Like many my age, guns were an ordinary part of my youth and young adulthood. Many had them, many didn’t. They were used for hunting or target shooting. A few enthusiasts coveted the right gun for the right purpose, but most gave them little thought. Even fewer had concealed weapon permits due to their work. I carried one for a few years because of my work. Never used it. There was no such thing as open carry. Except for boys playing cops and robbers, no one thought they were needed for personal protection. The NRA represented users not sellers, and was interested mostly in teaching gun safety.
For many reasons long in building, a dramatic sea change occurred when the tea party movement sprang to life in 2007-08 with the election of a black president. It’s not to imply that all of its adherents were overt racists. They weren’t, but embedded in the movement’s many racially motivated fears was a strong libertarian theme of fearful opposition to the federal government combined with a threat that “they” were coming to take away your guns. It was nourished by the claims that the only defense against a bad guy with a gun was a good guy with a gun, that if guns were banned only criminals would have them, and that the Second Amendment was a solid rock guaranteeing one’s right to own any type of gun for any reason without limit. Liberals, it was said, were intent on abolishing that constitutional right. Of course it was nonsense, but nevertheless widely believed. The years passed, and “they” did not come to take away all the guns. No one proposed abolishing the Second Amendment. The ballooning gun culture, with its love for assault style weapons, coincided with the advent of sequential mass shootings on a scale unknown to previous American generations. The weapons industry, underwriting the NRA, leaped at every killing as a marketing opportunity to sell more guns to people who were led to believe they could be used to protect themselves. Curiously, they were often sold to those who already owned guns as the industry preyed on their fears and illusions that a well armed public would be a safer public. It was not to be. Nor can it ever be. And the killings went on.
It’s tempting to think the election of a president who takes pride in pandering to tea party inspired beliefs would have relaxed fears of gun regulation, but it hasn’t. When the recent school shooting in Florida hit the news, I posted a simple message on FB wondering when we would recognize that it’s about guns, and not anything else. At once came responses from friends, real friends, who cannot separate themselves from the toxic fears of a decade ago. It’s not about guns, they said, it’s about, and then followed the usual litany: mental health, disrespect for authority, inadequate school safety measures, lack of enough armed protection, personal safety, etc. They were followed by statistics showing guns are not the only cause of death and injury, so why pick on them? That we alone among all OECD nations suffer an ongoing plague of mass shootings, murders, suicides, and accidents all anchored in guns, is something they easily brush aside as a fiction hypocritical liberals use to advocate gun control, while they are more committed to improving mental health care and public safety.
They do not see the fiction in their argument is precisely about libertarian and presidential contempt for committing the federal government to do anything to improve the nation’s mental health care services, or its public safety, except for building a wall no expert wants and militarizing police no expert believes would be helpful. They are unwilling to consider the obvious, simple option of regulating guns without confiscating all their beloved weapons. That we regulate every other deadly implement without jeopardizing constitutional freedoms, is something they are also unwilling to consider. What deadly implements? Medicines, cars, trucks, industrial and agricultural equipment, ships, airplanes, trains, workplace conditions, dangerous chemicals, you name it. We license and certify people to engage in a wide variety of dangerous pursuits: practicing medicine, driving, operating heavy equipment, etc.
Common sense laws regulating human behavior make a difference. Food and drug laws don’t guarantee safety, but they make food and drugs much safer. Traffic laws don’t keep drunks from driving or speeders from speeding, but they make driving much safer and save many lives. Common sense regulation of guns and gun ownership will not guarantee the end of gun caused death, but it will make everyone safer. It just makes sense. Just the same, my gun loving friends become extremely defensive every time the subject comes up. Accusing gun regulation advocates of being hysterical, they display emotionally charged, often angry outrage at any mention of it. How do we get out of this mess? It’s going to take a critical mass of hunters and other gun owners to do two things: stand up against the NRA, and become the articulate voice of gun owners with enough authority to lead others to follow them. Is that likely? Maybe after a few hundred more children are killed? Who knows?