Saturday, March 15, 2014

Understanding where we came from is key to how we feel about guns

English: First page of Constitution of the Uni...
Constitution of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've been doing plenty of thinking lately about guns: I was profoundly affected by the slaughter of 26 people including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary by a mentally unstable kid who had access to his mother's weapons. He used them to kill her too. Murder is unthinkable, but to me, this incident was among the ultimate horrors.

Since that occurred on Dec. 14, 2012, I have watched the various gun debates take place.

One of the most troubling aspects to me, is the cavalier attitude some folks have about what amounts to these tools of murder. I urge all who think about this issue to examine all of the angles, all of the possibilities, and just what could happen to them or their loved ones if guns, even their own guns, get into the wrong hands.

I live in the south, where guns are seemingly a necessary part of life.

Here, there is a long tradition of hunting, often times to fill the freezer with venison or other game. It is also not uncommon for the Springtime to bring hungry bear cubs looking for food after their mother sent them out on their own to forage. A careful shot in close proximity generally is enough to scare him right out of next week's trash. Forests are plentiful here, and are filled with animals unafraid of humans. Scaring them away is easy with one pop of a rifle. There are poisonous snakes around that are not afraid to strike when startled.

Guns, especially long guns have a tradition in the south.

They are like trophies befitting a young man's coming of age; some guns have been passed down with pride for generations. Others enjoy collecting them. I am the first to admit there is some beautiful workmanship that has gone into making guns. And, the south is just a little romantic when it comes to the old west, where shootouts in the streets were a way to settle a score, or the Civil War, which still harbors some bitterness.

Where I live, there is a real effort afoot to push carrying guns openly and in all venues. Just today there was a march by 70 people intent on showing their support for the Second Amendment. They were allowed to march through the streets of our town. Thankfully, there were no incidents.

I wasn't born in the south. I'm a little sad not to have roots here, a place that remains unencumbered by too much population and thoughtless economic growth. Instead, I was born on the south side of Chicago, in a neighborhood I'd be a little afraid of going back to. When I lived there, our little ethnic neighborhood, consisted largely of Polish/Bohemian descendents of immigrants. In those days, the neighborhoods were each like small towns of their own, sustainable by its own markets and dime stores, doctor and dentists, parks and playgrounds. 

I didn't grow up with guns. My father, who was raised an outdoorsman in rural Michigan, was an avid hunter and fisherman. I remember the last time he went hunting though. It wasn't a big hit in our family. He brought home rabbits which he cleaned and cooked for dinner. I was pretty young at the time, but I remember not wanting to eat what was on my plate. Neither did my brother or my mother. My father tried to convince us, but we didn't much like the idea of eating bunnies.

It wasn't long before he too lost his appetite for killing little animals. I have memories of his doing some target shooting at his father's place farm. But those were my only memories of guns as a child. I wasn't afraid of them, but as I got older, I admit, I never liked them. When I had a son of my own, I wouldn't allow anyone to buy him a gun. I just didn't like what they stood for. In my mind, the only thing guns were used for was hurting and killing. I didn't like either.

When my father changed jobs, we moved to the Chicago suburbs. Guns were not in my consciousness, unless something horrible happened that I'd seen on the news, like President Kennedy being assassinated. I was still pretty young when that happened. But the killing didn't stop. Bobby Kennedy was killed; Martin Luther King was assassinated. There was the Viet Nam war, where guns killed so many. The world seemed poised to change. More guns; more killing. I've been personally touched by suicide by a gun, twice. One victim was a relative; the other a friend.

I remember lying in bed at night troubled whenever I heard the news about someone randomly shooting from a clock tower, at a McDonald's restaurant, at a K-Mart, the day Laurie Dann broke into an elementary school in a posh Chicago suburb killing one student and wounding two others. The list goes on and on. The senseless violence that has taken place at the end of the barrel of a gun is hideous. There have been so many needless deaths and tragic events that survivors had to try to cope with. When a murder rate become a statistic on the evening news, there is definitely a problem.

I was so taken aback one of the pastors in town came to a family garage sale several years ago. One of the first questions he asked, was if we had guns for sale.

I understand that the gun debate is as varied as the north and the south, city and country, often times encouraging opinions depending on where you grew up and what your priorities are. But the results of so many guns on the street are the same--people die. Life is too precious for that.

But it isn't just crime in the city. It happens everywhere. Who can forget the tragic school shootings that took place in Jonesboro, AR on March 24, 1998. The news video from that day is really hard to watch. Since then there have been countless more shootings of young children. No child should ever have to face the kind of lifelong trauma or worse, that those kids experienced.

The supporters of guns, those who want them openly carried into public buildings, and into private businesses are becoming more brazen, as they claim they are supporting their Second Amendment rights. The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was written with ambiguity, yet many a scholar would argue against everyone having the right to do whatever they choose with a gun on their hip.

While it is clear that a division in the interpretation of the Second Amendment is as vigorous as the debate about gun ownership, gun control, and gun protections, those of us who have not studied the law will gain nothing by attempting to debate the complex legal arguments that have spanned the ages.

In my view, there is simply no way authors of the amendment could have foreseen the kind of technology that modern firearms have undergone, so their intent is moot. Guns are simply not the same as they were then. Because I can't go back through history and know definitively what the founding fathers were thinking, nor can I argue case law, I can only speak on behalf of what I've seen, what I've felt, and what I know to be true.

The idea that someone could bring a semi-automatic weapon into a school or church or shopping mall or restaurant is insanity. The notion that anyone can wield a weapon of mass destruction for no apparent reason is craziness. I watched with horror when former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in 2011 at a campaign rally in a grocer store parking lot forever changing her life. But at least she has her life. People were killed that day by a lunatic wielding a weapon. It was preventable. It shouldn't have happened.Yet it did happen. And it continues to happen. The insanity must end. Humanity is so fragile. A sensible, non-partisan, logical debate needs to be held, but not for debate's sake. Solutions must come about. Loopholes need to be closed. Laws must be written, sooner rather than later.