“It seemed to me that constant stressing of the individual rights and privileges of American citizenship had overshadowed the equally important truth that such individualism can be sustained only so long as the citizen accepts his full responsibility for the welfare of the nation that protects him in the exercise of these rights.”
–Dwight Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe
This week I was going to write a happy-go-fun piece about the things I learned over the course of a two year period during which my sole preoccupation was my band. There were going to be some really important lessons in there, combined with a few fun anecdotes. Good times, right?
As is often the case, plans change due to outside forces.
A little over two weeks ago, on May 23rd, the country was—yet again—rocked by the news of another mass shooting, this time in Santa Barbara. Then last Sunday the 8th, two people walked into a Las Vegas pizza parlor where they killed two police officers, then strode into a Walmart and killed another person before killing themselves. Then the next day, one person was shot and killed and three others were injured at Seattle Pacific University. The following day, a student was shot and killed at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon, before the gunman killed himself.
This is a pattern that has become all too familiar, and we are well-overdue to start having an honest conversation about it.
It’s a talk that needed to be had at least as far back as April 20th, 1999, when two boys stormed into Columbine High School where they shot and killed twelve students and injured twenty-four. I was home sick from school that day, and I recall fifteen-year-old me watching the events unfold with a combined horror and fascination.
You see, I grew up shooting guns. My father, brother, and I spent many a weekend out at some random rock quarry plugging away at cans or targets, and many a time we struck out into the woods to hunt elk and bear. Guns were a big part of our lives, and to this day I still get a great deal of enjoyment out of shooting them.
Columbine was the first time that I ever questioned our national relationship to guns. People were blaming Marilyn Manson and video games, but that didn’t make much sense to me. The vast majority of people who had murdered another person with a gun didn’t listen to Manson or play video games. But they all did have one thing in common: they had easy access to a gun.
The years went by. Shootings popped up here and there. Four dead in Tuscan. Ten in Red Lake, Minnesota. Six in Nickel Mine, Pennsylvania. Then another really big one—33 dead and 25 wounded at Virginia Tech.
That was in April of 2007. Two months earlier, there had been another gun death that hit much closer to home—my father’s.
In the years leading up to 2007, my brother and I were both going through college, and as the expenses associated with that mounted up, my family was forced to sell off what had become a rather large gun collection. My .45-70 first, then my brother’s little .44 Winchester (little at least compared to my walloping .45-70) . The M-16 with the laser sights, and the ancient and decrepit Mauser. But he kept one—a .357 Smith and Wesson that I knew very well and had shot many times.
Then one afternoon, much to the surprise of everyone, he used it to shoot himself.
That was a pretty hard card to deal, and an even more difficult one to play off. I’ll spare you the details, but in the months and years that followed, I did a lot of pondering about guns and what they mean to me, and what they mean to us as a nation.
Somewhat surprisingly, I found that I had not lost my enthusiasm for guns and shooting. As I mentioned earlier, I still enjoy shooting to this day. I don’t blame my father’s death on the gun. I blame it on the tragic fact that he decided that a gun was the only solution to his problem.
And that’s the crux of it: these shootings aren’t the inherently caused by the presence of guns, but by the fact that so many American boys and men have decided that guns are the only solution left to them.
We’ve all heard the old saying “A gun is just a tool” and the ubiquitous “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” They may be true in principle, but the problem is that we have an awful lot of these tools lying around, and there are an awful lot of people who are using them to kill.
It’s time for us to understand something: Gun violence is not something that is going to go away by itself. Just like we took steps to eradicate polio, and to get lead paint out of toys, we are going to have to do something to stop the killing. We are going to have to take practical, actionable steps.
This means having an open, honest conversation about our values as a country, about the sacrifices we’re willing to make for the safety of our people, and about how we can get more voices into the discussion, not less.
After the tragedy at Sandy Hook, the conversation about guns became toxic. Vitriol has been spit out by both sides of the argument, and everyone is, ahem, sticking to their guns a little to fervently.
Bottom line: Once 20 children are murdered at school, something needs to change.
But neither side is going about this very well. Instead of having a dialogue, it’s just the same “us-against-them” back and forth that has prevented progress on this and so many other issues. It’s time to clear up a couple of misconceptions:
For You Gun Enthusiasts Out There
No one is talking about taking your guns away. Pundits are fanning the fires of polarization by saying that people who are pro-gun regulation want to ban guns. This is not the case (remember that pundits are out to get your blood riled and start arguments. They make money from shouting about problems, not settling them). The people who are for gun regulation are interested in instituting practical legislation that will help limit gun access for people who are mentally ill, and that will stem the flow of guns from areas with low gun crime and lax gun laws to places with tight gun laws but high gun crime.
For the Pro-Gun Regulation People
Not all people who own and shoot guns are crazy, lawless gun fanatics. The fact that 90% of Americans are for background checks proves this. A sizable portion of that 90% is made up of people who love guns.
What does this mean? We can, and must, find a way to meet in the middle. It’s time to sit down at the table for a genuine discussion, not just another argument.
A couple of facts are indisputable:
- The US has by far the most guns per capita
- The US has by far the most gun related killings in the developed world.
This is no coincidence.
The first thing that any gun owner is supposed to learn is how to be responsible with a gun, and while many individuals do an excellent job at it, we as a whole are failing.
It is time for our country to become responsible for our gun ownership. Receiving the rights of a citizen is a responsibility, not a privilege. That’s why we take rights away from felons—because they didn’t earn them.
If we want our 2nd Amendment rights, then we must earn it. And if we want to stop the violence, we have to work toward it. These goals are not at odds with one another. They are mutually achievable.
Join the conversation. Spread the word by using the hashtag #LetsTalkAboutGuns. I urge you to comment below, share this article with friends, and help get a level-headed, even-toned discussion underway.