The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933 Inaugural Address
Note: this post started as a response to this gracious and thoughtful blog post by Kim Tackett.
Our flags are at half-staff again. Our national heart is broken again, and people are angry, scared, and frustrated. Again.
The gun issue in America is (yet another thing) polarizing our country. It has become a fundamentalist issue on both sides: it seems one can’t be pro-gun enough, and for that matter, one can’t be anti-gun enough these days. It’s nearly impossible to find anyone with moderate views on this issue.
For me, a weird gun centrist (they do exist), it’s something I hear about almost daily: my boyfriend writes about 2nd amendment issues and guns for a living. As you might imagine, he is seeped in all aspects of this issue, better informed than most, and he is pro-gun. On the other hand, many of my close friends are decidedly anti-gun, and also well-informed, thoughtful, intelligent people.
Both sides make good points.
Both sides don’t communicate with the other enough. (That means having real conversations, not just waiting for their turn to talk.)
What we need now in this country is not the fevered doubling-down of our respective opinions on this issue. What we need is education, empathy, and effective enforcement of our current laws.
On the pro side, many people believe the 2nd amendment gives law-abiding Americans the right to keep and bear arms for personal protection and protection from tyranny. There are nearly as many lawfully registered guns in this country as there are people. Statistically, one’s chances of being killed by one of them in a given year is somewhere around 0.006%. Responsible gun owners I know are deeply concerned with things like education on proper gun use, personal safety, and leveling the field and empowering those who would otherwise be helpless against violent criminals and terrorists who intend them harm. (There is a big market for gun accessories like holsters and stocks built for the disabled and for women.)
A lot of gun advocates believe an armed citizenry can help deter violent crimes and acts of terror, as well as offer people a precious few seconds with which to attempt an escape in the event they find themselves in the clutches of a shooter intent on inflicting mass mayhem. They point out that no one, including the police who first responded, during the recent terrorist attack in Paris was armed. No one there could try to stop the terrorists with anything but their physical presence, and the result was heart-breaking.
They also know that choosing to be a lawfully-armed citizen means that as a hidden first responder, they will likely be risking their own life if they ever have to draw their weapon to try to stop a criminal intent on murder in a violent situation. (Most first responders to situations like San Bernadino are given shoot-to-kill orders to anyone who is armed.) Knowing this, reasonable and thoughtful gun-owners (they do exist) are not looking for any excuse to go all Doc Holliday. They are looking to protect themselves and their loved ones, as well as their unarmed neighbors, from the evil that seems to be coming from every direction at once these days, and it is a sober and weighty decision they make.
I am a single mom. I own a gun for personal protection. To legally purchase it, I went through a federal and state background check and was fingerprinted. To be lawfully allowed to carry it if I so choose, I took a course that I had to pay for, which required me to both prove I was proficient at safely using my gun and that I understand the laws of my state. (I spent time at gun ranges to learn to handle my gun, just like I spent time learning to drive a car before I applied for a license.) I then had to pay to apply for a concealed carry permit in my state, be fingerprinted again, and wait 6-8 weeks for the license.
There is no way to legally buy and carry a gun in this country without waiting and spending a lot of money. In fact, there are few ways to actually try the exact gun one is thinking of buying before you buy it, which is actually very important: this is a tool with which one must be comfortable and proficient because if it is ever used (except in the case of hunting), it will be used under extreme stress. Buyers need to know the gun they choose is suited to their body and their mind. In our fear-based legislation of gun purchases, we have created an ignorance: it’s very difficult to “test-drive” the gun you want to purchase. Can you imagine if one couldn’t test drive a car before they bought it? It is reasonable to assume accidents could increase. Many gun deaths in this country are the result of accidental shootings by people who do not know how to handle a gun.
I share the opinions of many of my anti-gun friends: the level of gun violence in America is reason for deep concern. Mass shootings, be they acts of domestic or foreign terror, are far becoming rampant and horrifying. However, I think the real problem is the heart, not the amount of laws we have. Comparing our nation to others on this issue is apples to oranges though: other nations are sovereign; they are not bound by our Constitution.
We are a nation of laws, and we write and pass them in bulk, but our enforcement of them is woefully poor. Why should we need more laws if our laws against murder, assault, and rape were being effectively enforced as they should? Ladling impotent legislation upon impotent bureaucracy upon impotent local, state, and federal law is what we have been doing for years, and repeating this pattern will only continue us on our road to national insanity. The maniacs who commit the atrocities that have us shaking with rage and blurry-eyed with tears can and will find loopholes in and ways around any law we pass. These people are often under the influence of radical ideologies, mental illness, and forced or chosen ignorance.
As I see it, education, empathy, and enforcement of current law is the key. If you choose to exercise your 2nd amendment rights, approach it like you would approach learning to drive a car: learn the law, learn your chosen vehicle, and be patient with yourself and the process.
We know we live in a world of many religions, many world views, and many terrible burdens, and people following many ideologies walk around together in this wonderful melting pot we call home. Everyone you see, be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, or Agnostic, is carrying something heavy. One of the most powerful ways to fight the hate that fuels these attacks is with simple kindness and genuine empathy.
As for the state of our government and our laws, we have the government we choose. Take elections seriously. We must stop fear-based legislation and fear-based action. If we as a nation demand better enforcement of current law, that would help. Seek leaders who are committed to enforcing good laws and repealing bad ones. Seek leaders who are motivated by the desire to make our nation a force for good in this world instead of those who are motivated by fear. In a free land, when we pay lip-service to the law we render good laws useless, and that has proven to be deadly. Nothing we do will be fool-proof, but we are not powerless unless we choose to be.
The best way to eliminate fear is through education. Be brave enough to talk to your friends who have an opposite viewpoint than your own on this issue, and more importantly, be brave enough to listen, to question your own viewpoint, and to learn. Learn about and teach your children about worldviews that are different from your own, about gun safety, and about what to do in a gun emergency.
We live in a free country, and that freedom we value so highly invites danger because our collective safety is largely dependent on our individual responsibility, education, and temperament.
Fear is the enemy of freedom and fear is born of ignorance and hatred. This is the home of the brave. We need to start acting like it.