Like a lot of Americans, I grew up with guns in my household. My mom and dad would both shoot and take us kids shooting from time to time. Both taught us to be respectful of all firearms. Woe be to one of us who did not treat a gun as the deadly weapon that it really was.
Today I own only one firearm, a .22 rifle that I inherited from my late father. However, I don’t keep it in my home–it’s in the care of my brother who knows more about guns than I do and who can take much better care of it. I’ve got nothing against guns per se, nor against people who own them. I’m just not as “in” to them as some folks.
I’m perfectly aware that the vast majority of gun owners use them for sport or hunting or self-defense and are perfectly capable, respectful, and safe users. I’ve met them. They’re my family, my neighbors, and my friends. Nevertheless, after the all of the gun-related violence that has taken place over the past year, I have some decidedly mixed feelings about the issues of gun ownership.
In the first place, I don’t buy the notion that there is one cause for all of these tragedies. I don’t blame the guns or the glorification of guns in the media or the continued stigma on treating mental illness or any one of a number of causes people have pointed at since these events hit the news. I think it’s a combination of these things in various concentrations plus the personal circumstances of the shooters that cause these tragic events. It’s a complex issue in which ALL possible causes need to be part of the conversation.
I blame the perpetrators of these crimes 100% for their actions, but I can’t help but wonder if the events would have been as bloody or if they would have happened at all if guns hadn’t been so readily to hand. Yes, you can kill with knives, bombs, hammers, wheels of cheese, and a spoonful of water but none of these are being chosen for these massacres–guns are. I have to wonder why. Of all the first-world countries, our gun laws are the most lax and our gun violence the most prevalent. Is there a connection? I have to wonder. Thirty years ago, “school shootings” were not part of our national consciousness. Now they are. Why is that? What has changed? And why here and not in other countries?
On the other hand, I get that criminals don’t obey gun laws. That these controls only really affect lawful, and safe, gun owners. One way or another, firearms always seem to find their way into the hands of criminals. But if we regulate the use of automobiles–far deadlier than guns according to some statistics–why not regulate the use of firearms? Is it unreasonable? I know my parents taught me to properly use and respect the gun–should I just trust that others have as well?
I don’t know the answers, only that these are questions we have to ask. We have to have the conversation. We have to figure this out.
But will regulating the use of firearms solve this problem? I don’t know. The perpetrators of these crimes tend to be those with severe mental health issues, issues that have warning signs that are ignored by those close to them. We obviously need to do something to help heal the mentally ill, or allow them to cope with their illness in non-destructive ways. But we’re so afraid to face it or we dismiss it as just something that takes “willpower” to get over. This simply won’t cut it anymore.
Our culture is as afraid to talk about gun control as it is about mental illness. I suspect our silence and discomfort regarding both of these issues have contributed to the problem.
But what about the media? Doesn’t it affect our culture? Doesn’t its glorification of violence in video games and macho movies contribute? Maybe. Or is it merely a reflection of the general culture and the romanticizing of our violent, frontier past and of former military glories? Again, I don’t know. I tend to fall into the camp that says that video games and other media do not cause violence. I just don’t buy that. But that it’s part of the mix can’t be denied.
One thing I don’t buy is that the ONLY way to keep our children safe is to turn schoolyards into armed camps. I find that idea abhorrent and disturbing. That’s not the country I grew up in nor is it the one I want to leave for our children. There has got to be a better solution than to turn our schools into the prisons we once joked that they were.
We tend to want to point to one thing and say “That’s it! That’s the reason for this!” and then we can ban it or regulate it or what-have-you. But it won’t be that easy for us in this case. Guns and media and mental illness and politics and history and everything else that define who we are as a nation are mixed up in this mess. We have to take a good look at ourselves and be open to doing whatever is needed to curb this deadly trend. Everything has to be on the table and part of the discussion. I don’t know what the answer is but I do know that keeping our heads in the sand isn’t part of the solution.
So, basically, what I’m getting around to saying is that I have mixed feelings and thoughts about the issue. I don’t have any good answers. I’m only convinced that we have to talk about all possible solutions in order to come at an answer that’s going to save our own lives.