Musings on Gun Violence in America

second-amendment-rifleI feel like a mere drop of water in a sea of voices now discussing guns in the United States. But, I still feel the need to contribute my thoughts on the matter.

The gun culture in the United States is unique. To us, guns are a romantic vestige of the Wild Wild West and a fierce reminder that there will always be a need to defend ourselves. In a culture born of revolution, guns have remained a hard-wired need in our collective consciousness.

At the time the Second Amendment was penned, Americans were fresh from brutal treatment at the hands of the British Army. It made sense to include a method for protection against similar violence in our new Constitution. However, whenever people declare, “But the Second Amendment!” in defending gun ownership rights, I wonder what “well regulated Militia,” that person is a part of. That is a line I don’t think people think about, and I honestly think many of the people touting the Second Amendment probably haven’t even read it. In case you are wondering, the Second Amendment reads thusly:

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.

In the span of a week, three campus shootings occurred, two on the same day. During the summer, I spent about a month in Alaska two weeks at a time. During my first two weeks there, two shootings occurred, with another happening just before I arrived. And I can think of a handful of recent shootings besides. So many mass shootings happen in this country whenever I read about another one I feel no shock, no surprise, just mere numbness. Mass shootings are so common, they are no longer news.

Let’s get a little more personal. About two years ago, I was training for a half marathon and did one of my long runs up a seven-mile trail near my home. It was a Sunday and pouring rain, which meant the trail was mostly empty. However, on my way down I encountered a hunter. He was also heading down so didn’t see me coming. When he heard me behind him, he whipped around and stuck his rifle in my face. Needless to say, I was terrified. The hunter quickly put down his gun, apologized, and explained that he had thought I was a deer.

First of all, a hunter shouldn’t be sticking his gun up on a trail even if it is a deer coming along instead of a human. Actual trails are generally too populated to safely take down a deer. Second of all, if this guy is so trigger-happy his instinct is to stick a gun in a human’s face, he shouldn’t have a gun.

I didn’t stick around after he put his gun down. I took off and learned what it feels like to run from something instead of just run for exercise.

I reported this incident to the local police department. They said because it was on the mountain instead of in town it wasn’t their jurisdiction and did nothing to help.

Here in America, we’re not going to give up our guns lightly. That is plain cultural fact. But, when we choose what could arguably be called a certain level of lawlessness about our guns, we ignore a huge problem. We ignore the lives that have been lost because our collective pride matters more than human life. And that is an atrocious sin against humankind.

All this is not to say I think all guns should be banned. Despite my horrid encounter with a hunter, I do think subsistence living is a good thing. Hunting responsibly and sustainably can be an enormously positive lifestyle. I also have a hard time imagining a farm or a ranch being without guns. Regardless, things regarding guns in our country must change.

imagesPeople can’t have the ability wantonly stock their gun safes. The function of a gun is to rip a hole through a body. That function shouldn’t be taken lightly, and as such people who want to own guns should have to prove they have the training and health to safeguard and handle their weapons responsibly.

And you know, we need to stop calling every person who commits a mass shooting crazy. Mental illness is complicated and comes with a massive stigma that isn’t helped by calling every criminal crazy.

Sometimes mental illness is a factor in committing a crime, sometimes it isn’t. The reality is, a mentally ill person is more likely to be the victim of violence than the perpetrator. Calling every shooter crazy doesn’t get to the root of the problem. It denies the many facets of our culture that contribute to violence, a major one being that we simply have a high tolerance for violence, another being that we glorify warfare in our history and our entertainment. It also does a huge disservice to people who suffer from any kind of mental illness. And let’s not forget that most people in their lifetime will have to deal with some kind of mental illness at some point, whether it is minor or major. So in light of that ask yourself: do most people go on shooting rampages?

Now, a lot of people argue that we shouldn’t change the gun laws because criminals will always find a way to hurt people if they want to. Humans unfortunately excel when it comes to devising ways to hurt each other, so it is probably true criminals will always find a way. However, many of the people shooting up schools and churches aren’t hardened criminals with connections to the black market. These are people who had easy access to a weapon capable of large impact with fairly minimal effort. These are people who obtained their weapons legally and didn’t have criminal backgrounds. For many of these people, there was no reason prior to their crime to suspect they would commit such atrocities. So. Tell me again how “criminals will always find a way” is relevant.

Criminals will find a way, if they are clever or determined enough. But does that mean we stop trying? Does that mean we make it as easy as possible for them, just because we have this romantic and fantastical misunderstanding of what the Second Amendment actually says? Without hesitation, no. I’m going to throw in a Hell no, in fact. If we stop trying, we are part of the problem. If we stop trying, we might as well be pulling the trigger ourselves.

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