My right to not own a gun
I am not a gun owner, but I’ve long accepted that people have the right to own guns.
And I do have friends who own guns.
They own them for hunting, or protection or simply because they like guns.
My friend Keith, who grew up in northern New Hampshire, was given his first gun at the age of 7. He learned to hunt, and by the time he was 18 owned about a half dozen guns. But since moving to Key West, those guns have been in storage.
“I can’t seem to find myself able to get rid of these objects,” Keith wrote, in an essay about his relationship with guns. “At some point I guess I will have them shipped down to Key West. I will lock them in cases and hide them away. Maybe go to the range once or twice with the rifles. Maybe teach my daughter to shoot. Or I could sell them, buy diving equipment and a spear gun and teach her to fish. Either way, it is my choice.”
Just as it’s my choice not to own a gun.
The Second Amendment is not a mandate. People might have the right to bear arms, but they also have the right not to bear arms. I exercise my right not to bear arms every day, and unless America descends into the sort of post-apocalyptic barbarism depicted in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” I plan to exercise it for the rest of my life. And I think I should be able to walk into a mall or a school or a movie theater without taking my life into my hands.
I’ll admit that I don’t know very much about guns. I’ve never even held one. But I do know what it feels like to be mugged at gunpoint. What it’s like to be told to lie down in the grass and have a gun placed against my temple. And there was absolutely nothing about that experience that made me think guns were something I wanted in my life. In fact, I’m genuinely curious as to what percentage of gun violence victims decide to arm themselves after being assaulted or threatened by a gun. I’m sure some of them do.
Because there are a lot of guns in America.
And these guns kill people every day.
Each year, about 30,000 people are killed by guns; more than half of these deaths are suicides. Earlier this week, Bloomberg News reported that firearm-related deaths will exceed auto fatalities for the first time by 2015. Fifteen of the 25 worst mass shootings in the past 50 years took place in the United States.
And yet for all the sadness and soul-searching that always occurs in the aftermath of a mass shooting, there’s been little interest in trying to address the roots of the problem. Instead, we’ve sat on our hands, as if nothing can be done. “You can’t stop a crazy,” someone once told me, in response to a question about gun control. Frankly, I don’t understand this attitude. It’s not like we responded to 9/11 by lamenting the fact that some people are evil, and throwing up our collective hands. When we want to deal with something, we deal with it. When we don’t, we don’t.
But the senseless killing of 20 first-graders and six adults, all women, in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., seems to represent something of a turning point. People are outraged about this shooting. They want something to be done. But what?
Unsurprisingly, President Barack Obama’s call to address gun violence has caused two competing visions of America to emerge.
In one vision, America is a place where school teachers and principals should be armed, responsible adults should get a concealed carry permit, and high rates of gun ownership will reduce crime. In the other vision, America is a place where the number of guns should be reduced, the more dangerous guns should be banned altogether and gun ownership should be rewarded to people who have undergone rigorous background checks and mental health screenings.
Now, I’m obviously more of a vision-two person.
I’m all for, say, closing the “gun show loophole.” I mean, it’s not like there’s a driver’s license loophole, where instead of going to the DMV you can go to some sort of alternative venue, such as a car show, and get a driver’s license without passing a road test. So I don’t see why purchasing a gun from an private, unlicensed seller should make one exempt from a background check.
But I also believe gun violence is a complex problem, and that we want to avoid knee-jerk solutions.
We demonstrated after 9/11 that we can act quickly and decisively, but some of our actions were rash and ill-advised. (Was spending over a decade in Afghanistan really such a great idea?)
I’m not interested in passing gun control measures that will eventually prove ineffective. I want to see research and some new ideas. I support improving our mental health system, but I want to know exactly what this would entail. Most of all, I want to see a discussion of what it would mean to approach gun violence as a public health problem.
One writer, Gawker’s Drew Magary, has suggested adopting some of the tactics of the anti-smoking movement, which smartly turned the focus from smokers and cigarettes to the tobacco companies themselves. Instead of screaming at the NRA, Magary proposes that we start asking gun manufacturers whether they’re doing anything to ensure that their products aren’t being used to kill schoolchildren.
After I was mugged at gunpoint, I renewed my personal commitment to living nonviolently. I did this again after Newtown. And I’ll keep doing it. We might live in a violent country, but we don’t have to accept it.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.