The day of my last blog entry, a swing into politics, the world was hit with two tragedies that were strikingly similar: Brutal attacks on children in elementary schools, one with a gun and one with a knife. My middle brother, a gun enthusiast, having read the blog and undoubtedly moved by the incident, asked me to write some thoughts on guns, though he was well aware that our opinions were strongly opposed. I considered not doing it because of the timing, because I’m not an expert on this either (as I wasn’t on politics), but after some consideration, I concluded that it’s become very difficult to time a piece like this these days and, even more so, to not have an opinion. In some sense, I want to rediscover my own.
Mass murders like the one in Connecticut have become so commonplace that there is rarely breath enough between gunmen to process what has happened, what is happening, or why I have become so nonchalant about these attacks, adding them to a list that for me began with Columbine in 1999. There have been so many incidents like this in the last decade and a half that I can’t remember them all. What’s more is that they are clearly increasing in frequency and the United States accounts for the bulk of them. Like US politics these days, the differing outlooks on this situation seems to continually widen, my Facebook feed filling with anti-gun ads and bold statements of how more guns would have prevented this. So, I’m going to probe into my own opinion, seek to support the idea that, in general, guns are bad.
I don’t imagine I’ll say anything new or even anything that hasn’t appeared in 101 articles in the last week, but perhaps it all needs to be said again, by as many people, bloggers, and reporters as it takes to see the trend change. Maybe, by some stroke of luck, my thoughts will help shed a different light on the subject for someone, for my brother. Then again, perhaps he’ll never ask me to blog about anything else. In the end, I’m doing this out of a sense of responsibility to my beliefs, knowing that, regardless of how annoying they may be to some, if I never express them, if I never stop to stand up every now and again, then I’ve betrayed myself and all of those whom I would seek to protect, be it from exploitation, discrimination, or guns.
My rootin’, tootin’ ex-writing buddy C.D. Mitchell, Arkansas to the ugly bone and man who has had his grip on a few stocks and triggers in his day, posted this about an hour ago:
Although I have never been one for gun-control, I have one question for the gun crazies: Why with all of these mass killings--15 this year alone--has there never once been a person with a concealed pistol jump up and kill the shooter?
On Christmas Day in 2010, I led a group of tourists on a hike to a nearby look-out point, say maybe a half-hour from the hotel where I’m sitting now. The day was sunny and clear as most December days are in Guatemala, so we’d waited for Emma, my wife, to get off work because she wanted to come along. All in all, there were six of us, three women, two men, and a four-year-old boy. On our hike back to the hotel, we were held up by two masked gunmen, most likely local farmers using their rodent rifles.
It was fairly quick, maybe five minutes in total. They had us all lay on our stomachs in the dirt while one man emptied our pockets and bags, the other one keeping his gun in the ready over us. Having some Spanish skills and perhaps manly courage, I had stepped in front of my wife and the others, putting me first in the line of fire. I probably outweighed either guy by fifty pounds or more and clearly the possibility of what could happen put them even more on edge. The man with the gun kept signaling for me to stay calm and down.
Truthfully, Guatemala is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and I wasn’t sure we’d all live until the man emptying pockets got to me, found only my wedding ring to take, but left it, not wanting to go that far with the theft. They disappeared up the mountain, and Christmas was both ruined and saved in the same departure.
Time and again, I’ve been presented with the argument that criminals don’t get guns legally anyway, so what good are gun laws going to do? First of all, in the case of mass murders, this assumption couldn’t be more wrong. In the case of gang violence, maybe this illegality is true, but where did the illegal guns come from in the first place? These, of course, are arguments we’ve all had or heard since the dawning of our political awareness; however, it’s another point that I wish to address here, a point I believe C.D. started for me with his insight: Would we have been safer if I’d had a gun to protect us?
There are at least two elements to our situation that I feel are common to incidents like this: 1.We never saw these men coming, and by the time we did, the guns were already pointed at us; 2. The stick-up guys were jumpy, nervous, tensely bordering on irrational. I feel like if I’d had a gun, even if I hadn’t tried to use it, my chances of being killed (and those with me), simply by the threat it would represent, would have gone up exponentially. There would have been no chance for me to do anything had I been armed, as I’d guess there rarely is. With all the claims of “for protection”, how often does having it legal to carry a gun do any good? (Refer back to C.D.’s statement.) It seems to be the same logic of avoiding a fight by flexing your muscles.
In my brother’s request, he cited violence on TV and video games, noting that it’s the mentality and not guns that are doing the killing. I remember Marilyn Manson getting some of the blame with Columbine, and how many times have I heard the phrase “off his meds” with regards to the latest heavily armed mass murderer? I do believe there are some unfortunate influences that instigate tragedies; however, the argument that this is what causes such excess o gun-related deaths in America falls way short. Every country has the same games and movies. This is the 21st century. Moreover, violence has been in entertainment since Homer, Shakespeare and so on.
Murder rates are higher in the US because it’s easier to murder people. We can question the motives of the murders, and of course, it is important to understand the individual whys of what criminals do; nevertheless, it’s simply impossible to get around the fact that where guns are more killings occur. When a pissed off psychopath has access to an armory, he or she is more likely to do serious damage, right? The Aurora, Colorado incident saw a man coolly acquiring all the tools necessary, legally, to open fire in a theater. In countries where one can’t do this, the percentages of such things happening go down astronomically.
I feel like these distractions—the films and games and leather-clad singers—are political tactics, finger-snapping to make us look away from the obvious. I’m not saying to put your children in a room with 24-hours of violent footage playing silently as Ice-T’s “Cop Killa” thunders on the sound system, but let’s not be naïve enough to think that a video game—no matter how violent it is—is more likely to kill a person than a gun is. We are constantly being fed more fodder for debate because the answers to why all these murders occur are inconvenient for those who want to own guns, especially of the hand-, concealed, and automatic variety.
One of the largest crutches those who wish to own weapons use is the “Right to Bear Arms”, the second amendment to a Constitution written over 225 years ago. What gets omitted from the right is the intention: For the USA to be protected by its citizenry rather than risking an oppressive military like the one the British had used. It was to protect ourselves from warmonger nations. We now have the largest military in the world, more or less nullifying our need to bear arms. Some would say citizen’s owning guns provides the opportunity to resist our own government should it get out of hand, and for me, those same gun-wielders seem too out of touch to be allowed to stockpile guns. How is a hodgepodge militia going to do anything to dissuade the US military, which annually saws through the trained regiments of entire countries?
Regardless of where one stands on the amendment, the fact that guns threaten the people of the United States is irrefutable. We have the statistics to show it. If we were given the right to drink and drive (I guess it would have been wagons back then) in the Constitution, would we be arguing that the last two centuries of change have warranted some reconsideration? Guns, like cars, have become faster, fancier, and much more efficient, and as a result, the Right to Bear Arms should be adjusted accordingly, shouldn’t it? It’s not as if the Constitution is infallible and has never been changed. While there is concern over the domino effect of changing the amendment—what’s next? Free speech. What are the other eight Bills of Right?—in the end, we’ve survived book bans, witch hunts, and sodomy (still illegal in some states) and come out okay.
Shouldn’t we give up some rights for the greater good? When parents have children, they lose certain freedoms, legally and just by being decent, so that they are responsible for the child who can’t very well fend for itself. When we buy and build houses, there are modern building codes to ensure safety (and aesthetics in some cases). When we drive, there are speed limits and laws to prevent as many dangerous situations as possible. We can’t just dump garbage anywhere we please or allow our sewage to seep into the ground. These things are for the good of everyone. So, why do we knowingly endanger our population by maintaining something that is obviously in need of serious revision?
In the two elementary school incidents on December 14, the man in the US had a gun and killed 20 children, while the man in China had a knife and didn’t manage to kill any of the twenty-two children he stabbed. Both men had the same intent, but the results are quite different simply by weapon used. What’s there to argue to refute that? Video games and amendments?
Ultimately, the laws as they stand are in favor of gun owners but with that comes the onus to justify the danger. If it is within our rights to have 200 firearms in the basement, does it mean it’s wise, no matter how responsible of a gun owner you are? If it is a proven liability within our country, if all the statistics point to significantly more deaths by gun being present in those cultures that legally have them, it seems the need for me to explain that guns are a problem is superfluous. Moreover, my experience with this argument is much like I’ve had with other political debates: Those in favor of having guns are unwavering regardless of any evidence presented. There terms of what’s right has long fallen to the wayside of what’s already decided.
After all the smoke has cleared, I’ve heard lots of justifications for shooting: Hunting, collecting, protecting, monitoring the government, and simply enjoying one’s rights. Some of these are legitimate reasons. A hunter is greatly helped by having a rifle or shotgun. However, ultimately there is a large loophole in the need for guns: There is no call for certain guns being in the hands of everyday people. The multitude of automatics and pistols aren’t necessary for hunting, collecting, protecting, or enjoying one’s right, and as for monitoring the government, 1000 machine guns in someone’s house is scarcely going to stop anything from happening. Still, there seems to be a tooth-and-nail battle to be fought over having guns that are obviously beyond the requirements and pose much more serious threats.
Perhaps there are better choices for gun enthusiasts. Why not collect antique guns? Aren’t they more interesting, models of finer craftsmanship, and less deadly? Why not keep a twelve gauge in the closet if you believe it’s safer? Isn’t a big gun, like those we hunt with, more intimidating than a .22 caliber handgun? Why not just use hunting rifles to hunt with? Doesn’t an assault rifle take a little of the sport out of it? Why not shoot targets with a pellet or bow and arrow? Why not monitor the government via activism, protest, boycott, voting, and peaceful objection? Would this be any less effective than one family and an arsenal? If guns are must, why not find ways to make mass murdering more difficult? Is it possible these options could fulfill the gun lover’s jollies or is the argument about something else?
I’ve never been under any illusion about abolishing guns in the US; however, I have hope that, at some point, people with the inclination to have guns will step up and at least acknowledge that bad things happen because guns are around, and it doesn’t matter how responsible any one possessor is. Undoubtedly, most gun owners aren’t criminals, aren’t malicious with their weapons, and are as appalled by the recent rise in mass murders as I am. Unfortunately, my general impression is that many believe the solution to gun violence is to have more guns around to act as a deterrent. To me, this seems contrary and only moves me further from sympathizing with the movement. It seems a very important fact is too often neglected: The effect of having guns is bigger than one person’s home, hobby, interest, or right. Less guns won’t prevent all tragedies that may occur, but more will and has certainly increased them.
This blog occurs once a week, the entries being thematically mixed between expat life in Guatemala and life as an NGO groupie. The photos for this blog, website, and my life are all provided by my beautiful wife Emma.