Well, another another. And by the time you read this… well, I should probably provide perspective so you’ll know which tragic gun death spurred this conversation.
A young man became entangled in his father’s bad night. He apparently used an assault rifle to fatally shoot two Alaska State Troopers, allegedly from behind. He faces two counts of first degree murder charges and if convicted of those charges, because they were uniformed officers, will be given a mandatory 99 year sentence. Unless he plea bargains (likely) or his defense team successfully uses existing castle laws to justify the shooting, there is little doubt this 20-year-old will be going away for a long time. And two men who committed their lives and their livelihood to their badge are banished from this earth forever. Tragedy in abundance.
It’s very difficult to diffuse the anger the public feels over this loss of life. Calls for his blood scream across media comment sections. In the white knuckle grip of tragedy, so many beg vengeance.
Let’s loosen that fist for a moment. Cradled in that very same hand is the reason we shouldn’t be surprised and have little room to be vengeful. We built this.
One voice in the comment thread of a KTUU Facebook post said “Gun violence isn’t the issue. Raising people who think its (sic) ok to kill another human is the issue!”
I posit, the gun culture of modern America is raising many people capable of killing another human. Eager, even. It’s not the video games, violent movies, or the pot. It is the gun and the romanticized fascination of the weapon as inalienable right and perfect protector. No, a gun does not shoot anyone of its own accord, a person must make that choice and commit the act. But the very nature of a gun begs to be shot and that voice is very loud right now. Deafening.
How do you raise a person in the way of the gun — with guns fabricated expressly to kill people — and also teach them that another human’s life is as valuable as their own? The very nature of the self-protection gun culture is diametrically opposed to seeing others as anything but potential enemies or invaders.
There was a time I was pretty neutral on guns. They existed. Homes I lived in as a child had them. They were just part of society. Growing up, it seemed like every other household had at least one. So they weren’t much a big deal. Turns out that is a pretty accurate statistic. Back in the 1980s, about half the homes in America did have guns.
That statistic is down to about a third now — you wouldn’t know by how loud the NRA and gun owners holler. By the way, those who do own guns… have a lot of guns. Upward of 20 percent of the gun owners own 65 percent of the guns. Wow. There is a wide variance of this estimation. Depending on your source, numbers can vary. We know the United States of America has 89 guns per 100 people — we’re the most armed civilian populace in the world. Sans a national registry or official tracking, only polling data and few feeble ATF lists exist to provide rough statistics of where those weapons are or aren’t. No one really knows the exact breakdown of where the roughly 300 million guns in America live. Although, data indicates they are mostly kept by older, white, and conservative men.
Since the decline of American’s need to hunt, we need to do something with all these guns, ammunition and paraphernalia the sporting goods stores keep wanting to sell us. I guess it’s people huntin’ time. Wayne LaPierre, President of the NRA, says you should look at your neighbors and decide which you will murder first if shit goes down. Okay, I was paraphrasing… here is what he actually said to make people terrified of their fellow countrymen:
We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and carjackers and knockout gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping-mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all. I ask you. Do you trust this government to protect you?
Fear sells guns.
In a world where we’ve mastered everything else and men are the most fearsome of game, even a child knows the purpose and point of a weapon: to take life. How can we teach them otherwise when we keep and covet machines of death?
We have been wielding a terrible, swift sword for nearly 240 years. We are weighed down by this endless, and increasingly disparate argument over weapons, violence, and blame. No one wants to yield on either “side.” But dammit, there aren’t two sides. This is one big gray area where no one and everyone is right.
I am fully cognizant that I am now much closer to a side than I was growing up. I have forsaken my neutrality. I am a parent now. The reality of gun violence rips my psyche every time I hear the words Aurora or Sandy Hook. Just this past week, my heart dropped to the floorboard when I went to pick up my Kindergartener and arrived to a school flanked by police cruisers and uniformed officers. The front doors were locked and guarded. The elementary school had been placed in stay-put mode while police searched the immediate (my) neighborhood for a potentially armed suspect. It was the lack of heavy arms or paramedics in the parking lot let me know it wasn’t likely a dire situation in our school. However, I was put on high alert.
I’m demolished when I hear stories about our youth dying violently, especially so close to home. Like the recent shooting of 15-year-old Precious Alex, long-time friend to my niece. One of the shooters was the son of another old family friend. So many families shredded by one act of gun violence. In this big-ole small town these tragedies remind us of how much we are tied together just as much as they rip us apart.
Nor can I look at these orange jumpsuited young people in the news and not feel some sort of pity for the awful decision they made. I can’t imagine the tumult of emotions their parents, family, and friends experience.
I have lost my neutrality — and I must hate the weapon. Because I do believe, in the moment, and with the ingrained response of gun-trained culture — the gun holds sway over the shooter. We are taught: “Don’t point that gun if you don’t intend to use it.”
Who can back down from that command? The gun begs to perform its duty, to fulfill its mission. It doesn’t need to be self aware; it won’t spend time drudging through moral debate. That is the shooter’s burden to bear, and we’ve armed them with a gun culture that instructs people to shoot.
People — children, adults and peace officers — are dying because no one wants to have a real discussion about where the problem comes from, how we are all complicit in these tragedies, and how we can find a way to progress past this acceptance of violence. The solution will not come at the end of an iron, but the tip of a pen writing sensible legislation for the good of the people. Probably at the behest of fractured families who don’t simply want justice, but desperately recognize the need for change.
Too many “Don’t Tread on Me” types are being sold the idea of doomsday or a coming revolution. Too many hoard guns because they believe the revolt happens only with violence, and are fully loaded to realize this fantasy. The rest of us know that when shit goes down… it will more likely be an earthquake, flood, or pandemic and it will make more sense to band together as neighbors and help each other than go to arms and kill or be killed.
We must find a way be able to have a meaningful discussion about the next steps we want our society to take. A discussion where we put down the sword; let the stored wrath grapes wither into wine. Where we trample forward into an age where revolution comes with the birth of ideas, invention, and inspiration. We have keener tools now; ones that can solve real problems without bloodshed. That is what the founding fathers dreamed for us: A new world where the freely expressed intelligence of modern man can overcome obstacles they couldn’t foresee.