I grew up at a time when Viet Nam played front and center in the lives of our nation, when the war was being broadcast in unedited detail on our television sets every single night. It was a horrible thing to behold, and was literally tearing the consciousness and the social fabric of this country apart. I was raised by people who believed that our participation in that war was unwarranted and unconscionable. As a kid, I used to have regular nightmares of war. I joined my mom in several protests against the war, a war that we as a nation finally succeeded in ending largely due to the veracity and persistence of protest here and around the world. These experiences, along with the many assassinations and murders that were occurring during the sixties and seventies, firmly cemented my steadfast opposition to the obsessive culture of guns that has infected these United States of America.
Many years ago, when I was still living in Seattle, at one of the parties that I threw throughout the year, I had a friend walk up to me and inform me that one of the guests was—apparently—carrying a concealed loaded handgun. He was a friend-of-a-friend who was also at the party, so he—like my friends—was welcome as well. His gun however was not.
A little dumbfounded, I walked up to the man and welcomed him to my party and then cut to the chase.
I said “I need to ask you a question. A friend of mine informed me that you are carrying a loaded weapon on your person. Is this true?”
He said that yes, in fact it was true. He was polite about it.
I said, “I need to ask that you take your gun out and put in your car.”
A little incredulous he asked, “Are you serious?”
I told him that I was and said that either the gun needed to be removed from the party or he would need to leave himself. I assured him that he was welcome, but that his gun was not. He pondered this for a moment, and then left. He was unwilling to remove the gun from under his jacket. I was more than a little surprised, but accepted that his perceived “right to carry a loaded weapon” was more important to him than an evening engaging with a house full of fantastic and fascinating people. I still reflect on this and am reminded how skewed some people’s ideology is from mine.
I am writing this post in the wake of the recent shootings of nine attendees at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC on June 18, 2015 by one Dylann Roof. I have been thinking a lot about the epidemic of public mass murders in our country and have reached something of an emotional breaking point.
Jon Stewart spoke for so many of us I think in his sad and seemingly desperate response to the incident, a video that took over my Facebook feed as so many of my friends were seemingly feeling just as distraught as I was.
Charleston is just the latest in a seemingly never-ending series of killings. Remember Isla Vista on May 23, 2014? 7 dead, 14 wounded. Remember Fort Hood on April 2, 2014? 4 Dead, 14 wounded. Remember Washington D.C. on September 16, 2013? 13 killed, 3 wounded. Remember Santa Monica June 7, 2013? 5 Killed. Remember Newtown on December 14, 2012 (Sandy Hook Elementary School)? 27 killed, I wounded. Remember Brookfield on October 21. 2012? 3 dead, 4 wounded. Remember Minneapolis on September 27 2012? 7 killed, 2 wounded. Remember Oak Creek on August 5, 2012? 6 killed, 3 wounded. Remember Aurora on July 20, 2012? 12 killed, 70 wounded. I could keep going, because the list seems inexhaustible. The majority of these murder sprees were executed using assault rifles.
I have a number of friends who debate the tired and faulty Second Amendment argument, that we are guaranteed the right to own firearms in America, but this is a red herring. It is also lazy.
Discussions about the Second Amendment is not about the right to own a firearm (presumably for the purpose of hunting, “recreation” or self-defense), it was created at a time before we had an organized military as a part of our country. In this last century, the language has been perverted to extend to the ownership of semi-automatic assault rifles—weapons created purely for killing and for war—as somehow being our god-given right.
I call bullshit.
The simple fact is that we have the single highest per-capita gun ownership of any county in the world. Some claim that we have more guns in America than we have people, but these numbers are debatable. Wikipedia says that the number is approximately 88 guns per 100 residents. In either case, is this something that we should be proud of?
And with more guns, it just so happens that the U.S. has far more gun-related killings than any other developed country: Each year, more than 30,000 people die in the United States in firearm-related incidents (over a third of those are murders and almost two thirds of those are suicides).
In a 2013 article for The Atlantic online that compared gun homicides in US cities to some of the deadliest places in the world, the authors created a map, that shows that a number of U.S. cities have gun homicide rates in line with the most deadly nations in the world: Atlanta has the same gun murder rate as South Africa, Detroit as El Salvador, Phoenix equal to Mexico’s gun homicide rate. The article goes on to point out that if New Orleans were a country, it would rank second in the world for homicide.
So with the single highest per capita rate of ownership and the highest rate of gun-related killings than any other developed country, why is there such a virulent fight for the right to own even more? We seem to hold on for dear life to our right to “bear arms,” and as seems to be the American way, enough is never enough. What is wrong with us? Maybe it’s time to reassess.
Back to the gun fanatics reading this, please take note that NOBODY is looking to strip the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights, so please –leave that argument at the door.
In an OpEd from John Paul Stevens (an associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010), he makes the point that it was generally understood in legal circles that the Second Amendment specifically limited the scope to uses of arms that were related to military activities.
Indeed, the text of the Second Amendment provides that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” That is by the way, the ENTIRE text of the Second Amendment.
For the sake of removing any ambiguity, but also of restoring sanity and a desire to reduce the incidence of gun violence in America, Stevens suggested the addition of five simple words to the language:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”
To me, the intent of this language is/was already clear, but without this additional clarification, the unnerving hubris of the NRA and their incredibly powerful lobby will continue to have free run of our government and its policies regarding gun ownership and gun control.
The simple fact however, is that there is no good reason why anybody needs to own a semi-automatic assault rifle. You like target practice? Good for you. Use a regular rifle. I think it’s time to accept that we need to restrict the scope of gun ownership in this country. Don’t you want to see a decline in the mass-murders that now seem all too commonplace? …and please don’t give me the mental health debate…
The mental health argument is even worse than the Second Amendment argument. Forget about the fact that this argument seems to only be used when the assailant is a white perpetrator (blacks wielding guns are invariably called“thugs“or “terrorists”), because the unassailable fact is that the more guns there are, the more gun deaths there will be as a result. It does not matter whether the murderer has mental health issues or not. A person with mental illness cannot shoot up a theater or a school or a government facility unless he has the weapon with which to murder. It’s a pretty simple formula, one that should not take a mathematician to figure out.
Sadly I agree with the Economist that regardless of this never-ending parade of murder sprees, that we will not likely see any gun control in this country. But can we at least finally fess up that with fewer semi-automatic assault rifles, we will see fewer murders happening in the U.S.?
Seriously America, what has became of our common sense?