Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Ten Cents on Guns

I am heartbroken following the news about the children and educators shot to death in their school in Connecticut recently.  It's beyond horrible and impossible not to get emotional about.  My son curled up in my lap at the end of that day, exhausted after the happy work of kindergarten and then picking out a Christmas tree and hanging stockings and untangling strings of lights.  He fell asleep almost as soon as he nestled into my lap there in the dining room where I was trying to get some tasks done at the table.  Such a sweet, perfect, innocent face, freckles across his nose, breathing softly, safe and innocent and alive.  I burst into tears thinking of the parents who weren't going to get to hold their children anymore and wondering how someone could look into such a face as my son's and choose to destroy it.  I struggle every day to err on the side of compassion whenever possible, but I have very little to spare for people who harm children.  As the most obvious of baselines I would hope we can all agree that protecting children from brutality and vicious murder is a worthy goal of our society.  Just because there is an emotional component to this position doesn't make it less valid because arguably violence is damaging to many levels of our well being.

I've written before how I believe there is a distinction between rural use of guns versus their role in densely populated areas.  I still think that's true, but today I am thinking about cities.  Because I think we have come to such a dangerous and twisted place that I don't even understand the arguments coming from people about why we should all have such easy access to guns.  We need to stop and reassess without being immediately defensive.  We need to weigh the truth of what is happening now against our preconceived assumptions of what we want or think we deserve.

Because if we have reached a point in our society where the murder of twenty children in their school seems like just the unfortunate price we must pay for a particular interpretation of an amendment of our constitution, then something is very wrong.

The second amendment is not a divine right handed down by God worth any sacrifice to keep.  It was penned by white men centuries ago in a fragile political age when the technology and societal structure were very different.  It had its place in its time.  It still has a place in some form.  But not in a form that starts from an assumption everyone should have access to deadly weapons and then we reluctantly begin whittling down appropriate candidates from there.  You want to get originalist?  Let's limit gun possession to the single shot muzzle loaders from when the constitution was written.  There is no excuse for automatic weapons in a civilian population.  It is an untenable leap from 'a well organized militia' to a glock in your purse.  We are not a frontier society anymore.  The militias were replaced by the National Guard a hundred years ago and they leave their government issued weapons on site.  It is time to revisit the second amendment, and in my opinion amend it.

I know people who feel entitled to their guns don't like feeling threatened.  I get that.  But we need to stop and realistically weigh the cost of what widespread and unchecked gun availability means in our country.  Because the reality is right now it means mass shootings of innocent people.  There are places like Switzerland where weapon ownership at home is common and it doesn't result in high crime rates, but the circumstances are different.  Maybe gun ownership like they have there is something to aspire to, but currently we can't handle it.  Yes, we need to address the shameful lack of help for the mentally ill.  Yes, we need to improve a system with loopholes and enforce laws already on the books.  You can speak theoretically all you want about rights and other factors that contribute to the problem, but to not take responsibility for the fact that the availability of guns in our culture is the deadliest part of the equation is to disregard the seriousness of what is at stake, namely the safety of our children.  They are not theoretical.  There are actual children paying for that sense of entitlement for someone else with their lives and that is not acceptable.

I have friends who love and own guns.  I've read your arguments on facebook and in emails and on my blog and even listened to them at my dinner table.  I know enough about your personal situations to appreciate where guns fit into your lives.  I'm not dismissing that.  But maybe it's time to think about what those guns are really contributing to your life keeping in mind that our baseline should be a community where we are not terrified that our children will be massacred in their classrooms.  Because that is not some abstract idea conjured up for debate.  That is real.

For those who use guns purely for recreation, I ask why do you need to keep them in your home?  If you only use your gun at a shooting range there should be lockers at the range.  Keep them there, safely locked up.  For people who use them only for hunting, maybe there should be a similar locker site run by the DNR.  I don't hunt so pardon me for my ignorance, but I think of using rifles for hunting similarly to how my husband uses them in the Army.  Weapons are tracked closely, you check in, someone knows what gun you have, you use it, and you return it to a safe place when you are finished.  It is deadly.  It is not a toy.  It should be treated with appropriate care and respect for what it can do.  Would it be inconvenient to keep recreational firearms off premises?  Sure.  Is that a fair exchange for making sure they are unlikely to fall into the hands of a disturbed person who would shoot up a school?  I think so.  Placing the right to keep guns in your home for your amusement above the safety of your community is unconscionable. 

For those of you who keep guns at home for protection it gets more complicated, but something needs to change.  My first thought is that what is going on in your neighborhood that you feel you need a gun?  We need to suck it up and pay some taxes and develop better social programs, mental health programs, and community policing programs that make our neighborhoods safer.  We should not be afraid to walk alone at night.  We should not be afraid to let our children play outdoors.  It's not enough to just say 'hey, that's the way the world is, be realistic' because that is not the way the world is everywhere.  You can walk alone at night in Japan, or France, or Denmark, or Canada.  We can't even conceive of that here.  Why?  We accept that a general state of fear is the norm and we should not stand for that.  We deserve better.  I deserve better and my kids certainly deserve better.  We should demand an environment where we don't turn to guns as a first or second resort.  Why is this not a priority?  Do we lack the imagination or the will to make our neighborhoods safe?  Why do we live as if we don't believe it's possible when it demonstrably is?

Second, guns in the home cause more tragedy than they prevent.  Do people have inspiring stories of a gun protecting them from something awful?  I don't doubt that.  But there are far more stories of guns being mishandled, misused, and generally causing irreparable harm.  I personally don't know anyone who saved him or herself with a gun.  (Or maybe I do and you haven't told me in which case, please share.)  I do personally know of households where the husband on more than one occasion has turned his gun on his wife, and more than one person for whom suicide was a concern and access to a gun in the home made that more worrisome.  If you want to spend the rest of your life crying just see how many stories Google can find about children accidentally killing themselves or others by stumbling across loaded guns at home.  These are not acceptable risks.  They do not outweigh the perceived security you think your gun affords you.

Because you know what?  I may love you, but I don't trust you with a gun.  You may think you are ready for anything by spending time at a shooting range, but I don't believe you are.  I barely trust police with guns, but a regular person like myself?  No.  Because panic, overconfidence, adrenaline, uncertainty, fear, all play a role, and people should not be empowered with deadly force in such a situation.

Why is the first choice for protection the furthest extreme?  Yes, I would like to be able to defend myself from a rapist or a robber, but why should my response to that assault be to administer the death penalty?  Why not use pepper spray or a tazer?  At least if one of those got used against me I would live.  If all the children in the Sandy Hook school had been tazered it would have been traumatic and terrible but their parents would still have them to tuck in at night.  More guns do not make us safer.  Because even in responsible hands they are dangerous.

I am tired of the 'guns don't kill people, people kill people' argument.  Guns make it easier to kill people.  Period.  From a distance, quickly, randomly.  This is not an abstract question anymore about hey, it's just an object and only the intention of the person handling it matters so don't blame the object.  That object should not be so accessible because if used properly it kills people.  If there are no guns where deranged people can lay hands on them, then those people can't use them.  This is not complicated.

I wish more people removed the question of guns from a discussion of rights and placed it in the context of a health issue, frankly.  We don't continue to use lead paint and just tell people not to let babies eat paint chips that will make them sick.  We didn't settle for high death tolls for children in car accidents and we went ahead and developed car seats.  We go insane with recalling a crib if it hurts babies or tying up the cords on blinds lest kids choke.  In all of these cases you could rant and rave about freedom and how responsible supervision is the answer, but you know what?  It's smart to remove deadly risks where we can, because we can't be everywhere every moment.  We banned lead paint.  We legislated that kids must be properly secured in a car.  We take products off the market if they hurt children.  From a health standpoint alone, guns are a bad idea around children, but somehow people feel it's okay to have them out of a misplaced sense that it's adding to their safety.  It's not.  More guns equals more risk.  These are not any old objects.  They are deadly.  Because they are designed to be.

Should kids be allowed to use guns?  Sure.  In a supervised, appropriate environment.  Just like if they want to use the stove, or go swimming.  I don't have a problem with anyone using guns if they are licensed, trained, and subjected to periodic review of their ability to handle a weapon safely.  We are cavalier about guns like they aren't a big deal.  They are a very big deal.

I think the argument I understand least is 'people who want to kill you will find a way no matter what' or 'the wrong people will always find ways to get their hands on guns.'  So we throw up our hands and accept that making guns so ubiquitous that this is normal is how we should live?  Again, if your gun is locked up off premises and only you can access it for specific purposes, then it is not available for anyone to pick it up and use it.  Get the guns out of the hands of outlaws.  I don't care if that's impossible to do completely.  We don't say that since there are people who will drive drunk anyway that we won't bother with it.  We don't say car accidents will always happen so screw the speed limits or efforts to make cars safer.  We will never be able to completely protect children from physical or sexual abuse but we don't say we shouldn't prosecute the abusers we do catch.  Anyone with a gun should have to be able to produce the appropriate paperwork that goes with it or it's gone.  That's not overly cautious, it's just sensible.

I have never understood why gun advocates are not the first in line to propose better measures around the safe use and responsible acquisition of guns in this country.  No one cares about your guns if the no one feels endangered.  Don't deflect the discussion about gun control by saying we need to address mental health services first.  Fix them.  It doesn't make sense to say that's part of the problem but not take better precautions to keep guns out of reach until that element is not a relevant issue.  Don't get lumped in with the violent behavior of crazy people and criminals and irresponsible jerks by making sure weapons stay out of such people's hands.  Don't act like background checks and licensing and classes are too big a burden when you are asking to be entrusted with an enormous responsibility.  Don't allow the kind of wink and nod mentality that lets people purchase firearms at gun shows legally with tremendous ease.  Demand technology that prevents guns from being operational in the wrong hands.  Show us guns can be used responsibly.  That you respect their power and understand the damage they can cause.  Don't react to every limitation or precaution relating to gun ownership as if it's a ban on everything you hold dear because it winds up holding the door open to every loophole and unsafe practice.  Make the country safe for gun owners to be left alone.

My kids have to do Code Red drills at school where they practice hiding in locked, darkened rooms in case a gunman invades their learning space.  This is what easy access to guns in our society has led to.  This is not what I believe my husband was fighting for when he was deployed twice.  This is not some sad state of affairs we should have to settle for because the second amendment is sacred.  I no longer believe gun ownership is some special right that makes us proud Americans.  It is out of balance with the devastation it causes.

Twenty dead children.  Before you fall back on old and possibly out of date arguments, or your traditions, or the constitution, or an imagined threat which you can only combat with lethal force, you have to ask yourself if that is a fair trade.  What is worth the lives of a room full of innocent children?  A little inconvenience?  A little sacrifice to improve the community?  That is not my playing some overly emotional card.  That is where we are in the real America of today.

I do not choose to sit quietly and offer up my children on the alter of the second amendment.  I don't care anymore if you think guns are necessary.  Let's change our country so that they are not.


  1. Thank you so much for writing this, Korinithia.

    I think it's hard for Americans to imagine how the world views their attachment to the 2nd Amendment, but suffice to say we're horrified. What kind of person would prioritize the right to bear arms (as laid out in a hundreds-year old document in an America bearing no resemblance to the USA of today) over the safety of their children and loved ones? It's like something out of a Kafka novel to me.

    Also, for those saying having a gun in one's home protects them from violent criminals... that didn't work out so well for Adam Lanza's mother, did it? Anyone ask themselves why a middle aged kindergarten teacher had purchased said guns? Quite possibly to protect herself from her own mentally ill son.

    This is a complex issue, and uniquely American in terms of scale. It's not one to be solved *solely* through enhanced gun control, unfettered access to mental healthcare and a complete overhaul of what seems like a terrifying violent culture BUT of all these factors (and more) combined.

    It won't happen, though, because everyone's too busy bickering over their 2nd Amendment rights. I've read that line in the constitution and it bears no relevance to the mass shootings that are taking place today. What was obviously intended is not how it's being applied today. Convenient. I suspect the founding fathers are rolling in their graves.

    In another few months there'll be another American shooting massacre at a school, or a shopping mall or a movie theatre and the world will AGAIN cry tears for your lost children, wring our hands and pray that you'll finally take action to protect your own babies.

    And you won't.

    1. As an American living in Germany, I agree. Sadly. Heart wrenchingly. For the first time in 10 years of living abroad and as a mother of an 18 month old, I realize I may never go home. Because I refuse to live in my own society.
      Heart breaking.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts on such a complex, difficult, emotional issue. I recognize also the role guns have in some people's lives. But you know what has a role in my life? Other people's lives.

    To me freedom doesn't mean the right to own semi-automatic weapons without background checks and strict documentation and accountability. It means the right to send my kids out into the world knowing that there are fewer things out there that can kill them.

  3. Thank you for your very thoughtful writing. It was awful for me to read the news and just as terrible to know that many still feel that the perceived freedom of adults is beyond debate whereas the loss of random lives is a small price to pay. The rights of a foetus are debated but the right of a living, smiling child to live safely impinge on our freedom? I don't get it. I hope this changes.

  4. In Michigan the legislature has just passed a law that allows concealed weapons in schools and churches.
    If I want to murder children in a school or church I can not be stopped until that has been accomplished. I am within my rights to carry loaded weapons where they do not belong regardless of my intent.
    Our governor has registered a "neutral" position in this matter. He will probably sign it into law as he has the assaults on womens' rights and collective bargaining. I find it beyond horrifying.

    Thank you for your well written comments on gun control. I will send them along to the people I know.

  5. Korinthia,

    Yes, absolutely, to all you have written. I don't know how anyone could argue with your points but, as you have alluded to, I don't know why anyone would. Shouldn't everyone be on the same page about this? This was not a "tragedy" - so much could have been done to prevent this and should have been done so many years ago.

    I am a Canadian, born and raised. My husband (born and raised in Canada but with dual citizenship) is currently applying for jobs in the States, as there are many more opportunities for him there (though still not many). I am so scared that he is going to be offered a position; I am so scared to raise my 5 month old daughter in a place where it feels like luck if you, or, my god, your babies don't get shot.


  6. This is a fabulous posting. Thanks so much. I have been FUMING since Friday. I have had many reasonable and unreasonable thoughts. But I admire the quiet dignity of your complete statement! Dongsok

  7. Thank you for taking the time to think this through and write it and then post it. It is a difficult thing for me to think and write logically when I'm so irate and upset as I am now. I let my emotions cloud by thought processes and can't be logical and well-reasoned, as you were here.

    Thank you for this. IMHO, you are absolutely correct on all points.

  8. Wow, Korinthia! That was just perfect. Your points are so just and well-made that it's hard to imagine how anyone could argue with them.

  9. So thoughtful, thank you. I agree that the way to change this is to amend the second amendment. Enough. We can do it.

  10. Thank you for this. You have a unique perspective, and bring up so many points to think about.

  11. I don't agree with you, but lets say for a minute that I do. Government outlaws all guns for purchase other than to law enforcemenr and military usage. What about the hundreds of millions, if not billions of guns already out there? What about the gun enthusiast who has spent 50 years building a collection of antique and contemporary guns, spending tremendous amounts of money to do so. Do you think he is going to just hand them all over without blinking? I think not. I am not pro-gun although I do own one for personal protection. I have never had to use it and pray I never will. But if some crazed meth head breaks into my home in the middle of the night, he will lose a knee cap. If someone gets it i their hrad to take out lotsa people, he's going to find a means to do it. If not guns, maybe fire. Or poisonous gas. Or homemade explosives. Point being, it's the person who chooses to to it, not their weapon of choice.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Rick.

      All I'm saying is guns are dangerous and they need to be treated that way. I never said we should outlaw all guns. Certain types of weapons have no appropriate place in cities, so I would limit who can get their hands on those. We could have buyback programs to collect existing guns, and beyond that deal with illegal weapons as they appear.

      If you have a collection, that's great, just keep it locked up safely and make sure all of it is registered and accounted for.

      Will this stop the poison gas fire homemade explosive whackos? Probably not, but so far they haven't been as big a presence so I vote we deal with that when the time comes rather than scrap all hope of dealing with an existing problem.

    2. Rick,

      If I may add to Korinthia's response (with which I agree), what do you suggest as a solution to this problem? Is the status quo, which seems to be only getting worse, acceptable to you? If so, really? If not, do you have any alternative suggestions to improve the current reality of swaths of people (children!) being massacred with automatic weapons? Please, I ask in all seriousness and desperation.


  12. Interestingly enough, if you ask any military man about their guns - he will say guns are not stored in same building where solders are sleeping. Or eating. And do you know what procedure is to get LIVE munition for said guns? In military, where we have trained professionals in contained environment with all the background checks you can imagine! And they still lock the shit away. Trice.
    There are gun collectors in other countries too, I don't see how is that sooooo special to Americans that it needs constitutional change? And why is everybody so insecure that needs a gun for protection? Has anybody tired using the gun for hitting the proverbial robber in the middle of the night in middle of proverbial kneecap? There is no shooting range to prepare you for that, and did any gun-for-my-own-protection people ever asked themselves how would you feel if that bullet ended up in someone's heart? What if that proverbial meth head we are all so afraid of turns out to be neighbour's sneaking into basement for left over beer? Would it be ok to loose kneecap for that? How about the life? If yes, what a hell? If no, then why is meth head dispensable, but your neighbour's son is not? That meth head is somebody's neighbour too.

    Owning more guns (or needing more guns) to protect ourselves points to two things:
    - we are insecure where we are
    - we think individual approach is the only way to go (I don't hear any cries for increased police funding, or more rights to intercept gun-welding people)

    If spiral continues, we can dispense with police altogether - everybody will be wearing the gun and be capable to protect himself. Is that what second amendment was for? If yes, let's get it over with, give everybody a gun and basic training and cut out all the police. As each of us knows better than any police officer. And you don't have to call 911 - you are there already. And nobody has to be accountable for owning a gun - so when gun is used it is just a natural course taking place. Natural law of stronger and tougher, propped up by constitution as written by white wealthy man that enjoyed lion hunting. (sorry for last smirk, I could not help it)

  13. An excellent piece, Korinthia. You have put all my thoughts into words so succinctly. Making guns not so easily accessible will not stop senseless killing 100%, but even if it means a reduction of 0.1%, it means many lives saved.

  14. Korinthia,
    Your writing is smart and thoughtful as always. I think you should run for office!

    1. That's awfully nice of you to say, but I think I'm too introverted to be any good at that. My husband on the other hand is one of the smartest people I've ever met, and someday I hope he considers running for something. He would be great at making tough yet compassionate decisions.

  15. Been meaning to comment for a few days, but time hasn't been in my favor :)

    As usual, very well written. I am definitely an anti-gun person in my parenting. We don't have play guns in our house. I clearly explain to the boys that guns are not toys and I don't want them to ever consider them anything but something that can potentially hurt people. We also don't have and never will have first person violent video games (call of duty, etc.) in our house. Is this overprotective? naive? maybe?

    I am heartbroken at the shootings and hope that finally sensible laws will be enacted. I'm not holding my breath.

    Amen Sister!!

    p.s. our resident herpetologist loved loved the lizard cake :)

  16. Thank you for articulating so many of my feelings on this topic, so beautifully and so clearly. I love your blog.

  17. Thank you Korinthia for sharing your thoughts. I come from a country where there was a severe dictatorship that 'disappeared' 30,000 people. The source of that violence came from the military forces and the police. Thankfully, we seem to be steadily evolving towards a strong democracy. Common people don't have guns, and even though you can get assaulted or be a victim of violence, massacres like that of Connecticut have never happened. A gun is a device for killing. Common people should not have guns. The right of kids to live is strongly more important that the right to have a gun for whatever reason.

  18. Thank you Korinthia, I really enjoyed reading your article. I'm afraid I do disagree, and I think it's because I value freedom over safety. When solitary incidents like this happen, especially when children are involved, people are quick to restrict freedoms in order to feel safe. If this continues to happen, we should create a committee and maybe a few short term restrictions, but nothing permanent. I feel we could "law" ourselves into a box, so our decedents will have to become criminals to enjoy the freedoms our forefathers envisioned for us.

    In the future, we may need this type of weapon as well. We're lucky in America, to live in secure homes, with good means of food and little crime. If you look outside our borders, even to Mexico or someplace like Liberia, you can see how little protection the Government offers when social order breaks down. You certainly can't take a sword or a blunderbuss to an automatic weapon fight, nor do I think we can expect America's peace to always last. I don't suggest a tank, but the freedom to be prepared.

    As for real solutions to this problem, that's a little more difficult. I would personally look at the security plan to protect children. Better security, better monitoring, and better technology. This was a tragic, but singular event. We can't prevent every single one, but as it stands, anyone can walk into most schools with anything. It should be more secure, so guns can not enter the school. Our school funding is a joke, so our protection follows in suit.

    1. Christopher,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful response.

      I also value freedom. My husband is in the military, so I appreciate what sacrifices must be made to that cause better than some. But I think there is a difference in taking sensible precautions that protect society as a whole and depriving people of freedom.

      I think our most important freedom is the freedom of speech, but I agree that it libel, slander, and shouting fire in a crowded theater are not protected speech. I suppose you could say in infringes upon my freedom to not be able to do those things, but as a society we agree they are not worth the cost for the harm they cause innocent people.

      Same with the second amendment. I have no problem with responsible gun owners having guns. But we have let the parameters of what that means get out of control to the point where it is simply dangerous. If you are a reasonable, sane, qualified person who can demonstrate a need for a gun and will take care of it appropriately, then you should have nothing to worry about when it comes to regulation other than some added responsibility about basic licensing requirements and training. If you cannot be trusted with a firearm then you are not extended that freedom. That just seems sensible to me. And the lives of children are not a fair price in my mind to exchange for a sense of freedom that I don't believe benefits us as a society

      I'm glad you feel where you are in America that your home is secure, you have food, and little crime. This is not the experience for many. I love my neighborhood, but still have to worry as a woman when I walk alone. You mention Mexico and Liberia where guns are rampant as places that don't feel safe, but ignore Canada which is safer than here and guns are better regulated, or Great Britain where gun related deaths are rare. I just don't believe the answer to gun violence is more guns in the picture. We've tried that over and over and I think maybe it's time to try something else. If we're wrong we can always change it back.

      As far as more security for our schools, I don't want my or my kids' environment to feel like a prison. It shouldn't be too much to hope for that we feel safe in a school or our neighborhood. We need to fix things on a broader scale so that those areas are just part of a larger safe space.

      In terms of the founding fathers, I read this quote yesterday that I thought was quite thought provoking:

      "I am certainly not an advocate for for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors," - Thomas Jefferson.

      Thank you again for your comment. I appreciate a balanced discussion, and am glad we live in a country where we are free to disagree.

    2. Control of guns isn't the answer. That may prevent good people from owning guns to have protection from the idiots out there that care less about gun control. They will just obtain a gun illegally anyway. It's just like drugs, if the addict wants his fix {even in jail or prison} it's easy enough to get whatever he want. Don't be fouled. Gun control will only oppress the innocent people from having protection, the demonic murderer that kills such innocence will always be able to get a weapon. Someone stated "where was God, why did he allow that to happen to those little children". I agree with the following statement that was made. "Because God's not allowed in school anymore."

    3. Anonymous,

      Unfortunately the evidence shows over and over again that possession of guns in homes does not actually make people safer. People are far more statistically likely to kill or injure themselves or their family than ever turn their gun on an intruder. Yes, people intent on killing will find a way, but guns make it more efficient to do so, so limiting access to them I believe will help. I don't believe since we can't stop all killers that we shouldn't try. Gun control is one tool that has been proven to help in other countries. I think we should try it.

      And I think the statement "God's not allowed in school anymore" is insulting to believers. I should think if you believe in God that He could follow you anywhere. And to suggest that the work good teachers do every day is not an extension of God's hand seems off to me if you believe in good works as a Christian duty. Just because they are taking the time to teach math or reading instead of quoting scripture does not make them spiritually deficient.

  19. Thank you, Korinthia. I live too close to Newtown to have a meaningful dialogue. The pain is still too raw. But I thank you for saying words I'd like to say myself.

    1. I'm so sorry, Jodi. It's hard enough at a distance, I have trouble imagining how impossibly hard it gets the closer to it one is.