J ack Jordan and I go back a long way. Closing in on 50 years, I'd guess.
He was a year behind me in high school. I was a catcher, and he was a pitcher on the baseball team -- average fast ball, great curve. And we've both lived in the Shiloh area for most of our lives.
I always liked Jack. He's a nice guy.
That said, we didn't hang out together. We weren't best friends. In fact, we'd go years, sometimes decades, without seeing or speaking with each other, and even then it was usually by accident.
So when the phone rang a couple of weeks ago and Jack was on the other end, I was surprised. I don't believe he's ever called me before, at work or at home.
That was the day I learned that Jack, 63, was an enthusiastic National Rifle Association member, a lifelong hunter and the owner of at least a dozen firearms of different types.
He's a gun guy, and he takes it seriously.
As it turns out, Jack was a little warm under the collar that day, irritated by the anti-gun rhetoric and political debate on gun control that seemed to dominate the TV news and newspaper coverage in the days and weeks after the December shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first-graders and six staffers were killed.
Jack was very upset by the shootings and the deaths. It was hard to watch on TV, he said, difficult to think about because he has grandchildren of his own.
But he also was bothered by the fact that the media and too many politicians used the Sandy Hook incident as an excuse to amp up the anti-gun rhetoric in this country once again.
To Jack, I represented the media. And he wanted to talk.
"It happens every time some idiot takes a gun or several guns and goes on a shooting spree. Not only at a school, but in shopping centers, movie theaters or just about anywhere there could be a crowd of people," Jack said.
"And right away some people think the only answer is to clamp down on legitimate gun ownership in America. They think the only way someone dies in this country is by a gun. It's just not true."
He's right, of course. It happens every time a gun goes off somewhere in America. Within minutes there's a rush to judgment about gun ownership. Who can own guns and who can't? What kinds of guns and ammunition should be allowed? Should we change our gun laws to make them even more stringent than they already are?
Lots of questions. Not so many answers.
And even when reasonable people sit down and try to debate the issue, the line gets drawn in different places.
With Jack, it's simple: There's already too much government regulation on guns, and everything else. So he'd prefer no gun registration at all, because it only gives the government all the information it needs if it ever wanted to confiscate firearms from law-abiding citizens. And no restriction on the types of firearms or the size of magazines that carry bullets.
With me, not so simple. I'm not so worried about gun confiscation by our government. It could happen, I guess, but not too likely. So if I have to register my car, my dog and anything else of value, then it makes sense to me that guns should be registered, too.
And I admit I don't see any good reason for regular citizens to own military-style assault weapons or magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. Jack owns one. I held it, felt its weight, imagined what it might be like to shoot it. But I'd never want one. I guess that's where I draw the line.
I know a person is much more likely to be killed with a handgun or a knife than an assault weapon.
In fact, Jack pointed out, "If we're really concerned in this country about limiting those things that cause us harm, we'd be better off banning alcohol. Because it does as much harm in society as guns do."
Yeah, but we tried that more than 90 years ago, and it didn't work. It was called Prohibition. We ended up repealing it 13 years later. Why? People wouldn't stand for it.
And I'm fairly certain the same thing would happen with any attempted gun ban. The outlaws would have all the guns they want. The good guys would own guns illegally. And the feds would spend all their time chasing their own tails.
"It's unfortunate," Jack said, "but we live in a time when people have no respect for the law. We can't even get people to obey the laws against speeding on the highway. There's too little respect. Some people are crazy. Some people are just damned hateful. And every once in a while someone with a gun goes off the deep end."
And every time it happens, a cry goes out to ban guns or further restrict gun ownership.
In two separate interviews, I spoke with Jack about guns, the NRA, the government, the anti-gun movement, the Shady Hook shootings and more. And yes, Jack clearly is a Second Amendment guy who takes seriously his right to own guns.
But the bigger issue with him, I think, is his lack of confidence in the federal government protecting his constitutional rights.
Me? I'm fairly well convinced the world would be a better place without so many people having access to guns. But the cork is out of that bottle, which means that until there are enough police officers to protect us all one-on-one -- and that will never happen -- we're basically all responsible for taking care of ourselves.
I've never owned a handgun. But I feel now's a good time to buy one.
President Obama and Vice President Biden -- or any politician, for that matter -- can say all they want about limiting gun ownership, but it occurs to me that when they're saying it they're almost always surrounded by a half-dozen well-armed Secret Service agents or uniformed police.
They're getting the best armed protection in the world 24 hours a day.
At the same time they want the rest of us to protect ourselves with pea-shooters.
That's not a concept that works well for me.
Rest assured, Jack Jordan doesn't like it, either.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.