Seven years ago I was working my after-school gig at a convenience store in Tuscaloosa, Ala. A man rushed through the door and pointed a small silver pistol at me.
“Open the register!”
I did what he asked and then hid behind the counter.
I’ve thought back on that event more than once since the school shooting tragedy in Connecticut last month. Carrying a gun wouldn’t have prevented the robbery (it probably would’ve placed me in greater danger), but taking guns away from law-abiding citizens wouldn’t have prevented it either.
As our elected leaders discuss measures to curb gun violence, it’s worth remembering that many of us hold a nuanced view of the subject. Guns are a part of life growing up in the South.
My father owned a gun, but we never hunted. Other friends and family members own guns. I’ve been shooting once. A friend of mine took me to a range and let me use his revolver.
I’m comfortable around guns, or as comfortable as you can reasonably be when in the presence of something that can kill you. Where I differ with my gun-owning friends is their belief that Second Amendment rights trump my rights to personal safety.
A right to a life without feeling the need to arm myself everywhere I go deserves equal consideration.
Guns are America’s drinking problem and I believe we are being enabled by people who equate gun ownership with personal freedom. Guns are a right but they’re also a responsibility. They are not panaceas for crime or fun little toys.
Even the people who sell guns are sensible enough to set some ground rules. As I interviewed people at a local gun range for their reactions to the school shootings, I took note of a sign on the door that told customers not to walk in with a loaded weapon.
Do guns sometimes deter crime? Yes. Is it fun to shoot? Yes. But these things are only small pixels of the whole picture. Guns also kill people accidentally, whether it’s a child finding one in a home or an innocent bystander getting caught in the crossfire.
Sometimes, rarely, a maniac goes on a rampage and commits an atrocity so horrific that even the stone faced, hardened journalists are moved to tears.
Another pixel of the picture involves mental health. There are too many people who are uninsured who are herded in and out of crisis centers because there is no support for more routine care. Other people are under treatment for mental illness, but have too easy access to guns. We have to ensure people who may have a mental illness that includes violent tendencies, or are on medication that can cause violent behavior as a side effect, have restricted or no access to weapons. The shooter in Connecticut was under treatment for mental illness as was the shooter in Aurora, Colo.
Pundits and other paid windbags present the debate as a simple ‘yes or no’ question: you either want everyone to have guns or no one to have them. Any suggestion of compromise automatically gets tossed into the vast wasteland between the two polar extremes.
Perhaps if we could look around that terrain a bit we might find solutions that make sense for both sides. We’ve never looked, or at least haven’t looked too hard.
Guns do not solve problems. I tried to explain this to my brother the other day.
While he was visiting my mom on Christmas, someone broke into his apartment and stole his electronics. He told me he wanted to buy a gun.
“What if I’d have been home when the burglar broke in,” he asked.
Playwright Anton Chekhov cautioned that introducing a gun in Act I meant at some point during the show it had to be fired. We’ll never know what could’ve or wouldn’t have happened if our personal stories involved a gun. The randomness of chance suggests that sometimes we’ll be armed and ready. Sometimes we’ll be caught off-guard, with our guns hidden in another room. Sometimes someone carrying a gun for self defense accidentally shoots us first because he or she thought we were about to shoot them.
My brother is frustrated. I get that. He wants control over an uncontrollable situation, but guns will only give him an illusion of control. I also can’t control whether he gets a gun or not. We’re all responsible for our own choices.
Guns, unfortunately, sometimes make bad choices harder to undo.
I told him I hope he never has to use that gun. Personally, I hope he never buys one.
I hope I never have to carry one because we’ve decided that every mall, church and school house in America should be the O.K. Corral.
If we don’t begin having a constructive discussion about this, that day may come sooner than any of us would like.