During the recent theater shootings in Aurora I was blissfully unplugged from the news. I was visiting my parents and we did not have the TV or radio on. The newspapers delivered to the door kept us about a day behind the current events. At one point I went online to check email and discovered the horrible story after the president had already addressed the nation and the usual unpleasant squabbling had begun in the wake of such gun related tragedy. I closed my computer and turned my focus to the puppet show my kids were putting on, and sitting with my dad, and finding the kids' goggles before going to the pool. The nightmare in Aurora would be there after my vacation and I didn't see the point of letting it in early.
Now the mass shooting of the moment in the news isn't across the country. It's the next zip code over, and just miles down on the road that runs by our home. A Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI, just south of Milwaukee, was attacked by at least one gunman, and although at this moment there aren't too many details available, we know six innocent people are dead. I don't have the luxury of turning away because now the nightmare is in my own community. It's horrifying.
I've been trying to process some of the rhetoric that's been flying around in the aftermath of so much pointless suffering, and I feel like working through my thoughts on guns. I have no legislative power and threaten anybody's rights on this issue, so these opinions are just that and nothing more. If I push someone's buttons try not to take it personally.
I get the appeal of guns. I do. I enjoy archery on the rare occasions I get to do it, so I appreciate the skill it takes to hit a target. It's incredibly satisfying. I've only held any kind of gun once, and that was out in rural Ohio where a college friend let me use a small rifle of hers to try and hit bottles lined up on a fence. I was surprised how hard it was, and my friend was a patient teacher and showed me how sitting down to steady my aim would help. It was really fun. Using guns for target practice I have no problem with.
I have more complicated feelings about hunting, because on the one hand the idea of taking pleasure in killing something bothers me, but on the other hand I eat meat, so I'm just shifting the responsibility of killing animals onto someone else when I do. I don't want to hunt deer, but I wouldn't stand in the way of someone else's opportunity to do it. I do have a problem with people who want to hunt exotic animals just for the fun of it. There is no excuse for purposely setting out to shoot a rare animal like a lion or an elephant, and I have no respect for the wealthy game hunters who arrange to do that. That's a disgusting use of money, guns, and power.
I will say (and again as a non-hunter, so people with experience in this area may dismiss this outright) I don't understand the need for automatic weapons for sport. I can respect that it takes skill to successfully track and kill game with a gun. The more advanced the weapon the less skill it takes. Where are the bragging rights in that? Why should I be impressed when someone transfers more of the work to the gun itself? If I were I hunter I would like to think I would be willing to sacrifice the use of automatic weapons for my entertainment in order to make sure such weapons were less available to a public that may use them to commit crimes. Amusement for hunters should not trump public safety.
Guns for personal protection is tricky. So much depends on context, and I think there is a big difference between rural communities and urban ones. When I got to shoot those bottles with my friend it was out in the country. Having a gun out there felt somewhat natural. I can see wanting a gun if you live in an isolated area where law enforcement or animal control can't reach you quickly, if you have enough space to safely hunt small animals to put on your table, or if you need to put down an animal that is suffering. A gun is a tool that can keep you self-sufficient, and I understand people reacting defensively if they feel they might be denied the right to have it.
But urban areas are different. There is certainly opportunity for guns to be misused and cause unnecessary harm in the country, but those risks are exponentially increased in densely populated areas. Guns in cities are only there to be turned on other people. They make killing easier.
I hate the 'guns don't kill people, people kill people' line. Guns facilitate fatal acts, many of which may be unintended. For all those who say people who want to kill are just as likely to resort to a knife or a baseball bat, I don't buy it. In rare cases, sure, but this argument of determination comes from an assumption of logic where none may exist. I've read that people who attempt suicide by jumping from bridges who survive rarely go on to attempt suicide again. Logically one would assume if you were that determined to die you would keep at it and we couldn't stop you. But if jumping from a bridge looks easy in the moment and is then thwarted by reasonable precautions, the odds are good the attempt won't be repeated. How many people in the heat of an argument impulsively pull a trigger because it's easy, compared to stabbing someone which is hard? When the moment passes it's likely gone and won't be further pursued. Better not to have a gun in the mix to begin with. Also, guns can be used at a distance, on the move, or from behind cover. In that sense it is not at all the same as a knife or a bat.
The solution to free speech
problems may be more speech, but I do not believe the solution to gun
problems is more guns. I think the focus, particularly in urban areas, should be on removing guns from
environments where they don't belong. I'm alarmed by news reports that after the Aurora shooting gun sales increased. I expect to hear of similar spikes in gun sales in my hometown, which scares me. I think it has more to do with people worrying that after such a high profile tragedy that guns will be harder to get than it does with people thinking it will make them safer, but it's probably a combination. I have a relative who started collecting guns back when he was worried Gore might be elected and he believed he would strip us of our second amendment rights. (I don't know where the perception comes that democratic presidents will push gun control because it doesn't happen. Under Obama the only regulation that's changed in that regard than I'm aware of is expanding gun rights into national parks, and I found that disappointing.)
I listened to an interview on the radio recently with a grandmother on the south side of Chicago who had to lock herself and her grandchildren in her home every evening for fear of getting shot. The weekend they talked to her there had been more murders by gun than happened during the mass shooting in Aurora. But we don't hear about those murders. We don't care for some reason. Does anyone seriously think what that grandmother needs is her own gun? Or that the culture of casual gun ownership in her neighborhood makes it safer? I don't understand how those guns are allowed to remain on the street. They are too easy to get, too hard to remove, and they create an environment of terror.
The people who argue the loudest about not having restrictions on guns always seem to me to be in the least danger to begin with. There is a case to be made for the gangsters in Chicago that however they obtain their weapons, they need them. They actually are being threatened with deadly violence and want to protect themselves. What are average people in suburban environments so frightened of? When I weigh the risks of having a gun in the house against the possible benefits there's no contest. If I had a gun set up in a way I could grab it quickly enough to kill someone in an emergency it would simply be a hazard to my children or their friends. I also don't understand why the average person thinks in an emergency they would be able to make a life or death decision correctly, easily, or be capable of the kind of accuracy they may enjoy on a firing range. I think people are over-confident because of what they see on television and in the movies, and don't understand that's not real life.
I have a few friends who have permits for concealed carry. I hope they know me well enough to never bring their guns into my store or my home. I'm sorry they think they need firepower to feel safe, but I do not feel safer knowing there is a gun in close proximity. All it would take is one weird turn of events (a kid having a bad fall, etc.) for a purse to get left unattended long enough for a child to come across a weapon within, and that scenario seems infinitely more likely than my actually needing protection in my home by my friend with a gun.
Here's the part I don't get: Why is the responsibility of owning a gun not balanced more proportionately with its risks? Why do so many in this country treat gun ownership in such a cavalier manner? What harm is done to the average gun owner by regulating how they use such a dangerous item? This is where I get confused and stop being able to understand people who champion the second amendment to the exclusion of all reason. I honestly don't get it.
Look at cars. They are not designed to kill, but they do every day. We recognize they are dangerous. You have to jump through a lot of hoops and go through a lot of training and testing before you can be trusted with a license to drive one. You need insurance for it. You must periodically get your license renewed, have your vision checked, and if you are impaired you are not legally allowed to get behind the wheel. Car manufacturers strive to make their products safer. Laws about using seat belts and not using cell phones while driving attempt to encourage safer behavior. These are all reasonable precautions. Driving is still dangerous, and too many people still die, but no one doubts that cars involve risk. Most of us have decided that the benefits outweigh those risks, but we at least acknowledge the dangers surrounding them.
But there is almost a willful denial around the notion that guns are dangerous. I get that people who feel entitled to their guns feel rebellious about any challenge to their right to have them, but why don't they accept that guns can cause irreversible harm? Ian tells me that in the Army guns are treated seriously. Soldiers are held responsible for their firearms to a much higher degree than any of us are in civilian life. Guns are not toys.
If I owned a gun I would want to be held accountable for it. I should be licensed, checked, and rechecked. I think I should be asked to produce my gun periodically for inspection to make sure it's not corroded and could cause me harm by mistake, and to make sure it's still actually in my possession. If the technology exists, I think it should be somehow calibrated so that it only works in my hand (maybe with a lock that only responds to a ring on my trigger hand? Just a thought--I don't know what's realistic in this regard, I just know if people wanted it someone could come up with something.) None of these things would infringe upon my right to own a gun. Making gun owners responsible for their weapons only denies them the right to be careless.
I am saddened by the events in Oak Creek this weekend. I am even sadder that because of people's stubborn and unrealistic reactions to it, the tragedy will likely change nothing.