Let’s talk about guns!

First, let me do my best to calm your nerves. I am not opposed to private citizens owning guns. You want a gun… or two… or two hundred? Fine. I have no problem with that. This nation was formed in no small part due to the ability of the average citizen to rely on a gun for protection of self, family, and property and to provide food for the table.

In the hands of a responsible, mature, trained individual, a gun can have great value. Guns are a useful device for hunting, sport shooting, and personal defense. But let’s be clear: much like a woodworker’s circular saw or a surgeon’s scalpel, a gun is merely a tool that must be treated properly with respect to its power.

Sadly, the news is constantly flooded with stories of people who misuse guns.

Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania: three people were shot and killed and two others wounded at a local government meeting by a man involved in a property dispute.

Jacksonville, Florida: a 17-year-old young man was shot multiple times and killed by a man who was angry over loud music.

Marysville, Washington: a 15-year-old student, upset that a girl refused to date him, shot her and four other teenagers in their school’s cafeteria. Three 14-year-old girls died, two 15-year-old boys were also shot, and the shooter took his own life. [Update: one of the boys has since died of his wounds.]

These are just three examples of people who decided that the only way they could resolve a problem is with a gun. They didn’t choose to walk away from a confrontation or seek another means of conflict resolution. Instead, they determined that a gun was going to give them satisfaction.

In none of these cases was the shooter’s life in danger; self-defense is not the issue here. Each of the shooters was the instigator; each caused the situation that led to the deaths of innocent victims. In all three instances, the person with the gun was at fault and is worthy of our condemnation. That’s not to say that each is evil… but each committed an evil crime that they themselves could have prevented.

Obviously, not every dispute ends with gunfire. But doesn’t it make sense to prevent even one such incident from occurring?

Naturally, this would be the point in the conversation where some people would call for the removal of guns from society. I am not one of those people. As I pointed out earlier, there are many reasons for gun ownership and possession, so you won’t find me playing the role of a bleeding-heart liberal seeking to remove all guns from society. The concept of taking away the right to own a gun is as foolish as saying that everyone should have access to as many and as wide a variety of weapons as he wishes. As much as I support an individual’s right to own a gun, I also support every effort to keep weapons out of the hands of those who intend to use them unlawfully. I have no problem disarming a violent offender… and I certainly don’t think the average citizen should be able to own fully automatic rifles and other weaponry that are clearly intended for the battlefield. You want to fire such weapons? Join the military.

Don’t worry, I’ve read the Second Amendment. I’ve also read numerous interpretations and arguments about its meaning. We could debate whether the Founding Fathers meant this or that, but this much is clear: the language of the Amendment does not grant anyone the right to use a gun to bully others into submission. Yet that is exactly what happened in the three cases I cited and many more besides.

I’m not a gun control advocate, not in the sense of gun removal. But I do believe in the need to control how we think about the proper use of guns.

For starters, we need our politicians and other prominent personalities to tone down their rhetoric. In her failed campaign for a US Senate seat in Nevada, Sharron Angle said, “…you know if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around?”

In a speech before the NRA, newly-elected US Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa told the crowd: “I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson 9 mm and it goes with me virtually everywhere. But I do believe in the right to carry and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family, whether it’s from an intruder or whether it’s from a government should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

What exactly are Angle and Ernst proposing? That if they don’t get their way politically, they’ll transform in Tony Montana? Is it that much of a stretch to imagine them ending a debate with, “Say hello to my little friend”?

Statements like these are encouraging some people to sling high-powered weapons over their shoulders as they stroll through the grocery store, clearly an act of symbolic aggression designed to intimidate anyone nearby. Open carry laws may make such actions legal, but common sense should reign supreme. Who really needs to tote an AR-15 while making a milk and bread run?
As I said, a gun is merely a tool. It should not be seen as the symbol of our self-esteem or the only thing that gives us confidence and earns the respect of others. Above all, we need to stop thinking of a gun as the key to winning an argument.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald on November 6, 2014.)

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