Bare feet, not arms. It was a bumper sticker that occupied prime real estate on the rear window of my little orange van for many years. In light of today’s events, I felt the need to write about another profound 180 degree journey I have been on recently, one that has, until now, been largely a private one. Today, after San Bernardino. After Roseburg. All the others…you know what I’m talking about. Shootings. Mass killings. Those scary guns.
I think I first need to give some back story to my journey. I grew up in rural Oregon, where it seems that pretty much everyone has guns. It is a place far, far away from inner cities, and gun violence for the most part. I remember guns in racks in the back windows of pick-up trucks. My father’s rifles were often in a coat closet, unloaded but in reach. I never learned to shoot, I never even held a gun, they held no interest for me. I really didn’t think twice about them. But, they weren’t scary back then.
Then, Columbine happened. And closer to home, Thurston. School shootings, drive by shootings, work place shootings, became common on the nightly news. Not because they were dramatically increasing, but because the reporting of them was increasing. And increasingly alarmist in style. Guns became scary. I began to believe that no one except law enforcement and the military should be allowed to own handguns and assault rifles. It made sense to me then, make those illegal, and the problem will go away.
Never mind that I have always supported the right to hunt for food, and have always thought that people should be allowed hunting rifles, which could also suffice for home protection. Those were just the sort of gun everyone used to have in their coat closet, or their rear windows. Not the scary sort.
I held onto this belief for many years. Bare feet, not arms. I thought that people who wanted an armory were paranoid and crazy. And this allowed guns to remain a scary bogeyman that I didn’t understand.
The argument that it is necessary to be armed to protect oneself from the government when they decide to round us all up some day seemed absurd to me. And, it really still doesn’t work for me today. If the government decides to round us all up, well, I’ll just say that I accept the fact that the government is much better armed than I could ever be. Or want to be. Guns aren’t the solution to our power-hungry, corrupt government. But does that mean that it is worth giving the government the power to take them away?
My 180 degree journey on guns, I think, really began with Sandyhook. My oldest child was in Kindergarten at the time, and I spent the day trying not to bawl as I waited for the school bus to bring him home safe. I don’t care about all the conspiracies around Sandyhook. I believe that babies died, and it was horrible. At first, it reinforced the thoughts of gun control for me. But, it also started conversations that led me to challenge my own beliefs.
Around the same time, I was deep in research for the novel I’ve been working on for years. Research that has made me aware of how serious our situation is, we the people of this nation. Research that has made me aware of just how corrupt our government really is. I began to understand some of the pro-gun arguments.
So, I decided that I needed to do some ‘experiential’ research. I decided that, as part of that research, I needed to learn how to shoot a rifle, to learn how they work. So, I did. Then, I decided that I needed to experience the full process of legally obtaining a gun of my own. So, I did. As I turned to walk out of the gun store with my new purchase in hand, a friendly policeman applauded my choice and an elderly couple cheered me on. It was bizarre, awkward, and kind of fun all at the same time. Since then, I have discovered that target shooting is really fun. And those guns that terrified me? I know a lot more about them now. I can pick them up, take them apart, clean them, put them back together, just like I can my bicycles. They don’t scare me anymore.
As I said, I am still not sure where I am on this journey. But, I have come to understand what I believe to be the true meaning of a ‘well-regulated militia.’ Yeah, the so-often forgotten part of that amendment everyone loves to argue about, especially after a mass shooting. I don’t believe it really has so much to do with protecting our right to own weapons as it does with addressing the need for citizens who can defend this nation from attack. Because, the original intent, I believe, was for our country not to maintain a standing army, but to be able to call up the citizenry in the event of an attack. To defend our borders, to defend our homes, to defend our families.
Now, I find myself a long ways down the road of this 180 degree journey, once again questioning my direction. The guns don’t scare me anymore. What does, what truly terrifies me, is this culture of violence we seem to be wrapping ourselves in. This culture that lacks empathy for one another. We raise our kids on violent entertainment, we allow them to avoid humanizing face-to-face interaction with their peers by giving them cell phones, tablets, computers, talking robots. When they act like kids, we freak out and drug them. We don’t even seem to mind that when a commercial during our nightly news isn’t about pharmaceuticals, it is about the violent program that will come on after the news. We just sit blankly, letting our kids watch and absorb it. We normalize violence, we make it acceptable, and then, we scream and yell about the weapons when somebody unleashes.
But, in all of the yelling, no one will tell me exactly how they see increased gun control successfully putting a stop to mass killings. How will increased gun control keep illegal guns out of criminal hands? How will increased gun control keep the next Dylann Roof from simply building a bomb to detonate inside the church of those he hates? It is the anger, the hatred, the violence, the lack of compassion. It is not the method used to unleash those.
I am still open on this debate. I want to put a stop to babies dying in their schools. I would love to hear some legitimate ideas. Sure, I’m enjoying shooting red cups, paper targets, and rotten produce, but if somebody can present me with a true argument in support of disarming the citizens who are supposed to be our national defense, I might be willing to consider giving up my gun.
But you had better be ready to explain to me how you are going to address the root causes of these violent killings because I hate band aids. And, you had also better be ready to explain to me why you aren’t ‘up in arms’ over all the people, all the babies, dying around the world as a result of the bombs, and moderate rebels, our own government is unleashing on them. You better be ready to tell me why you are silent about their deaths.