A Uniquely American Problem

gunI grew up in Texas with guns in the house and was taught the proper handling and respect for such weapons. I grew up inundated in what is now called “gun culture.” We’d shoot at turtles in my grandpa’s tank when I was a kid and I even now would go out with family for a some target practice should the occasion come up.  i have numerous family that “carry” and are enthusiastic gun hobbyists. As for myself, I don’t own a gun now, and don’t really feel the need to, but it’s not out of unfamiliarity, only disposition.

But I also believe in common-sense gun control. I don’t mind a background check to make sure that people who are proven to be able to take the responsibility of gun ownership are the ones getting the guns. I question the need for universal access to military/police-grade weapons. I do feel that the “well-regulated” part of the 2nd Amendment tends to get ignored far more often than the the “shall not be infringed” part.

My moderation certainly makes for some interesting conversations with friends and family.

The thing is, I see the tragedies that keep happening: Parkland, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Newtown, Connecticut–the list goes on, and on, and on–and I wonder “Why here? Why is it that this seems to be a uniquely American problem?”

I see posts and memes (you know, the usual thoughtful sources of political discourse today) popping up in my feed that try to explain it: lack of corporal punishment for children, lack of Gawd, Hollywood and video games (Really? Again? Geeze–didn’t blaming these go away with the 1980s and Tipper Gore?), mental illness (usually when the shooter is white)–again, the list goes on. But the thing is, other First World countries have these things–but they don’t have the mass shooting problem we have. Lack of discipline for children is not unique to the US–yet the students in other countries aren’t dying in bloodbaths at school. Most of our compatriots in the world come from fully secular countries where religion is on the decline–but they don’t have this problem. They often watch the same movies and play the same games as we do, yet they aren’t killing each other in the public sphere. They, too, have citizens that suffer from mental illness–and yet, they aren’t gunning down people from high rise windows.

What we do have, what is uniquely American, is an actual lobbying machine feeding money to our government to ensure that people are given unfettered access to guns, as well as funding efforts to obscure the effects of gun violence on our society so that people cannot make informed decisions about the issue. We also have a gun culture rooted in fear: fear of the criminal and fear of the government.

I saw a meme going around essentially saying that mass shootings really started about 30 years ago, when we stopped disciplining our children. Well, setting aside the question of what kind of historical marker was used as the date we stopped disciplining our children, and the fact that this represents a logical fallacy (correlation does not equal causation), there is another event that occurred some 30-40 years ago that is equally as interesting to this debate: in 1977, the NRA began actively lobbying Congress instead of merely informing their members of relevant legislation. They went from being informative of issues to assisting in the crafting of legislation. In 1986, their lobbying was instrumental in one of the first “firearms protection” acts passed in Congress. And the rest is history. They were also instrumental in the formation of the Dickey Amendment which bars the Centers for Disease Control from performing research on the effects of gun violence on our society.

But again…correlation does not equal causation. It is an interesting coincidence, though.

Now, we are tentatively having this debate again as yet another cohort of school children are gunned down in what should be a place of safety.

The same arguments both for and against gun control are being trotted out, but with some distinct differences. One, the difference that gives me hope, is that the student survivors of the attack are leading the charge for some actual action on the issue. I think this is powerful and gives me hope for the future. But another difference is now there are strong calls to arm our teachers and create better protections for our schools. This proposition does not give me hope–it only feeds my despair.

The idea that we need to lock down our schools and arm our teachers is anathema to me. I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that this is a viable solution. Teachers are neither trained to use guns in the course of their certifications, nor are they the people that should ultimately be made responsible for protecting children in such a dire situation. None of them signed up to become de facto security details for the schools that they work for. They are educators, not law enforcement. Even if some have had the training in their private lives, that does not mean that they should be given the responsibility of performing such a duty while on the job.

Typical gun classes for concealed carry and even open carry do not include the type of in-depth training needed to handle an active shooter situation. Knowing how to handle a gun in your personal life is a far cry from being able to actually be a security or law enforcement professional.

I don’t think everyone has thought out the implications. What if, by giving these “good guys with guns” responsibility for protecting our children from shooters, that they find themselves in a situation in which they fail? What if the shooter ends up killing a few kids before they are finally brought down by Schoolteacher Sheriff? Can that teacher be held liable for not acting fast enough? What about the teachers that didn’t sign up to be security personnel? Are they liable for not stepping forward (“We didn’t have enough good guys with guns…that was the problem…”)?

Further, teachers and schools are often underfunded as it is. Now we’re going to require them to put their lives on the line without hope of compensation or training? We can’t even seem to fund books for kids, much less such an audacious retooling of the basic responsibilities of educators.

I heard a legislator from Florida wondering out loud at why our schools are not as well-protected as gated communities. Which made me cringe. We used to joke when we were kids about schools being prisons–now we want to actually turn them into maximum security centers.

All this instead of addressing the actual issue: powerful weapons are far too easy to attain in a society that counts the death of children and adults as secondary to the right to unfettered access to firearms.

That’s what it boils down to. We, as a society, have essentially chosen to turn a blind eye to the violence, to the death, because we value the right to bear arms as more important the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to guns is more important than the right of children to go to school with the expectation of safety. The right to guns is more important than the right of people to gather at an outdoor concert and to expect not to need to seek cover from a madman across the lawn. The right to guns is more important than the right of people to attend church with an expectation of sanctuary from the violence.

I’m not saying we need to ban all guns. I understand that the vast majority of gun owners are good people with a proper respect for the machines that they own. But what I do rail against is “unfettered” access. Background checks, regulating access to the mentally ill, closing the “gun show loophole,” controlling access to military/police-grade weapons, etc. There are moderate solutions to this problem without turning our educators into wardens and our schools into Leavenworth.

And go away with the specious argument about “knives killing people, too” or other such nonsense. When a single person can kill 60, injure 800, all from 1000 feet away (like the Las Vegas shooter) with a knife then I’ll join your call for common sense knife control.

The fact is, Americans don’t want to talk about this. We’d rather trot out the usual excuses and move on to something else. It’s a tough conversation to have–and frankly, for law makers, millions of dollars are on the line. But it is high time we had this discussion, come to a solution, and protect ourselves against ourselves. I had thought the incident at Sandy Hook elementary would have been a starting point–but we managed to ignore the problem even when small children paid the price. Now, with the students in Florida being pro-active with their demands for action, I have renewed hope.

You don’t have to agree with me–in fact, I know that many of you won’t. But we, as a society, need to talk about this. We need to have a mature, open discussion that is based on solutions. We need to be able to disagree but still address the problematic nature of the issue.

It’s a tough conversation, but we need to have it. For all our sakes.


About Shedrick

I am a professional librarian and a part-time writer that's working to do that the other way around. I currently live in North Texas in the lovely city of Denton (“The Home of Happiness“) with my lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, I can sometimes be found in a pub (or the American equivalent) enjoying a fine brew.
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3 Responses to A Uniquely American Problem

  1. Kristin says:

    Here’s an interesting trivia fact for you: in the early 1950s, in the democratic stronghold of NYC, learning to shoot a rifle was part of the high school physical education curriculum along with archery and swimming. How do I know this? My mom graduated from high school in 1953 from Andrew Jackson High School in Queens, NY and learned all those skills…..in the same vein, those same skills were taught in Scouting, 4H etc. Here in the middle of the rip-roaring, gun culture Bible Belt, it took our local 4H group almost 20 years to get a gun class together.
    Definitely running on a spirit of fear. Instead of teaching skills and responsibility as you described your personal experience to be, we, as a nation, are trying to ‘protect’ our kids from ‘dangerous’ skills, thus exempting them from learning the responsibilities that grow from that skill….
    Or, that’s my opinion……

    • Shedrick says:

      That is an interesting take. I do agree that it seems like this past generation has been a lot more “protected” than previous generations–but that’s not always a bad thing. Definitely agree that more education and more understanding of the proper use and respect for firearms is a good thing. But, I still think part of moderate, common-sense controls on firearms comes out of that very respect for the deadly ability these machines have to kill and injure a great deal of people in a short amount of time by someone who doesn’t even have to be very well trained or regulated on their use. You respect the gun–so you lock it up when it’s not needed. You make sure the safety is on when you’re not ready to fire. You never point at anything you aren’t prepared to shoot. Finger off the trigger. These are all measures you take out of respect for the weapon. To me, restricting who gets them in the first place through reasonable measures is an extension of that.

  2. Kristin says:

    But to learn respect for a person or object, do you not have to be familiar with it? How it works/what damage it can cause? I know kids, usually boys, that took their first ‘gun’ as in a BB gun, and almost immediately, against direct instructions, shot and killed a bird. When the enormity of actually causing a living being to die, sunk into that 10 year old mind, there were no protests when the gun was confiscated for 6 weeks to think about the consequences. He handled that gun, and later, all other guns with the respect that guns are powerful weapons. If we coddle our kids from knowledge and experience, aren’t we causing the very actions that we want to try to legislate away? If we went back to teaching some of these skills, fostering responsibility, and teaching consequences, would it make a difference?
    Please understand that not one person that I know who owns, supports, believes in semi-automatic weapons has been able to explain WHY one would NEED such an ability. I understand defending your family and property. I understand hunting to provide food for your family and others. I understand the desire to go ‘plunking’. I cannot understand how any of those needs/desires can, or should, equal ‘semi- automatic weapon which is actually just one illegal rigging job from fully automatic’.
    I also agree with raising the age to 21. However, when they lowered the draft age to 18 during Vietnam because they needed more cannon fodder, those 18 year old boys came back as 19 year old men and protested the fact that they were old enough to die for their country but not old enough to vote for the men and women who sent them to die. Those men are now in their 70s. If you want to see another massive uprising, tell them that 18 year olds are not responsible enough to handle firearms. I can hear the rant from my friend starting now and he’s living in Las Cruces…If age limits are going to change, it’s going to have to be consistent. The ‘you are old enough to train on automatic weapons, but you aren’t old enough to HAVE a semi-automatic weapon’ won’t go very far.
    We really have things in quite a mess when we decided to extend childhood into the mythical ‘teenager’ period.
    Thanks for listening to my rant 😊

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