I’ve been contemplating how to talk about this for a week now. There are so many angles. So many emotions. So much…stuff. Sorting it out in its entirety will take months, if not years. And that’s just an estimate of my personal feelings…the actual toll of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting will take decades to truly understand. Hell, it’s been thirteen and a half years since Columbine, and we’re still figuring that out.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop talking about this.
The bottom line is that something has to be done. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of living in a world where we have to keep on questioning whether any place or time is sacred anymore. It’s gone from movie theaters to shopping malls. Places of worship to places of politics. High schools to elementary schools. And despite our hand wringing on the subject, nothing changes for the better.
I’m not going to win any popularity contests in some circles for this post. But it has to be said. The common denominators in all of these cases:
guns and men and (possibly) underchecked and undertreated mental illness
Given that these events all have very similar patterns, it’s time to dissect those patterns and actually do something about stopping them from occurring again. There’s no sense in living on this planet in denial of what is right in front of us with each soul laid to rest unnecessarily: the culture of gun violence in this country, perpetrated mostly by men, has got to stop.
Now, when I say this, there are already people who have stopped reading because gun control in America is not a popular topic. More than any other country, we seem to take our Constitutionally granted right to bear arms to extremes. But gun control doesn’t mean eviscerating the Second Amendment. Progressives have been saying that for years. Perhaps it took the tragic deaths of 27 individuals in a quiet Connecticut town to finally get that message across because I’m starting to hear a bit of a change in America’s collective tone on the subject. Despite that, I still hear the frequent messages of absurdity that I can no longer tolerate in silence. It’s time to speak out on those, loud and clear and once and for all. Twenty children and six educators can no longer do that after last week’s events. It’s too late for them. It’s not too late for the rest of us.
So let’s go through and do away with our typical responses that lead us to inaction.
1. “Taking away guns won’t solve the problem.” or “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”
I agree and disagree. Taking away guns won’t solve the culture of violence. You’re right about that. There’s an underlying problem that we think that violence is either the last best resort or the proper way to handle disputes. We have a hard time disengaging as a society. I enjoy sports as much as the next person (sometimes more), but to deny the inherit violence in our athletic pastimes such as hockey and football is just ignorant.
But here’s the thing…over 8,000 people were killed in 2011 alone from gun violence. (See the 2011 statistics here.) If you take away the semi automatic weapons and assault rifles and start screening people who can get guns legally (and work on eliminating the totally unsecured and unruly secondary market), you could start to lower that number drastically…and quickly. The common denominator in this equation is the guns. Don’t believe me? The same day as the Sandy Hook tragedy, a crazed person in China ran into an elementary school and stabbed 20+ children with a knife. You know how many people died? Zero. So don’t tell me that guns aren’t a factor. A shocking 68% of all murders can be attributed to firearms in the U.S.
Most gun owners are responsible people and aren’t out there killing their fellow man with guns. At the same time, the guns used in these mass murders are not the type of guns that citizens need to have. There’s no need for an untrained and unlicensed civilian to have assault weapons. Plain and simple. We don’t allow people to have bombs or yellow cake uranium, why are assault weapons–whose sole purpose is killing humans–any different?
I don’t care about regular hunting rifles and (to a lesser extent) handguns, so long as there are proper controls on them. We have the technology to make guns safer and yet we’ve been told by the NRA time and time again that such controls aren’t necessary, but that simple responsible gun ownership is. Well, that’s true, but if I were a responsible gun owner, I’d want all of the safety mechanisms man can create to protect me from liability.
Guns, by themselves, do not kill people. But here’s the thing that separates guns from every other tool and implement in the history of mankind: they have no other identifiable purpose other than to injure or kill. So why even go on with that analogy?
2. Stronger gun laws won’t stop the murderers from getting guns or crimes from being committed.
The vast majority of the guns and ammunition from these mass shootings that have plagued our society in the past couple of decades have been…LEGALLY obtained. Very few of them have come from illegal sources. So saying that laws wouldn’t stop someone from obtaining a gun isn’t borne out in the facts since there’s never been enforcement of the kind of laws I’m talking about here. You have to at least entertain the notion that these individuals might have been stopped by stronger regulations. If you say that stronger regulations won’t work, then why have laws at all? Traffic laws, behavioral laws, criminal laws…they’re all based on the idea that the law acts as a deterrent In most cases, you make something illegal and you make it harder to obtain. The profile of most of the people engaging in these crimes does not fit the profile of someone who would seek guns illegally. It’s because they’re so easily obtainable that they are used first. And it’s because they’re so deadly that they’re used last.
There are ways to strengthen our regulations of guns that would reduce the number of deaths resulting from guns as well as the number of injuries related to guns.
- Reinstate the assault weapons ban with actual teeth. No one outside of the military and without proper training should have an assault weapon. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that we stop selling them.
- Make it a requirement to register and insure all guns. We have to do this with cars–instruments that have a purpose other than killing–because of the responsibility involved with handling such a dangerous piece of machinery. Guns should be no different.
- Track large purchases of ammunition and ban large ammo clips. This would have stopped the Aurora shooter or at least alerted the police to the fact that someone was buying massive amounts of ammunition. Typically people buy things they intend on using. There’s only one purpose for ammo in that quantity and it isn’t self preservation or hunting deer.
- Close the gun show loophole. Why do mandatory background checks not work? Because the system is seriously flawed. Anyone can walk into a gun show in 33 states and buy a gun without a background check. Close that loophole and you may prevent a great many people from owning guns who shouldn’t. And yes, these people commit serious crimes with these guns, so it’s definitely part of the problem.
Now, here’s the part where anti-regulation types like to tell me that guns aren’t the problem because other countries have guns that don’t have our violent ways. True…but false at the same time.
- First of all, it has been shown that in the United States (the only true comparator) that states with stronger gun laws have fewer guns and fewer violent crimes using guns. So the “if you ban them they’ll get them somewhere else” argument is seriously flawed based on evidence from here in the U.S.
- Second, the nations used by anti-regulation types that have higher percentages of gun owning citizens have significant differences from the United States in their handling of guns. The one often brought up is Switzerland. Switzerland has 45.7 guns per 100 citizens. The U.S. has 88.8 guns per 100 citizens. BIG difference. But more than that, the culture surrounding guns is vastly different. Ownership of firearms in Switzerland can only be achieved after jumping through several hoops–including national registration of firearms, certain safety protocols and guns are issued as a result of signing up for military service. If we put those controls in place, we’d be far ahead of the game when it comes to guns.
The bottom line is this, though: if we have no evidence that gun control laws would prevent more crime from happening, but we do have evidence that gun control laws prevent crime from happening in certain places, even within the U.S., why are we so unwilling to give it a try?
The ownership of guns didn’t stop Sandy Hook from happening. The first victim, Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy, owned all of the guns used in the tragedy…plus some. She is what the NRA would consider a “responsible” gun owner. Yet her ownership of guns led to her death and the deaths of 26 other innocent people. So I guess that “guns keep us safe” argument isn’t really working.
3. Taking away guns will make us collectively less safe as a society.
Included in this argument is any form of : we need to arm teachers, we need armed guards at schools, every citizen should have a gun, etc.
Well, here are the facts. The number of people hurt and or killed by intentional gun wounds outnumbers those who use the guns for self defense at least 4 to 1 by conservative estimates. So for every person “saved” at the end of a trigger, four are lost or wounded. Furthermore, the risk of having a gun in one’s home raises the likelihood that an unintentional injury or death will occur…raises it by 22 times to be exact.
The whole argument about needing guns to protect us from our government is not only unreasonable it’s illogical. The government has far more guns than we’ll ever seek to accumulate. A gun or two in your home isn’t going to protect you against tyranny…your vote and voice will, though.
Those arguments about how only dictators ban guns? Well, even if we were talking about an outright ban on guns (which we aren’t), those dictators took a lot of things away before and after they took away guns…namely the power to freely think and speak and form labor unions and other organizations. So get back to me when we start protecting those things with the vehemence we seem to be protecting our guns with.
Arming educators wouldn’t have stopped Columbine or Sandy Hook or any of the other school shootings. It would have only opened up every school with weaponry to untold violence and legal liability. We aren’t willing to make our educators join a union but we want them to carry guns? We’ll take away their pay and benefits and then hand them a weapon as they teach their classes?
Sounds like a BRILLIANT and well thought out idea.
4. We have a Constitutional right to bear arms.
Yep, we do. Congrats! But, as was said in Spiderman: with great power comes great responsibility. And our Founding Fathers were well aware of this in drafting and ratifying the Second Amendment. Regulation was always contemplated. The text of the Second Amendment is very clear:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed
I’m all for the Second Amendment. It’s what allows our military personnel and first responders to have guns. I want those people to have guns when acting in their official capacity. If you notice, though, the purpose behind the Second Amendment is allowing guns for the purpose of a “well regulated militia.” There are two important pieces to that puzzle…regulation and military. It doesn’t say that guns are necessary for every purpose or for every person. And it certainly does not prohibit regulation. Reading it any other way is illogical.
Do you think that the Founding Fathers who drafted the Bill of Rights had in mind the weapons of mass destruction our society produces when they drafted this amendment? I think it’s quite right to say that they’d be astonished and afraid of such weapons and in denial that their words were being used to support the circulation of such weapons.
5. There’s more to do than just gun control.
No one doubts that regulating guns alone won’t work. It’s about the culture. We live in a culture that equates brute force and weaponry with manhood. As such, the problem cannot be solved by just focusing on guns in and of themselves or mental health of only individuals. One of the very weapons used in the Sandy Hook tragedy was advertised as a way to regain your “man card”…whatever that may be.
That is the actual advertisement above. I don’t know about you, but if a man needs a gun to prove his humanity or manhood, then we as a society have huge problems. Manhood being equated with brute force is the cause of many of humanity’s great problems of violence. There’s a reason why most of the mass shootings that have occurred have been carried out by men. It’s because of this inextricable linkage between violence and weapons and manhood. Maybe stepping back from the ledge on our culture of violence means reassessing this link. When people are so afraid that restricting gun ownership in any way restricts their freedom–the same freedom I enjoy without owning a gun–then we have problems.
Mental health is a major issue. But focusing on mental health does two things that scare me. First, it assumes that every person with a mental illness is capable of great tragedies like these. Second, it ignores the fact that our culture is a driving force behind the use of guns and violence even with mental illness in the picture. Societal ills will lead to violence long before mental ills will. Why can’t we recognize our own culpability in the face of such tragedy? Maybe we just don’t want to look.
I’m all for increasing the availability of mental health resources. I think our health care system in general is in shambles and mental health often takes the first hit in any budgetary war. But even if we treated each and every one of us like a mentally ill person, our society’s focus on violence would still trump all of that in a second when faced with idiotic propositions about manhood, fear and other “threats” to our stability in the social realm. Increase the spending and focus on mental health. I’ll support that all day, every day. But don’t do it alone and think that it will solve the gun violence problem. It won’t.
There is so much more to this. The NRA went silent for the first time in history after a major gun incident this past week and only came out of hiding to say that it will support meaningful discussion on reform. I tend to doubt that, but I’ll take them at their word for now. The NRA has a history of being increasingly influential in lessening existing gun laws while being incredibly racist while doing so. (Ever seen them NRA defending the ownership of guns by African Americans or Latinos in the inner city? Yeah, me neither.) We need to lessen their vice-like grip on politics. If I were a gun owner, I’d hate having them as my voice.
The only action that is not on the table right now is inaction. It’s not politicizing tragedy to try and prevent another tragedy. It’s insanity to keep trying the same things and think that different results will occur.
This is the longest letter I’ve ever written for Open Letters Friday, by far. But it is also the most necessary. It’s time to stop acting like we can solve these problems with the laws and culture as it stands. We’ve tried that. My entire transition from childhood to adulthood has been bathed in the light of Columbine, Aurora and Sandy Hook. In those thirteen plus years, nothing has changed to make us safer from gun violence. Meanwhile, we’ve tried everything to make us safer from external terrorism.
Call me crazy, but I’m more afraid of being shot in school, at work or at the movies than I am of being a victim of international terrorism…and the statistics say that I this is a perfectly reasonable way of life. That’s just not right.
A Woman in Need of Action and Answers