This post originally ran on The Bilerico Project on 12/14/12
I suppose people consider me something of a gun nut, and I’ve written on here before about firearms ownership and the LGBT community, which is why I felt it was important to write this post. You probably won’t hear from most “gun nuts” or 2nd Amendment groups today, and when you do, there’s a decent chance they’ll have something incredibly insensitive an unproductive to say.
This is a problem.
The tragedy today in Connecticut is incomprehensible to me as a human being, as it probably should be to anyone with a soul. What I do know is that it wouldn’t have happened the way it did if guns were harder to acquire in the United States, which likely isn’t what the firearm advocacy groups are going to say today.
I know that many on the right and left might find it hypocritical of me to say that as a law-abiding gun owner, I don’t particularly wish to give up my 2nd Amendment rights, while also saying that we need more regulation of firearms and far greater penalties for violating gun laws. And like it or not, at some point, we as a nation will have to delve into the Pandora’s Box of mental illness and access to deadly weapons.
The reality is that in many but not all countries where guns are far harder to get, these sorts of tragedies just don’t happen with the clockwork-like regularity with which they do in the United States. Although they do happen, as we learned in Norway last year.
At the same time, we also can’t let ourselves get solely bound up in a debate around guns, when we need to be looking at the much larger question of what causes these terrible things to happen. It’s far easier to make this a sterile discussion of policy and law, or to sling mud at our ideological opposites, than it is to try to look for sense in the midst of a senseless nightmare. While there can be no doubt or debate that guns make it easier for madmen to take dozens of lives, focusing solely on the gun part of the equation is a distraction from looking at the bigger issue, that stories like these point to where we’ve failed as a society.
I spoke to my mother today, an educator for nearly four decades. She told me that a common refrain she hears is that we should have police officers in every school in America. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be any will to have a meaningful discussion of how terribly that very idea reflects on who and what we’ve become as a nation. We want easy solutions so we can go back to our ordinary lives in comfort, but both the issue of guns and the far broader issue of why these situations are happening, require more depth than that.
The broader issues of society go far beyond the scope of this post, but I do want to take a moment and talk about guns.
There needs to be an acknowledgment from the pro-gun community that there is something about our firearms laws and practices in this country that simply isn’t working. Moreover, people on the conservative right who argue for greater firearms access, even beyond the point of reason (such as the gun show loophole), while simultaneously favoring severe cuts to the social safety net, including the funding of programs that provide physical and mental health care for disadvantaged Americans, need be be called out for the conflict of their positions. You don’t get to say “it should be easier to get a gun” and “people don’t need mental health care.” Finally, the fact that the pro-gun position and argument in America is deeply rooted in issues of race and class privilege, needs to be talked about and addressed by advocates of responsible firearms ownership, rather than just opponents.
At the same time, those on the Left who see a story like today’s and think that things will be all better if guns are taken away from everyone except the police and military, have to start looking beyond simple solutions to what is clearly a complex social problem. Remaining fixated on gun prohibition as the only acceptable outcome distracts from the possibility of real, constructive change. People opposed to gun ownership also need to understand that there are many good people in America who own guns for recreation, sport, or personal protection. Many, if not most of us, are open to a meaningful dialog around how we can work together through legislation and public education to help make guns safer for everyone. However, the all-too common rhetoric that paints all gun owners with the same brush as mass murders makes cooperation and compromise seem impossible.
I wish I had a good conclusion to this post, but I don’t. My abilities as a writer are not up to the task of talking about the shooting today in language that truly does justice to the scope of what has happened, and after many abortive attempts, I’ve decided not to try.
All I can do is ask that we all acknowledge that there are complex issues involved here, and little to be gained by looking for one-size-fits-all solutions. Whether we are advocates for or against gun ownership, we owe it to the victims not only of this tragedy and ones past, but also to potential victims of the future, to have a meaningful dialog and work together for real and lasting change.