I have never purposed to use this site as a vessel for my political commentary—because I am not the type to brandish my views without provocation, and because the two or three people who visit the site (thanks guys) probably know well my political leanings, or lack thereof. But intentions often change. The entirety of our existence in this world, and, indeed, of the world itself, is temporal, fluid, in a continual state of flux. If we are to call ourselves human—if we are to trudge successfully through our lives together on an ever-shrinking planet—we need to, if not embrace its ambulation, at least confront it with a degree of mutability.
During the last 365 days in America, 209 have been marred by what the law categorizes as mass shootings—acts wherein four or more people are injured or killed by firearms in one instance and by the same individual or group of people. This is clearly a problem. No matter where your politics carry you, they cannot hold you so firmly as to keep you from acknowledging that something is wrong in our country right now.
I have three guns. Not one of them is registered, and I have not attended even an hour of instruction on their usage. I have bought ammunition for each of those guns with the same impediments that might prevent me from buying a loaf of bread. My mother has two handguns, she is not sure why. She has also the licensure to conceal them on her person in several states. The training that was required to obtain her permit was but an hour or two, and, still, she has no confidence in her ability to use them.
I am responsible with my firearms, as, I am sure, many of you are who might be reading this. It is clear, however, that many are not. Aside from the methodical killings that have plagued the news in the latest years, there are a tragic number of deaths and injuries caused by those who are simply irresponsible. I am not pointing merely to accidental shootings, which occur far too frequently, but also to deliberate events brought about by domestic disputes, gang violence, drunken arguments, and on and on and on, ad nauseam. When a person’s temper gets the better part of their sense—when the value of life, and the power of a gun to end it, is only second, at best, to the value of bravado—then, too, and perhaps to a more disgusting degree, is the imprudence of a person evinced.
We have placed more legislation in the path to a driver’s license then to gun ownership. There are states in our nation that erect more daunting obstacles before voter registration. I fail to see how anyone can argue logically for this circumstance. When I was fifteen, I acquired a learner’s permit, which I had to maintain for a year before getting an official license. Moreover, anyone wishing to drive legally in America must take a fairly rigorous exam, and periodically renew their license. An eighteen year old with a clean criminal record can purchase a gun from an array of purveyors, with little more than a few dollars and a few days’ time. There are gaping holes in this loosely knit protection that allow small, private sellers and individuals to trade, buy, and sell guns without any criminal inquiry or waiting period whatsoever. Who thinks this makes sense? Why is there no process to educate and license gun owners, and in the process determine their mental and emotional acumen?
I like guns as much as the next guy. They are fun to shoot. I think that, perhaps, I feel a bit safer with one in my home; although, experience tells me that this in unfounded. I see no issue with gun ownership, so long as its owner is learned and stable. But we do not currently have a system to ensure either of these two things. Of the last fourteen shootings that have garnered large-scale news coverage, all fourteen were carried out with legally purchased weapons. With the exception of one, all had submitted to criminal background checks, and passed them. (The one had purchased his gun from a dealer; but because his background check did not produce a result within three days, it was waived. He then killed thirteen people in Binghamton, N.Y., taking advantage of a huge gap in federal firearms law). Those that passed the background checks were later found to have a trove of offenses and qualities that send up every red flag of our common sense. Some had restraining orders, others had documented histories of domestic violence, the majority had deep-seeded, and largely untreated, emotional problems. The young man who murdered nine people in Roseburg, OR., in October of this year, suffered from acute anxiety, learning disorders, and had been enrolled in a learning center in California for teens with mental disabilities. Another, who killed six people in Tuscan, AZ., was expelled from a community college there because officials on campus found that he presented a serious risk to students and staff. They bought their weapons problem free.
The background checks that these individuals submitted to were either flawed, or wholly uncomprehensive. Some failed to find court documents; others overlooked things like domestic disputes or court orders for psychiatric treatment because those are not criminally chargeable offenses.
The most recent shooting, in San Bernardino, CA., uncovered such a copious amount of ammunition that I wonder how it was possible for the shooters to obtain their arsenal without bringing the attentions of some authority. But we monitor even less the purchase of bullets. They were able to stockpile thousands upon thousands of rounds, from major store and the internet, that they could have sustained a firefight for days before running low. It concerns me greatly, and it should everyone, that we can go into a Bi-Mart and buy up their entire stock of 9mm rounds without anyone so much as batting an eye. I am hard-pressed to believe that the person looking at my license, to confirm my age, has even the concern to do that.
Still more troubling is the ire-laden backlash that these events seem to inspire in their wake from opponents to stricter gun control. As the victims of the Paris shootings were being mourned, Black Friday gun sales set a new record, leading to nearly 200,000 criminal background checks in a one day period. Now, how can it be expected that a thorough investigation of so many individuals can possibly take place in such a cramped window of time? The reality is that many of those sales went through with waived checks, because of the loopholes in the law forcing the FBI to complete its inquiry in three days, or else heedlessly approve it. This topped the previous record sales, and subsequent background checks, set on Black Friday, the year after 26 were killed, mostly children, in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.
I am not suggesting that we ban guns. I don’t know that I agree with outlawing assault weapons, even (by that logic, we should not be allowed to buy sports cars, or Rolex watches). I think that, anytime we place wholesale restrictions on anything, not only do we provoke contestation of those laws we place, but we cause many to pay for the crimes of few. Our country was not founded on those principles. Our country was founded, though, on a sense of enlightenment, a pride in the human ability to grow and adapt.
For a long time, it has been argued that stricter gun control infringes on our constitutional rights. But there are rights that extend far past the constitution. There are human rights, and one of those rights is that we should all be free to live without everyday fearing that someone might come walking into our workplace, our school, or our movie theater and start viciously spraying bullets. We have the right to feel safe. Our current gun laws are effectually stomping this right into the dirt. The right to security is vastly more important than any right to purchase firearms without federal interrogation.
We have to remember also that the U.S. Bill of Rights was written and ratified in a context nearly 225 years apart from our own. It was a provision, in large part, to imbue citizens with the duty to protect the country in the face of foreign invasion or domestic uprising. The country had an armed force of 6,000 soldiers, at the time, meant to protect a vastly expanding population and geographic sprawl. The Second Amendment was a fiat that citizens were to form the major defensive force of the nation, not that citizens had the right to enjoy the possession of arms.
It is a different time. We have one of the largest armies in the world, and a population of over 320 million, from varying backgrounds, with vastly disparate beliefs and abilities. I’m not arguing that qualified persons should be barred from owning guns; but, I do advocate making a lot more hoops for us to jump through. If that means that some might have to give up their guns, so be it. If they want to get them back, then it will be worth the time and effort that we should require of them to do so.
It is simply too easy for anyone to be armed in our country. We have the highest gun related crime rate of any developed country, and the loosest gun laws. There is more regulation in earning the ability to cut someone’s hair professionally, then there is in buying a twelve-gauge shotgun, and all the rounds for it that one can carry, and more. We can’t buy Sudafed, in some states, without putting our names on a list, and presenting identification. I’ve never heard of any flu-ridden person complaining that their liberties are being trounced by the state when they go to the Walgreens pharmacy.
We need to see this for what it really is. It is not a matter of either banning all guns, or letting them circulate freely (as they seem to do now). It need not be so polarized, so black and white. It need not be a fight between two completely contrasting ideologies. It need not be a political battle. It is a mandate for the safety of a people. It is a matter of tightening the belt on an extraordinarily dangerous tool. Take a look at your driver’s license; remember the process of earning and maintaining that. Were your rights impinged upon?
A lot of people will say that guns don’t kill people, people do. But that only brings up one half of the equation: people with guns kill people—with guns. It is true that the problem is not the gun itself. It is but a tool; by itself, it is harmless. It is the hand that the gun gets into that presents the danger. We need to require gun owners to be thoroughly educated and licensed. It is wholly sensible. Furthermore, we need to submit to holistic, rigorous inquiry into every sphere of ourselves. We cannot have such unstable people with such fast and deadly methods to betray their conditions.
We have to realize that compromise is not an expletive. We have to come to terms with the fact that our rights, as detailed in the Constitution, are interpreted and reinterpreted over the years to fit the time. I value my right to safety and security before my right to purchase a firearm without interference. I have never been given, in any palpable strength, that safety or security from the guns I do possess, but knowing that those around me who have them have gone through an exacting and onerous process to own and operate their guns would. We can’t expect a cure-all, but we can certainly try harder than we do to keep weapons away from those who obviously should not have them. We have highway laws, environmental and economic laws; we submit ourselves to federal investigations virtually every day; we enjoy a great many things, in safety, at the helm of our government, without regard at all, other than the advantage we glean from them. It is time to catch up to the context that we now live in.Nothing can stop, altogether, these awful things from happening in our country—in our world—but our right to safety gives us the duty to make it much harder for people to carry out such horrible violence. Our right to safety and security ought to take precedence over our right to arms, because how much security can a gun give you when so many people, who wish to rid you of all your rights, are brandishing weapons too. If the answer to being safe from gun violence is simply to own guns ourselves, then we have truly regressed. For, in a world governed by that logic, bullets will be piercing the air like so many particles of dust. When you fight fire with fire, everyone gets burned; and if the winner is made to suffer injury, while the loser lies dead, is there a winner at all?