I’m one person, and these are my opinions.
Family and Personal History with Guns
Both my grandfathers and my father were in the military, so I know that they were all trained to use various types of guns and other weaponry.
A family story that I’ve heard repeatedly and don’t know the accuracy of (because my dad taught me at a young age “never let the facts interfere with a good story”) tells of a time when my grandpa was beating my dad so relentlessly that my grandma got the shot gun and held in to grandpa’s head, saying “If you lay another hand on him, I’ll blow your brains out.” The gun saved my dad’s young life.
When I was very young, dad was still in the Army reserves and kept a shot gun or rifle (I don’t remember which, nor do I know the difference between the two) in a cardboard box under his bed. I knew not to touch it. That was enough “gun safety” to prevent accidents around my dad’s house.
We had various boarders at mom’s house in the extra room to supplement her income. One of them was a friend of hers from way back. I did not know until after the evening when he beat the shit out of her in front of me that he kept a gun in his room. He did plenty of damage with his fists, so I’m grateful he didn’t think to use his gun. That was the last night he spent in our house.
At a week-long sleep away camp sponsored by the state of Virginia for children who were blind or visually impaired, we did archery at one campsite. Regardless of our levels of blindness, we learned how to load and shoot bows and arrows. The camp moved to a different facility after a few years. This facility had a rifle range instead of an archery range. Blind and legally blind children learned how to load and shoot rifles. Depending on your vision, you could ask to have a beeping target. We got to keep our targets. I probably have mine somewhere. Yes, blind and legally blind children in the state of Virginia learned how to load and shoot a rifle. I learned how to load and shoot a rifle as a 12 year old. Let that sink in a little.
One of my favorite teachers from high school who has become a friend and mentor as I’ve been a teacher was also an avid hunter. He no longer hunts due to his arthritis (I think). He introduced me to the perspective of having some guns for sport.
One of my closest friends is married to a police man who serves on the SWAT team and is in the military reserves. He has four guns in the house, I believe. Each is kept safe from their two young children. I don’t feel uncomfortable when I visit them because I know he is trained in their use and safety measures. I know my friend has worried in the past about when (not if) her son will learn how to use guns. I’m not sure what her current feelings are.
In his early twenties, my older brother went to a shooting range from time to time. As far as I know, he never purchased a gun.
As a result of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I received training of what to do in an active shooter situation. Being a teacher in a large city school, I learned what to do in three generalized scenarios and participated in multiple drills of each possible scenario throughout the school year.
On Sunday, the day of the Las Vegas massacre, I finished reading Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett. The story is about the one “gonne” that exists in the Ankh-Morpork society and the havoc it wreaks on the city. It also characterizes the “gonne” as a sentient being that speaks to whomever is holding it, convincing the bearer that he is truly powerful for the first time in his life, that he is a god.
Family and Personal History with the Constitution
With two grandfathers and a dad having served in the military, there was a certain amount of patriotism in both sides of my family. I was brought up loving America, its complex and often uncomfortable history, its freedoms, its grand experiment with democracy. I lived within 10 miles of Washington DC most of my life. There was a strong sense that certain government programs that assisted the working man were great. I also got a sense that rugged individualism was very important, that you shouldn’t let “The Man” (any type of oppressive authority) hold you down.
I learned about the Constitution and the freedoms it guaranteed. I also understood pretty quickly that the Constitution was written at a time when only white men counted, so it was a flawed document. One of America’s values that I am (was?) most proud of is the ability to amend our Constitution as the times change, allowing non-landowning men to vote, allowing woman to vote etc. It is a living document, not set in stone.
I do not understand how guns have become so interwoven into some people’s American identity.
I do not understand how a statement written in the late eighteenth century can apply without any revision for context in the twenty first century. “Arms” at the time the Constitution was written meant a musket that could fire one bullet before being reloaded, a process that took time for even the fastest shooter. If you are a die-hard Constitutional purist, then people have the right to more than one of these muskets. If that is the case, I’m all for it. Yes. everyone can have a few eighteenth century era muskets. Fine.
I have never tried to purchase a gun, but I very much want to now. Not to have a gun. In fact, I wouldn’t go through with the purchase. I want to see for myself how easy or hard it is to get a gun legally. I’m especially interested because of my personal and family history with mental illness, anger issues, and violent tendencies, as well as my poor vision. It is my understanding that there ARE laws that prevent immediate purchase… in some states. That there ARE laws that require background checks… in some states, to various depths of your history. I do not know what limits are placed on how many guns you can buy at a time or over a lifetime. I do not know what limits are placed on how much ammunition you can purchase in one go or over a lifetime. In the case of Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, reports have shown he bought “33 firearms, mostly rifles, in an 11-month period” (CNN). I don’t know if current laws being properly enforced could prevent this, but if they can’t, I advocate new laws that limit the number of guns any individual can purchase in a year, over a lifetime. Surely even a hunter who switches game based on the season only needs a few different types of guns to achieve ideal sportsmanship.
Given that I don’t know much about gun laws, I also don’t know much about how well they are being enforced. I do know that the laws vary from state to state, so another concern I have is how we regulate the way guns move in our country. I visit Virginia frequently, but I live in New York City. I might be able to easily purchase a gun in Virginia and bring it back to New York without anyone knowing. It is then up to me to register it in New York? What if I don’t want to because I’m planning something nefarious? Even if there are gun laws that are enforced appropriately, how do we prevent situations like that? I’ve seen people saying that if we “outlaw” all guns the way we have “outlawed’ all drugs, we will just have an illegal gun problem like we have illegal drug problems. Yes and no. I think drugs worry me less because the damage you do if you misuse drugs is usually only to yourself. Emotionally it extends beyond you, but it’s not like a gun being misused. Drugs are not designed to kill and guns ARE. I would be okay if we made all guns (or certain types of guns) completely illegal to cut down on the number of deaths that they are causing.
I also know people feel very strongly that having a gun provides them with a certain amount of security and protection. I see people arguing that the safest thing to do is to arm MORE people, that MORE law-abiding “good guys” carrying guns would prevent the incidents wherein “bad guys” use their guns for evil. I go back to saying that a gun is designed to kill. I don’t want ANYONE, no matter how saintly, carrying around something that is specifically designed to end life. The personal security argument also breaks down completely in the Las Vegas massacre because there is absolutely nothing anyone in the concert crowd who had a gun could have done to stop what Paddock was doing. Personally, this argument is false because I would not feel safer carrying a gun. There is no situation in which I would feel protected and more secure if I had a killing machine at my disposal. Even if I was being attacked, I wouldn’t want a gun because I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t want to be responsible for taking a human life. I’m also not convinced that me having a gun would prevent someone from hurting me or taking my property of the person was really set on hurting me or taking my property. I would defend loved ones any way I could, but I also don’t know that I would feel more capable or confident about doing so with a gun in hand. Those feelings may be unique to me though. I just don’t feel like a gun would be some kind of security blanket.
I also know people feel that it is disrespectful to talk about gun laws after yet another mass shooting. I can’t agree with that diversion tactic because if one of my loved ones died in a mass shooting, I would damn well hope it galvanized the nation to change. I would be grieving ABSOLUTELY, but I would also be looking for a way to honor my loved one by making his or her death something more than a senseless tragedy that we can almost expect as a nation. I would hope that if I was a victim in a mass shooting, that my loved ones would take action so my death was not just another number added to our national obsession with guns. I mean no disrespect to the victims and their families by talking about this. In fact, I do it out of complete respect for them that their loss is not purposeless.
To tell me guns aren’t the problem also makes little sense. I fully support the use of psychology in background checks because I strongly believe that mental illness is PART of the problem, but to say someone like Paddock could have done as much damage with some other weapon is, frankly, ignorant. In all the school shooting cases, it is similarly ignorant. Yes, anyone can learn how to make a bomb using household materials if they dig around enough on the internet. They can then put that bomb somewhere and cause widespread damage. We have seen that happen. But besides bombs and driving large trucks into crowds, they is NOTHING else that can cause the type of damage guns can. If a person (or a few people) come into a school or movie theater or concert with knives, the speed at which they can kill people is significantly reduced compared to the use of a gun. In the Las Vegas case, there is NOTHING that could have done more damage from where Paddock placed himself. You cannot rationally argue that guns weren’t a huge part of the problem in this massacre. Also, simply because you can think of another way to cause damage doesn’t mean that the guns involved are less culpable. It just means that you can think of a lot of ways to hurt people – which says something about your mental state.
One thing I am seeing is people talking about requiring gun education and registration similar to the way we regulate driver’s licenses. You have to take a written fact-based exam and a road test to get a license in the first place. You have to register your car and renew its registration annually. You have to renew your driver’s license at regular intervals as well. There are age restrictions on when you can begin to drive. We regulate the use of automobiles because earlier leaders recognized that not doing so was a public safety issue. It seems reasonable to similarly regulate guns, which are machines designed to kill, not to get people around town more quickly, in a similar manner.
I don’t have the answers. I am one person who has strong opinions, who understands where my opinions come from, and who wants to stop gun violence. I want to understand alternative perspectives, but I cannot find someone who can engage in a discussion using logic, which I require when we are talking about something that is vitally important.