I don’t know how to respond to the, frankly speaking, insane and absolutely deplorable up gun culture that’s developed in out country. At 24 years of age at the time of writing, I probably don’t have the long-term historical vision to adequately asses its rise, but it feels like it’s happened within my lifetime.
I am from Texas, that stereotypically gun-crazed culture. I own two guns, a rifle and a shotgun. I learned to shoot when I was young and was out hunting before my teenage years.
And I find the attitudes of most modern gun rights enthusiasts abhorrent.
You know what you learn before you ever have a gun placed in your hands? Gun safety. Before I ever learned to shoot, I was taught how to handle a weapon using an old broom handle as a stand-in. I learned how to treat every gun like it was loaded, to always point the gun in a safe position. Then I was given a BB gun and learned how use sights and how to set up targets with a safe backdrop. And then I was handed a bolt action .22 rifle, and taught how the first thing you do with every gun you pick up is make sure it’s not loaded, and how to leave the bolt open and not trust the safety. And I practiced shooting until I was comfortable with the gun. A couple years later, I was allowed to shoot a .222, which is a significantly larger cartridge than a .22, really the smallest gun you can go deer hunting with. As I got older and bigger, I graduated to shooting larger caliber rifles.
Guns can be fun. Target shooting, shooting skeet, all that is fun. And, at least for me, hunting is incredibly communal with nature. There’s a story early in Robert Ruark’s The Old Man and the Boy where the characters are going quail hunting, and they talk about how many they shoot each season so they’re sure to manage the wildlife population and not decimate it. When you go hunting, you learn about the world around you. You respect animals, and you have a much better understanding of where food comes from. And, again at least for me, you damn well eat what you shoot.
So why am I writing about this now?
It’s in no small part to the news that broke earlier this week that a 9-year-old accidentally shot her instructor at a shooting range. With an uzi. But I’ll get back to that.
Let me first take a moment to talk to about the 2nd Amendment.
The 2nd Amendment reads as follows:
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.
Keeping in mind that I am not a legal scholar nor well-versed in the history of court decisions related to this, let’s unpack that a little. We begin with the proposition, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.” Obviously this could mean an army, but given the historical context, let’s consider a couple things. 1) In the time period the Bill of Rights was written, it would have been common for for civilians to supplement the army, especially in a frontier America that was still worried about its existence as a state and the threat of incursion from native Americans. Collective defense was pretty freakin’ important.
So what was the solution? Make sure people’s guns – which then would have consisted of muzzle loading rifles, muskets, and pistols – wouldn’t be taken away. That sounds pretty reasonable.
And it has almost nothing to do with life as we live it today.
Before you lose it to the far right or the far left, let me clarify: I believe the average American citizen should have a right to gun ownership, and I believe there are occasions where being armed with a legal firearm can be protective. But let’s not pretend this is the late 1700s we’re living in, or even the wild west. There is a meaningful difference between walking through town down the dirt road to the woods with your muzzleloader in a town of 100 people who know you and walking into a Target store with a semiautomatic weapon.
Which brings me back to the title of this post. To quote the massively naive and reductionist slogan that is nonetheless pretty accurate, Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People.
People who walk down the streets wearing weapons look threatening. They look as though they are ready to respond to a serious threat, but to the passerby if there is no other threat perceived, the only logical response is that these people are themselves the threat.
(For some reason the video I wanted to show won’t embed, so go watch it here: http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/mplvs5/keep-gun-and-carry-on)
DON’T PLAY CHICKEN WITH GUNS.
You know, when I was listing the gun safety lessons I learned when I was young, there’s an important one I forgot to mention: Don’t put your finger inside the trigger guard until you’re ready to fire.
For those that don’t know, the trigger guard is the piece of metal on the gun frame that makes a sort of window around the trigger itself. It’s there so the trigger doesn’t accidentally get pulled. If you’re out hunting, even when you’re sighting in on prey, you keep your finger alongside the trigger guard, parallel to the barrel of the gun, until you’re actually ready to shoot.
None of which has to do with a 9-year-old girl at a shooting range, but it goes back to the idea that guns are powerful. Have we really not learned this idea yet?
As eloquently put in this TIME article there’s no reason a 9-year-old should ever be touching a gun like an uzi. 9-year-olds are not capable of physically managing the power in the output from a gun like that. That was a failure of responsibility on the part of her parents, on the part of her instructor, and on the part of the shooting range. I do not mean to demean the tragedy, or suggest that any part of what happened was not an accident. But accidents happen more often where people make poor decisions.
I know we have the power as individuals to make better decisions regarding our gun ownership and usage. It’s possible we have a similar capacity as a society, by removing guns which are ineffective at productive, useful tasks from our society. You’re never going to go hunting with an uzi. I challenge the notion that you’d want one for self-defense, either. I know that I don’t want a would-be good samaritan trying to stop a robbery with an uzi – the potential for collateral damage is way too high to be acceptable.
For our own sakes, and for the sake of one another, please, let’s eliminate the wonton idiocy of ignoring the consequences of our actions from gun culture. Guns always have consequences, and it’s up to us to make sure they’re positive ones.