22 July 2012

Not so Disarming

I grew up in a house where there were guns.  All of my siblings and I were taught to use guns safely, and I watched my father teach my daughters and nieces and nephews this skill as well.  It was always an exciting event - although it never happened terribly frequently - to go out into the desert and shoot at targets or clay pigeons.  And my dad was always bringing home all manner of game to the dinner table, and in fact still hunts regularly with my uncle and others.

My dad, I would like to believe, is the typical gun owner.  Someone who is exceedingly careful with his weapons, someone who has extreme respect for their power, someone who knows what a bullet is capable of damaging.  But, in reality, I know that he is probably a rare bird.  All too often, we read about accidental shootings.  In fact, at a local, nationally known firearms school, there have been two incidents of students accidentally shooting themselves in class within the past several months.  Both survived, but there are many tragic cases of accidental deaths. 

And it seems that we can’t go more than a few months as well, without hearing about a heavily armed gunman shooting up a crowd, causing many deaths and injuries:  this week, it’s Aurora.  But I’m sure you remember Fort Worth, Virginia Tech, Columbine, Paducah, Tucson.  And those are only the most heinous of the mass shootings.  What about the DC snipers?  Or the infamous postal workers?  recent article in the UK’s Daily Telegraph lists thirty mass shootings in the US since 1999.  Since Columbine, the tragedy that gripped the nation and the horrific standard by which all other shootings were measured.  Until a subsequent mass murder one-upped Columbine.  And then another one-upped Fort Worth.  Or Tucson.  You get the point.

What’s wrong here?  I don’t know about you, but I am literally sickened by seeing the flag at half-mast over the senselessness of it all, again and again.  I haven’t even talked to my kids about Aurora yet, because what’s the point? 

Weapons are becoming more sophisticated, more deadly, more accurate.  In fact, it’s coming to light that there likely would have been more deaths in Aurora if the shooter’s first weapon of choice hadn’t jammed.

And so now the talking heads on TV will offer their interpretations and insights on Aurora, and the banter about gun control will swell to new heights - but only to stop again when something else grabs the headlines.  The talking heads in Washington will argue about public safety versus the 2nd Amendment until some other event changes the dialogue.

And in a few months, there will be another shooting.  I don’t have to be a prophet to know this.

When I was growing up, one of the major historic events was the arms race.  Who could have more nuclear weapons, the US or the USSR?  Whose would be more powerful?  The most accurate?  The most devastating?  Somehow, through diplomacy and some willingness to bridge a level of trust between nations, that madness stopped.  And by some struck of luck, it happened prior to either nation accidentally or intentionally deploying one of these horrific weapons.

And it seems that we are in the midst of another arms race, in this country.  Who can be more armed?  The quiet sociopath or you?  The jilted lover or you?  The disgruntled former employee or you?

At what point are we going to realize that for public safety, there must  be limits on certain types of weapons, limits on the amount of ammunition, and a better system to ensure all of this?  Certainly, I am not an advocate of banning guns completely.  But there’s got to be some common sense here, regarding what is appropriate, and what borders on or goes beyond irrational and dangerous. 

As humans are prone to do, we are pointing fingers.  People have even gone so far as to blame parents for allowing their children (teenagers!) to go to the midnight showing of Batman, of questioning the propriety of a six-year-old being out so late.  But if you think about it, these shootings happen everywhere.  Movie theaters.  Shopping malls.  McDonald’s.  Schools.

They’re random and there is no way to protect yourself or your loved ones from this kind of madness.  Which essentially makes this a form of terrorism, doesn’t it?  And in spite of all the rhetoric about citizens being armed to protect themselves and their families from criminals with guns, I can’t think of a single situation in which a gunman intent on mass murder was disarmed by a citizen with a gun - maybe there are some occurrences of this, but there are so many shootings it is hard to keep track, hard to know the details of each.  At the Tucson shooting where Gabrielle Giffords was wounded, it was unarmed citizens who saw an opportunity and tackled the gunman before he could reload.

I keep thinking back to that November afternoon in the desert when my oldest daughter shot a gun for the first time.  Her grandfather explained the rules to her, her sibling, her cousins.  He quizzed them on the rules, again and again, as a group and individually.  He identified the parts of the gun.  He demonstrated safe gun handling.  He quizzed them again.  And then once he was certain they understood the gravity of the act, one by one, with much coaching and guidance, he allowed them to shoot at a target. 

Maybe the target was an aluminum can perched on a log some distance away, I don’t recall.  My daughter cocked the weapon and pulled the trigger, and let fly the bullet.  I can’t remember if she hit the target or not.  But I do remember her face, and what she said, and how the power of the weapon had frightened her enough to make her not want to shoot a second time.  I can see how that power might be a rush for some people, how, instead of frightening them, it might make them feel more powerful, invincible, authoritative.  But I keep coming back to how my daughter felt:   that the gun was more firepower than she required.  At what point will our nation come to the realization that my then nine-year-old knew instantly:  that we have far more firepower than we require.

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