Can we talk about guns? Or is it too soon? After all, we're not far removed from the last mass shooting.

Must I waste precious space with the obligatory disclaimer that I'm a gun owner? That I was carrying a .22 out to the pasture to plunk gophers when I was in grade school? That my friends all had gun racks in their pickups? That I remember a classmate bringing a rifle to shop class so he could refinish the stock? I suppose I must. I also suppose this suggests that I'm a terrible liberal.

Nah, not anymore than it suggests that all conservatives are whacked-out conspiracy theorists.

It's become sadly predictable in America, home to 328 million souls and 393 million firearms, that within hours of a massacre, while thoughts and prayers are still echoes, social media is flooded with straw-man arguments like if liberals succeeded in taking all the guns, people would still be stabbed to death with butter knives.

And if we took away all the cars, people would still die on skateboards.

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ROB PORT: Left-wing activists at Fargo rally acknowledge the importance of gun rights

Fact No. 1. No one is going to disarm Americans any time soon.

Fact No. 2: The Second Amendment is not absolute. Whenever I have a discussion with a gun rights hardliner I always ask what well-regulated militia they belong to. Crickets. Was it like the ones that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6? Because that didn't look all that well-regulated.

Fact No. 3. Of course, guns can be regulated. Limits on an individual's firepower in the public interest are already a given. There's a reason you can't own a surface-to-air missile. The sole purpose of a 100-round magazine is to spew as many bullets as possible in the shortest amount of time. The only way you need that many rounds for hunting is if the deer are shooting back.

It's not the guns, the hardliners say, it's mental health. Well, despite some evidence, there's not enough to prove that Americans are more mentally unbalanced than the rest of the world. But it's easier for Americans who shouldn't have guns to get them.

Maybe it's both mental health and guns. If more guns made us safer, this would be the safest country on earth. However, someone toting an AR-15 to Chipotle doesn't make me feel safe and I resent the fact that they always get served first. It's tough to tell who's the good guy and who's the psycho. Instead of open carry, couldn't they just wear tags that say “I have a small penis”?

Regarding mental health, even though numerous Republicans in the North Dakota Legislature supported a Red Flag law in the previous legislative session, opposition was too steep. There's one reason people oppose mental health assessments for gun ownership. It's because they instinctively know they're too damn crazy to pass.

I took hunter safety courses as a kid and a concealed weapons course as an adult. The biggest takeaway was that it made me think long and hard about when I might use a gun in self-defense. I stand willing to take a psychological profile and accept limited magazine capacity.

It's time to set aside invalid, extreme straw-man positions and admit that the status quo is untenable. Change will be incremental but it's necessary.

Good talk. Let's keep talking.

Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of this publication, nor Forum Communications ownership.