So, Can We Talk about Guns Now?
Hey. That's me holding a gun.
I grew up shooting cans off of a post with a BB gun and my parents have been known to pay out a five dollar bounty to anyone who can pick a squirrel off the fence with a pellet gun by their pool. Both of my brothers are hunters. I've shot my share of clays at our farm in Mississippi (and have had the shoulder bruises to prove it), have surprising near-marksman aim with a rifle, and have shot paper targets with a handgun. (And before anyone comes at me for this, I took off my goggles for the picture. My earplugs are still in.)
I thought that maybe if you see that I'm not a super-anti-gun person, we could actually talk about guns. I've been considering what to say in this post for years, formulating my thoughts for when the next school shooting happened. Not if. When.
As the news that another school shooting has happened, this time resulting in the murders of nineteen children and two elementary school teachers, I'm seeing the list of all of the school shootings that have happened from Columbine to present day. Have you seen it? Did you have the same response I did? First of all, the sheer number of school shootings — 245 at the time of this piece — took my breath away. But then I realized how many of the names I didn't recognize. Actually, I had missed many of them entirely. Because I live in a bubble of kids' activities, homework, work work, volunteering, etc., I hadn't seen them on social media (although I've seen many, many articles speculating about what's going on in the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard case). I can't remember the last time I watched the news. The fact that I missed it completely means that no one I knew shared anything about them either. That's how normalized it's become. Children are dying in our schools at the hands of their classmates and it doesn't even make our feeds anymore.
A few years ago, I wrote "America, This Is NOT Normal" about my experience when my children's elementary school was on lockdown. I had originally wanted to call it, "America's New Normal" when a friend who is a teacher begged me to rename it. "If it becomes normal, then our society is lost," she said. She's right. We have to fix this.
I'd like to note that I'm only noting the school shootings here, not the other mass shootings, which is a list that's too long to count and growing by the minute. Shootings in houses of worship. In grocery stores. In movie theaters. And parks. And concerts. And anywhere and everywhere else.
So, first let's talk about the Second Amendment. I think we're all very extremely familiar with the second amendment at this point, but, just in case, it states, "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." Okay. There it is. Side note in case you're interested: We're one of only three countries with the right to bear arms — Guatemala and Mexico being the other two — and the only country without explicit restrictive conditions. Here's an article from Business Insider about that, if you're interested.
After Parkland, I got into a heated conversation online with a conservative cousin's group of friends who are all staunch supporters of the Second Amendment. I was honestly looking for answers. How, in the face of seeing children gunned down with AR-15s on Valentine's Day/Ash Wednesday, can someone justify unrestricted access to these kinds of weapons?
The first response is ALWAYS the Second Amendment. Okay. We have a right to guns. I get that. I'm not trying to take away your handgun. I asked specifically why any civilian would need a weapon like an AR-15. The responses were baffling to me.
I've heard the hunting response. However, as a friend of mine who is a veteran pointed out, "If you need an AR-15 for hunting, you're a pretty shitty hunter." Now, my brother noted that if you live in an area with feral hogs, you might need one for hunting/self-protection if you come across a pack of them. Okay. That sounds reasonable. Why not apply for a permit citing proof of the danger you face in order to obtain this kind of weapon? If you have a real need for this weapon, can prove that need, and go through proper training, I think you should be able to have it with a permit. However, this applies to a small section of the American population who lives near feral hogs. I'm still not buying why an Average Joe (or Jane) would need an AR-15. And certainly not why anyone should be able to waltz into a Walmart to buy one. Try again.
The next (and most adamant) response I got was that the U.S. Constitution provides this right — not for hunting — but for self-protection from a corrupt government. We should all be able to arm ourselves to the teeth with AR-15s to battle a tyrannical government. So, let me play devil's advocate here. Let's say that our government careens completely off track and we're facing tyrannical leadership intent on stripping us of our rights. Let's say a thousand of us all go out and buy AR-15s in order to defend ourselves from this tyranny. Or even fifty thousand of us. How do fifty thousand ordinary people armed with AR-15s go up against drone strikes or tanks or nuclear weapons or sarin gas? We don't. It doesn't make sense. That's not a battle we can win. Try again. (By the way, when I made that point, the men in the conversation immediately went to gifs of dancing knives waving British flags saying that we'd still be British if our forefathers hadn't fought back. I responded that bayonet to bayonet was at least a fair fight. This doesn't address my point. Roughly five to ten million AR-15s have been sold in the U.S. This is a far cry from a bayonet fight. Still not buying it. Try again.)
The next response was that universal background checks every time a gun changes hands were unreasonable. It was cost-prohibitive to the seller to require a background check. Um, okay. Build it into the cost of the gun. Not buying it. Try again.
Then I heard that if guns were too expensive, people wouldn't be able to protect themselves, which is their right. I asked, in that case, if they would suggest offering a food-stamp-like program for guns and ammunition. Of course not. Because that's ridiculous. Definitely not buying that one. Try again.
Then I heard that the big problem was mental health, not guns. I asked, "Why is this an either/or? Why isn't it a yes/and?" I'm not saying that mental health isn't a problem in this country. It absolutely is. We are in a full-blown mental health crisis and we need to continue to address it (and not cut funding to programs that could help people). But the fact that anyone who has a history of mental illness, be it post-traumatic stress disorder (read: someone who could be suicidal) or antisocial personality disorder (read: sociopath that could be homicidal) can obtain a gun without a doctor's sign-off is a problem. Yes, there are concerns with HIPPA, but if you have a mental health problem that your doctor feels is under control and that you are not a danger to yourself or others, you should be able to exercise your Second Amendment right without a problem. If, however, your doctor feels that you are not stable enough to do so, you shouldn't be able to go to a gun show and walk out with an AR-15 with no background check. That doctor should be able to put that patient on a watch list that would tie in with a background check that would come through during a waiting period. This is common sense. And you're still not convincing me that someone should be able to buy an AR-15 in the first place. Try again.
Then I heard that the problem wasn't with guns, but, rather with violence in the entertainment industry. If we stopped glorifying bloody battles on the big screen, we wouldn't have this problem at all. I would be lying if I said that the violence I see on TV, in movies, on social media, and in video games for kids doesn't disturb me. It absolutely does. (My kids know exactly why I won't let them have Fortnight or social media, which also makes me the world's least cool mom.) BUT all the violence on a screen in the world doesn't answer the question of why average citizens should be able to buy guns that have been specifically designed for maximum killing in the least amount of time. I'm still not buying why these weapons are available for civilian purchase. Try again.
Then I heard, "Well, even if you ban the AR-15, the gun companies will just come out with something else like it. You can't put a stop to free enterprise." This one makes me crazy. Why the hell not?! We regulate other goods and services. The FDA has more say over our lettuce than our government has over a homicidal 18-year-old strutting in to pick up a killing machine. I'm not buying it. Saying that ANY weapon comparable to what our soldiers use in battle is outlawed for the general public shouldn't be that hard. Try again.
So, after all of that, it really comes down to this: guns are fun. And we like to have the most fun, most cool, most impressive toys. It's become our culture. Isn't that what The Joker said about Batman in the 1989 movie? "Where does he get those wonderful toys?" I asked my brother (who has a veritable arsenal in his gun safe at home) to please explain the desire for an AR-15 to me. He responded, "You know, it's really a great gun. It's lightweight. It's easy to aim. There's very little kickback." He paused, and then said, "It's actually a perfect woman's gun. You should give it a try." And there we are. We want to own these weapons because we want to feel that kind of power in our hands. It's a consumer culture and we're paying the price with our children's lives.
In the course of the conversation with my cousin, a woman on the other side of the argument said to me, "I just feel frustrated that every time something like this happens, someone wants to take my guns away." I responded, "And I feel terrified that every time I send my kids to school, I don't know if they're going to be murdered." She responded, "It must be so hard to be a mom now. My kids are all grown." From there, we started an actual conversation (Imagine that!!!) and I asked her how what I'm asking for would infringe on her Second Amendment rights. Here's what I suggested:
Background checks every time a gun changes hands. No exceptions.
Guns like AR-15s should be limited to military, law enforcement, and those who obtain proper permits that show necessity. We already do this with bazookas and uzis. Anything that's not a handgun, a shotgun, or a rifle should go into this category.
Restrictions on types of ammunition. Mass shootings seem to have one thing in common: high-capacity magazines. An AR-15 can shoot 45 rounds in a minute IF that type of magazine is available. Other guns can work in the same way with the same magazines. We regulate Sudafed; why not bullets? Make people who want these high-capacity magazines jump through the same hoops as those who want automatic weapons, silencers, explosives, etc. It's expensive, takes a long time to process, and background checks are more extensive, but this is a key point.
Required wait times. How many lives could have been saved if the killer had had a chance to cool off after a fight? Or someone had the chance to check for disturbing social media posts? This includes gun shows. If you really want that gun, you won't mind waiting a few more days for clearance.
Required gun-safety courses for all gun owners (and, ideally, their families). This is a no-brainer. Many, many children die every year because the gun safety in a home is lax. One of the NRA's cornerstones is gun safety and education. If you claim to be a responsible gun owner and a proud supporter of the NRA, prove it.
She couldn't find a reason why those were unreasonable. I felt like we had found common ground. It might have just been one person, but I feel like both of us being willing to engage in that conversation and honestly try listening to each other was the way forward. It gave me hope for a solution in our world. Of course, then the men started in with gifs about me being a crazy liberal and I thought, "This is why we can't have nice things." But, still, there was one. And so I try again.
We have to do something. We must. Please. For the 14-year-old boy who is planning on how to defend his classmates with a baseball bat the next time it happens, for the Kindergarteners who are hiding in a closet, for the high school girl whose teeth are chattering from fear as she hides under her desk and texts her mother goodbye, for the teacher who knows that she will need to die to protect the children in her classroom, even as she leaves behind her own. Please.
Let's have the conversation and listen. And pray that we can move forward with legislation that makes sense. I'm not trying to take your guns. I'm trying to keep children alive. Please join me. Next step: I'm contacting my representatives. What will YOU do? Keep trying. And try again.