As I mentioned earlier, we visited my family in Arizona for Christmas. My parents had tried to lay in enough supplies for us, but my kids have prodigious powers of milk consumption- we ran out on Christmas morning. Therefore, we stopped to buy more milk at a convenience store on our way home from our big family Christmas celebration. I pulled into the parking lot, and my husband got out to go into the store, leaving me and the kids in the car listening to the Yo Gabba Gabba CD Santa had brought us.
Not long after my husband walked into the store, another man walked in as well. He was wearing a handgun, holstered above his left hip. This is perfectly legal in Arizona and the man was not acting in a threatening manner, but I still had a strong instinctive reaction. My heart rate went up, my hand went to the key in the ignition, and then to my phone in the console next to me. My mind raced through scenarios and what the best reaction to them would be.
And then my husband bought the milk, and came back and got in our car, and we drove away. Nothing happened, but it left me sad and a little shaken.
No doubt that man felt safer with his gun strapped to his side. But he made me feel less safe, and statistically, he made my husband less safe.
That man may well have been a reasonable, careful person, with an even temper and good judgment. But I had no way of knowing that. Arizona law allows anyone who can legally own a gun to openly carry it in public places. In fact, Arizona law allows anyone who owns a gun to carry it concealed, too, without a permit. There is no requirement for licensing. There is no requirement for training. You can be a terrible shot. You can have a short temper and poor impulse control. As long as you aren't a felon, mentally ill, on parole, or an undocumented immigrant, you can own a gun and carry it openly or concealed. Basically, the rest of us just have to trust the gun owners, because we have no rights to request that they provide us with any proof that they should be trusted to carry a gun in public.
This does not make me feel safer.
So this is the trade that gun advocates demand I make: for their right to feel safe, I trade my right to feel safe. For their right to carry a gun, I trade my right to live in a country that regulates potentially dangerous things based on data about what leads to a safer society.
I know that gun owners have various reasons for wanting to own guns, and I actually agree that most of these are legitimate and should be protected. I want people to be able to own guns so that they can hunt. I recognize the right to own a gun for self-protection, even as I personally look at the data and decide that my family is safer without a gun in our home. I even recognize the right to shoot a gun just for the fun of it- but I think that perhaps that fun can be had at a shooting range rather than in unsecured public places.
You see, I have a reason for wanting to keep guns out of public places, too, and my reason is backed up by multiple studies showing that guns make people less safe, not more safe. I know that guns are powerful and people are unpredictable, and that no one has perfect judgment. In fact, one study found that many of the supposed uses of guns in self-defense would actually be ruled unjustified by a judge.
And so, I prefer California's gun laws. Here, you need a permit to carry a gun. Here, you must pass a test and obtain a safety certificate before you are allowed to own a handgun. There are restrictions on the purchase of semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines. I feel safer here. And again, the statistics are on my side. People still have the right to own a gun. But that right no longer completely trumps my rights.
Perhaps this is an example of our federal system of government working as intended. People like me, who feel safer with more restrictive gun laws, can live in states like California. People who want more permissive laws can move to states like Arizona.
Except it seems that the gun advocates are not willing to let that stand. The NRA pushes for laxer laws everywhere, even in places where the clear majority of the population prefer stricter laws. They fight against limits on magazine size. They push to make it easier for people who have mental illnesses to regain their rights to own a gun. In 2011, they helped defeat a California-style ban on high capacity magazines in Connecticut. They fight regulations that even the majority of their members support, such as requiring a background check before every gun purchase. They claim that they are advocating for the rights of gun owners, but I suspect they are really advocating for the bottom lines of gun manufacturers. They hide behind the second amendment, but read meaning into it beyond the words. (Go read the second amendment if you haven't before. It says we have the right to keep and bear arms, not the right to keep and bear any type of arms we want, without restriction.)
And of course, I think about the children, who are so often the victims of gun violence and accidents, but have no say about where they reside. Surely there should be some national minimum standards, probably looser than California's and tighter than Arizona's.
Whenever I hear a gun advocate expounding about his rights, I wonder what he thinks about my rights, and about the rights of the victims of gun violence. What about the rights of the people who have lost loved ones? How did our inalienable rights to life and the pursuit of happiness get overlooked based on a dubious claim to the liberty to have unrestricted gun ownership?
I have been making an effort to listen to the voices of the gun advocates,
and I am trying to keep an open mind and respect their views. If you
count yourself among the people opposed to stricter gun regulations, I
respectfully ask that you do the same for people like me, and for the
people who have been hurt by gun violence. The Campaign of Mayors Against Illegal Guns has posted a moving series of stories from people touched by gun violence on their Demand a Plan website, and Slate has posted an interactive page showing gun deaths since the Newtown massacre, using the @GunDeaths twitter feed. Go and read the stories. Keep an open mind about the studies showing the risks of guns, and join in a civil debate to help find a set of laws that protect everyone's rights. Do not let an advocacy group funded largely by gun manufacturers speak for you.
We should remember that the founding fathers were great men, but they were just men. The Bill of Rights is not the infallible word of God, it is the product of the debate and compromise the occurred in this country at the time in which the Constitution was written. It arose from the specific concerns of a specific time. The founding fathers themselves recognized their fallibility, and the fact that the challenges faced by the nation they were birthing would change. They explicitly granted us the right to amend the Constitution, and if We the People find that the second amendment no longer meets our needs, we could decide to attempt to form a more perfect union and write a new amendment that better fits the challenges we face.
Americans are rightfully respectful of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and we are loathe to make changes. But we could change it, and we could do it without resorting to the sort of violent fight against tyranny that some gun advocates argue requires they maintain their military-style weaponry- because the founding fathers provided peaceful means for us to protect our liberties.
Personally, I would hate to see it come to that. But I hate our gun violence death toll more, and I am a data driven person, so I accept that our gun death toll is higher than the toll in other similar nations because we have more guns. I find the example set by other nations' response to mass shootings instructive. The only tyrannical threat I see is the one from a vocal and well-armed minority that refuses to even discuss this issue with the rest of us. Like them, I honor our founding fathers, but my reading of that time in our history highlights compromise, not dogmatism.
I have only just started the research and soul-searching I feel this issue deserves, but my basic opinion has not changed. I have yet to find another credible solution to the problem. I find the NRA's school security proposal laughable. At a time when we're cutting and cutting education budgets, we're going to come up with the money to guard our schools in a way that would be meaningful? No, even before people started pointing out that there was an armed police officer stationed at Columbine High School on the day of the mass shooting there, it was obvious to me that this proposal was theater, meant to distract us from the debate and not to advance the discussion.
I still tear up every time I think about the children in Newtown, and their parents. The obituaries of those children are indeed beautiful and inspiring, but no parent should have to write such a thing for such a reason. I still think that we owe it to those children to figure out how to stop this madness, and then we should turn to the victims of earlier shootings and apologize for not figuring it out earlier.
And yet, there are signs that we are already returning to our complacency. Many people- probably even some of you- just want to drop this discussion and move on. It hurts to think about it, so I don't blame people for wanting to think about other things instead. I do not want to forget about this issue, but I also do not think I should continue to discuss it here. The little group of readers I have here are interested in other issues that also mean a lot to me. I want to keep this site about parenting, working, and life in general. Therefore, I've decided to move my further thoughts on guns elsewhere. If you're interested in following me there, send me an email. I've removed the direct link I had here when I first posted this, but will still provide the info on the new site if asked via email.
I hope some of you will follow me over to my new site and/or Twitter feed. Regardless, I appreciate you reading this post, and as always, am open to comments and discussion here.