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.