For obvious reasons, there is a lot of talk about gun control right now. My feelings about guns are very conflicted, and I am going to try to sort them out here.
In general, I am pro-gun control. I do not understand for the life of me why civilians have access to military-grade weapons. I think the manufacture and sale of semi and fully automatic weapons should be banned (to be clear: police and military should have access to these weapons–I am talking about a civilian ban). Things like hollow point bullets, bullets that can pierce body armor, and high-capacity magazines should also be banned. I think these items should only be manufactured for sale to the military and the police; the fines for manufacturing and selling to civilians should be high enough that violators would be put out of business very quickly. If civilians are found to possess these weapons or ammo, they should face steep fines and jail time.
I do not think all firearms should be banned. I believe such bans are unconstitutional, because I do believe the second amendment guarantees the right to bear arms. I know plenty of folks with whom I share many political views would argue that I’m ignoring the first part of that sentence: “a well-regulated militia.” It is the militia (closest thing we have today would be the National Guard, I suppose) that has the right, not individuals, is how that logic usually goes.
I disagree. I think the government has the responsibility to regulate the right to bear arms, just as the government regulates the first amendment (can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theatre, can’t slander or libel, can’t use obscene language or show nudity on regular TV, etc). But I do think there is an individual right to bear arms. Sometimes I wish there wasn’t; that would make these questions must easier. As much as I may not like it, I don’t think we can simply ignore the phrase “the right to bear arms.”
As I said above, however, I do not think that right is absolute. I think the government can and should regulate firearms (i.e., gun control). I see this as no different from FCC guidelines for television programming, slander/libel laws, etc. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can hurt others by using your words to incite a riot or by printing lies about them in a newspaper. If we regulate speech in order to protect public safety, then we can sure as hell regulate the right to bear arms and ban weapons that are designed to kill many people in seconds.
While the Constitution represents the biggest reason why I do not agree with an outright ban on guns, there are others. As long-time readers know, my parents grew up in northeastern Kentucky, and my grandparents and multiple aunts, uncles, and cousins lived there (and still live there). Both of my grandpas owned shotguns, as did most, if not all, of my uncles. They did not own these guns “just because” or for hunting; I can’t remember for sure if any of my uncles hunted, but I know my grandpas did not. They owned a gun for protection.
I know people who roll their eyes at the notion of owning a gun “for protection” and who claim that it is just an excuse people make. It has not escaped my attention that the people I know who make these arguments do not live in an isolated, rural area. The people who dismiss the “for protection” rationale tend to live in urban areas or in small towns that may feel rural, but aren’t isolated.
Where my family is from is a different world. If someone had broken into my maternal grandparents’ house, they would have been dead long before any police would have gotten there. The police station was at least 30-45 minutes away, and that’s in good weather. If it was snowy, forget it. They wouldn’t be able to get through the mountains; it’s not like there were snow plows going up and down. There was a neighbor across the road, but they never would have heard any screams or commotion; walking down the hill from grandma’s house, across the road, and up their hill was probably a fourth of a mile. The next nearest neighbor was at least half a mile away; Grandpa had about 50 acres.
Then there were the non-human threats, which were abundant; they were definitely the biggest worry. When Grandpa went up the holler to dig up potatoes, pick green beans, or cut tobacco, he took his shotgun. The most common threat was rattlesnakes–I know he and my uncles had seen and killed rattlers up there–but mountain lions were known to be in their county, and there were unverified sightings of bears. I cannot remember if my relatives ever saw a mountain lion up the holler or not, but those animals were around. My relatives would have been foolish not to have a gun by their sides when they worked in the fields up the holler, which was about half a mile from the house.
There were other snakes around, too. My mother was almost bitten by a copperhead when she was a teenager; the thing was on or near the porch, and Mom didn’t see it. Thankfully, my Uncle Red was there, saw it, and chopped off the snake’s head with an ax from the nearby woodpile. A gun would not have been better in that particular situation, but in some encounters with dangerous wildlife, an ax would not offer enough protection. In other cases, if the person was close enough to strike the animal with the ax, the animal would have already maimed or killed the human.
These realities are difficult to understand for someone who has never experienced life outside of a city or a small town. I’ve heard my fellow urban dwellers blithely assert there is never a reason to own a gun, and maybe they are right that in their lives, there isn’t. But that isn’t true in all parts of the country. It just isn’t.
My relatives were not so-called “gun nuts.” For Grandpa, his shotgun was a tool, just like his tractor or truck. It helped him do his job as a farmer. He took care of it, kept it safe, and made sure his grandkids knew it was not a toy. I never touched his gun, nor do I remember wanting to. He only ever owned shotguns, and he certainly didn’t use semi or fully automatic weapons. The gun was a tool. He only needed one truck, so why would he have needed more than one gun? That would have been his philosophy.
Because my father was a police officer, I grew up with a gun in the house–his service revolver. My dad still has it, and I still can’t tell you where it’s hidden. Again, the gun was one of my daddy’s tools for work; I would no more have touched it than I would have tried to mess around with his tools for working on cars. It did not interest me at all. That’s in addition to the fact that my dad would have eaten me alive if I had tried to find or use his gun–probably why I had no desire to get near it! As an adult, my dad has never used a gun for any reason other than work; fortunately, he never had to discharge his weapon while in service. The only time he fired his weapon was when he had to practice at the police shooting range, which he had to do regularly in order to keep his reflexes sharp.
People like my dad and other male relatives are not the problem; neither are the guns they used or their reasons for using them. There are multiple problems here–the easy availability of military-style weapons and ammunition to civilians, the pathetic mental health care system, and the way we construct men and masculinity. Something is very wrong with us culturally. We need to figure out why some young men between the ages of 16 and 24–in almost all of these cases, extremely intelligent, young, white men–are driven to commit these terrible acts. Were they truly mentally ill–as in, suffering from a psychotic break? Were they what some would call sociopaths, or what I would call evil? Were they neither mentally ill nor evil, but seriously disturbed and filled with rage? Were they angry and suicidal, deciding to take with them as many people as they could?
That is what we as a culture have to figure out: what is driving these men to these horrendous acts? What is wrong with us as a culture that we are producing young men who are capable of committing these atrocities? Until we answer these questions, these shootings will continue, and more people will die–perhaps me, perhaps you.
We are not helpless until we find answers to these questions, however. We can and should minimize the chances of these shootings by making semi and fully automatic weapons and certain types of ammo extremely difficult, if not impossible, for civilians to obtain. Assault weapons are called ASSAULT weapons for a reason–their purpose is to attack clusters of enemies. They are not needed for hunting, for fending off rattlesnakes or other critters, for recreational or sport shooting, or for protecting yourself or your family. These weapons are being used to attack groups of innocent people: college students, worshippers, movie-goers, schoolchildren. It has to stop.
I know the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” cliché. Sure, the guns don’t just get up on their own, load themselves, walk to a school, and fire on a first-grade classroom, but no one is claiming that. What people are claiming is that these military-style weapons make it far too easy to kill and injure scores of people. Yes, the same day the Newtown children were killed, 22 children in China were stabbed. But guess what? They’re ALIVE. If this school shooter had only had access to a standard pistol and ammo, he would have used up all six of his bullets just trying to get into the school. Even if he had another pistol (or two) fully loaded, he would have had to stop and reload very shortly after entering the school. That would have provided time for more people to escape or even to attempt to rush and subdue him; there would have been more time for the police to arrive and either take him down or spook him into killing himself (as it was, he killed himself once he realized the police had arrived). Would people still have died? Probably. Would so many have died? No.
More guns (i.e., armed guards and/or teachers) are not the answer. This shooter had on body armor or a bullet-proof vest, as did the shooter in Aurora this summer. A teacher with a gun wouldn’t have been able to bring him down with a shot to the body. A shot to the head could have killed him (if he wasn’t wearing a helmet–don’t know if he was or wasn’t), but that would have required a crack shot. Further, the shooter had the advantage of surprise and a very powerful weapon. By the time the principal or a teacher would have realized what was going on, gotten their gun (because it would have to be locked up around children), and loaded it (ammo would also need to be locked up arounds kids), it would have been too late. They would have been shot as they reached for their gun, if not before.
I know people like to think that if they were in such situations and had a concealed weapon, they would leap into action and kill the shooter. I’m sorry, that is just not realistic. If an armed guard had been at the school that day, it’s likely he/she would have been the first person killed. The shooter probably would have fired through the windows of the door to take out the guard before the guard had even gotten a weapon unholstered. Again, given the weapons he was using and the element of surprise, the shooter had the advantage. I’m sorry to say it, but I know this all too well: police officers routinely get killed in similar situations. Even highly trained, skilled officers cannot always reach for their weapon and fire in time, especially if they were ambushed in the way these schools and other venues have been. I do not believe that an average civilian with a legal, concealed weapon would be able to react in time to make a difference in situations like these shootings; aside from the issues mentioned above, adrenaline is not guaranteed to work in his/her favor–shaky hands are going to struggle with handling the weapon–and crossfire would be a real danger, especially if more than one person had a concealed weapon. Soldiers are trained to kill, yet in war they regularly die from friendly fire. I don’t see how civilians who occasionally (or even regularly) go to the shooting range can be expected to outperform soldiers and police officers–all during the most frightening event of their lives, to boot.
We will never be able to prevent every potential mass shooting; I know that. But we can try by eliminating weapons made to kill scores of people in seconds. We’ll never eliminate speeding or drunk driving, yet we still have laws against them because they are acts that endanger others. It should be no different with these particular types of guns and ammo.
If there was a waiting period of weeks or even months to buy ANY gun, and if the manufacture and ownership of these particular weapons were banned, people like my relatives would still have their guns, but these attacks would be far more difficult to carry out. In some cases, these shooters may very well give up in the face of that difficulty and go ahead and kill themselves–I know how cold and callous that sounds, but quite honestly, I’d rather they kill themselves before murdering innocent people. In other cases, it would give more time for parents, school officials, or legal authorities to act and get these people in treatment or in jail before they can hurt anyone.
To answer some questions I’ve seen some anti-gun control friends pose on Facebook:
- Connecticut had an assault weapon ban; doesn’t this prove such bans don’t work anyway? No. When such guns are readily available in other states and when the penalties for producing, selling, and owning such weapons are fairly low, they will still be easy for people to obtain. That is why we need a federal law with much tougher penalties.
- Will some people still be able to plan and carry out such shootings? Sadly, yes. The 2011 attack in Norway proves that. But compare the frequency of such attacks in our country to counties with more restrictive gun laws; even when adjusted for population, these attacks happen more often and are deadlier in the U.S. We own far more guns per capita than any other country in the world. If more guns=more safety, then we should be the safest country in the world. But we’re not.
- Couldn’t someone just build a bomb and kill a bunch of people that way? Yes, but that takes expertise that some of these shooters don’t have, as well as time, money for materials, and mental clarity–traits that many of these shooters either don’t have or don’t want to develop. Again, some of these guys would kill themselves before the bomb was built; bomb building is also more difficult to hide from parents or other relatives in the house. Not impossible, but difficult enough to increase the chances of being caught and turned in to the police.
- Couldn’t somebody drive a car into a building? Sure–but how many people would have died at Sandy Hook if the shooter (I refuse to name him) had crashed his car through the font door instead of shooting his way through it? If he had crashed his car into that first grade classroom, there is a good chance at least some of the children and adults would have escaped; cars crash into houses, and inhabitants often (though certainly not always) survive with minor injuries. As we all know, he didn’t have a car; he had an assault rifle, and he killed every child and adult in that classroom with it.
The status quo is not working; something has to change. While we need to look at the deeper cultural reasons that may be behind some of these shooters’ actions, we also have to eliminate the weapons that make it so easy for them to kill so many people.
It is true that there is nothing we can do to prevent every single crime of this nature. I wish there was, but troubled people will always be with us. Evil will always be with us. We can damn well make sure these shootings don’t happen so often or with such a high body count, though.