I work nights at a PR firm in Maryland. When I sleep during the day, I leave my phone on in case of emergency. On the morning of December 14th, I received a slew of texts from my friends all sharing the same sentiment, “Oh my god, someone just killed twenty children. I can’t believe this.” The vibrations from my phone woke me up, but the sick feeling in my gut kept me awake.
I’m not sure if there’s one “correct” answer to how our nation should proceed following the horrendous incident at Newtown. All I know is: “pro-gun” activists have had their way for over two hundred years, and it just got twenty five-year-olds killed. Clearly, something’s gotta give.
That being said, I don’t think taking away all guns is the answer. I have family and friends who are responsible gun owners. They collect guns as hobbies, go to shooting ranges for fun, and care for their weapons like members of their family. They are law abiding, responsible citizens who wouldn’t think twice about using their gun to take another life. I imagine this description embodies most of the gun owning citizens of America. And it doesn’t seem fair to punish these people who simply enjoy guns as a hobby.
But here’s where my sympathy for gun owners swiftly ends.
In America, gay people can’t get married, women shouldn’t be able to have abortions or access to free birth control, and healthcare is a privilege. But you’re telling me it’s your human right to own a semi-automatic rifle?
I also take issue when people argue, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” No kidding. Or, “Gun control laws wouldn’t stop criminals from getting guns.” Well in that case, let’s not have any laws at all, right?
I refer you to this quote from Nicholas Kristof:
“As with guns, some auto deaths are caused by people who break laws or behave irresponsibly. But we don’t shrug and say, “Cars don’t kill people, drunks do.” Instead, we have required seat belts, air bags, child seats and crash safety standards. We have introduced limited licenses for young drivers and tried to curb the use of mobile phones while driving. All this has reduced America’s traffic fatality rate per mile driven by nearly 90 percent since the 1950s. Some of you are alive today because of those auto safety regulations. And if we don’t treat guns in the same serious way, some of you and some of your children will die because of our failure.”
I also don’t think arming more people is the answer, either. I don’t want to carry a gun. I don’t want a gun in my house. I don’t want guns in kindergarten classrooms, or in the pockets of people who’ve had too much to drink after a long night at the bar. It wouldn’t make me feel safer. And you can’t tell me that if that kindergarten teacher in Newton was packing a pistol, she would have been able to stop the gunman. In reality, the pistol would have been in her purse or desk drawer and the gunman still would’ve gotten her. People don’t react that quickly.
Saying that mental illness is the root of all (or most) gun violence is inherently ableist and generally incorrect. Mentally ill people are more likely to have violence committed against them than commit violence. It’s unfortunate that mental healthcare in this country is still in its infancy. Most medicines take 6-8 weeks to work, if they even work at all. We don’t even know why some mental illnesses occur. There’s a strong stigma against the mentally ill in this country; we call them “crazy” and demand they get institutionalized. Maybe we should focus on efforts on treating them like human beings and getting them the help they need (which, by the way, is really hard for most people to do because the healthcare costs in this country are outrageous. America is number one in the world for cost, number 34 in the world for care).
I understand that these last few big tragedies have occurred because of people who were mentally ill. But let’s talk about the 34 other gun deaths that happened on December 14th—or every other day in America (on average… this number is subject to fluctuation). This handy infographic
from Slate.com shows that over 600 people have been murdered by guns since Newtown. Were all those people mentally ill? Statistics tell me no, probably not.
Over 600 sounds like a lot in three weeks, but America has annually over 30,000 gun deaths. That’s over 8 times higher than other industrialized countries in this world. Why is that? These other countries have stricter gun rules. We have a rampant, stubborn gun culture.
What’s gun culture mean? It means that we as a nation glorify the use and purpose of guns. We celebrate guns as champions of peace and necessary to our future. The outspoken, self-proclaimed libertarian radio host Alex Jones recently claimed on the Piers Morgan Show that more guns means less violence and fewer deaths. But if that were really the case, no one would die in war, right?
This sentiment is primarily because of the second amendment. We have organizations like the NRA, who, for some reason, have a really loud voice in politics. Owning a gun is a right, they say, for self-protection.
I didn’t hear the NRA saying that black teenagers should arm themselves for protection after Trayvon Martin was undeservedly gunned down.
The Founding Fathers, if alive now, definitely wouldn’t know what to say about America today. They’d probably be really distracted by cars and airplanes and skyscrapers; they’d poop their pants when you’d tell them about germs. They drafted the Constitution in a very different time period. Their needs for guns, and the guns they used, were much different than the needs we have and the machines we produce today. They would fire one bullet, at a much slower speed, and then chill out for a few minutes while waiting to reload. They had a tyrannical government knocking on their front doors, shooting their kids, invading their homes, and stripping away their basic human rights for no reason at all. None of that is the case today. It’s not fair or realistic to compare then with now.
I know what you’re thinking: this essay took a really anti-gun turn. But honestly, I’ve seen more evidence of guns doing harm than good. But what about all those times when guns saved lives? They fail to mention the fact that someone probably died during the “saving.”
I really struggle with the idea that some people deserve to die. It’s unfortunate that we are so quick to categorize people like Adam Lanza as “bad guys” and say his suicide was warranted or deserved. That line of thinking is troubling to me and leads to shallow justification for murder. I again refer to Trayvon Martin—according to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, Martin was a “bad guy” and deserved to die. Really, evidence shows that he was some 17-year-old black kid who went out for Skittles and got gunned down by some racist white guy because the black kid looked “suspicious.”
We still have a lot of social issues we need to work on in America. Racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia come to mind. I bet if we work on these issues, we’d see a lot fewer senseless murders. I wonder, then, if gun violence would correspondingly decrease?
Contrary to popular belief, though, I’m not gonna come knockin’ on your front door with my BFF Obama and snatch up your firearms. I believe that you are a responsible gun owner. I just wish there was a legitimate way to prove the rest of this nation’s gun owners are.