizens must prod them. The ghosts of Newtown demand it.

Bruce Smart Upperville