Are gun ownership, open carry, and concealed carry, rights under the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution? Both sides of that issue have passionate supporters, and they often view each other as adversaries, even enemies. But there are some issues that both sides have to agree on:
- Firearms are essentially machines that require skill, experience, and mental stability, to use properly.
A firearm in the hands of someone without skill, experience, or mental stability, is dangerous.
Guns have to be licensed, for the same reason cars are licensed: each is a complex machine that requires training and skill to use safely. And there is a larger issue: some try to strap their courage around their waists, or intimidate others with a big barrel. Guns become a projection of character and personality, and often it is the gun that projects the weakness or flaw. People who have a diminished sense of self-worth see guns as a source of strength, chronically angry people see guns as as a way to inflict their anger on others, and adult children see guns as a way to look grown-up.
It would be absurd to give a 9 year old child permission to drive an automobile without training, and yet every day, guns are sold to people who may be less stable and trustworthy than a healthy 9 year old. The result: thousands of murders and violent gun-related crimes, and dozens of mass-murder tragedies, each year.
Gun-related violence is complicated, and there is no single solution, It may take decades of public education and legislation to see a significant drop in gun-related crimes. But the starting point is clear: create a licensing program that would screen out those who present a high risk of violence, and mandate reasonable levels of skill and training. That might mean a background check, for mental and criminal red flags, plus written or oral testing at the sales counter to confirm the buyer knows safety features and how to operate the gun.
Today, the National Rifle Association can bully and intimidate politicians and the general public feels threatened by “gun control.” It’s hard to find a politician willing to support gun licensing or background check, but these do exist in other European countries.
Licensing is one step on a long road to greater public safety. But within America, there is a culture of gun violence in which physical violence and the use of guns is normalized. In this culture gun violence is bonded to manliness, power, and even patriotism through fantasy-heroes like John Wayne and Zero Dark Thirty , and solving problems by killing is not just reasonable, it’s exciting. When gun violence is glorified and violence is considered the first solution in conflict, other ways of problem solving are ignored or discredited.
CAN THE GUN CULTURE GROW UP?
It would be difficult for anyone in this country to get through a single day without encountering at least one reference to firearms. Gun stores, media coverage of the latest shooting, TV shows about gun-toting heroes and gun battles–guns are so deeply woven into the fabric of American society that you can’t get away from them. Sometimes this is not a bad thing. Hunters and collectors of guns pose little risk to public safety. Homeowners (like me) who keep a firearm for self-defense, and know how to use it, are exercising their 2nd Amendment right in a reasonable way.
But there are problems. One is that gun violence is glamorized and sanitized, so that shooting somebody conveys an illusion of excitement and a sense of power, but none of the pain or suffering. Partly this comes from a lack of first-hand experience (few have ever shot someone else, or witnessed a shooting), and partly from the way gun violence is always portrayed in the media. A TV handgun doesn’t kick, will not destroy your hearing when fired indoors, kills villains but only wounds heroes, and will magically put a pullet in a running bad guy 50 yards. Scripts determine what the experience of being shot by a gun looks like. The victim can fall dead instantaneously without a sound, or writhe on the floor in agony, but the script victims of gunshot wounds are always two dimensional and can be made to disappear by turning off the TV or walking out of the theater. The viewer experiences none of the real panic or suffering that comes from a gun assault and a bullet wound.
If this changed, would the public still be as supportive of uncontrolled firearms distribution and ownership? What if most people–most voters–had a clearer and more realistic understanding of the consequences of gun violence, and of a bullet wound? Public education, and public school education, can make a difference. Look at smoking. Look at drunk driving.
The solution is not so simple as standing up in front of a high school auditorium and showing slides of gunshot wounds, although visual aids like this would have a part to play. What’s needed is a national effort, working with congress and the public schools. I can imagine gun shot victims presenting their own experiences to a high school audience, or a talk by a policeman who has had to use deadly force. I can imagine a chapter in a public school textbook on sociology titled, “Gun Violence in America–What It Really Means To Shoot Somebody.” And I can imagine a public education campaign designed to make gun violence both real, and wrong. Wrong, as morally unacceptable, devoid of compassion, and the least responsible ways to resolve a conflict.
There are safe gun, and gun control, projects and initiatives out there, the problem is they are fragmented and can’t present a message that is strong and consistent across state and regional boundaries. And, unlike the NRA, they have little political support. The safe gun and gun control organizations, therefore, run about like a room full of unschooled Chihuahuas, while the doors to the Press and the legislature are guarded by the ferocious Pit Bull of the NRA. Gun safety and gun control initiatives need to be organized at the national level, working with congress public education. It’s happening now, with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, but success has to be measured by progress of bills through congress, vocal support from politician, and a significant drop in gun violence.
Public School curricula are seldom open to casual modifications, but If community attitudes become less tolerant of gun violence school superintendents and state boards of education may grow ears. Congress is notoriously slow to pass legislation that addresses public safety issues. But they have, in response to public pressure. In a decade or two, much of the glamor and romance attached to gun violence could get washed out of America’s gun culture.
Somebody’s keeping track…