No matter what your opinion about gun control or gun rights or guns now, I’ll ask you to take a deep breath, and simply listen. I promise the same in return.
It’s disappeared from the headlines, so everything must be fine now, right? Nope.
I grew up in Alaska, in a family where guns were a part of our lives. My father hunted for moose and caribou, and it helped our family get by on a meager Southern Baptist minister’s salary.
For Christmas when I was twelve, I received my own rifle. A .22 rifle, bolt action. I wasn’t terribly excited about this gift (I think I was still in toy-centric thinking, and maybe some Star Wars or other item was at the top of my wish list), but it was a clear right-of-passage moment on the journey to manhood (along with gutting a halibut, eliminating the natural fear of fire, etc).
Guns were a serious, serious business in my family. My father made it very clear the consequences of ever treating a gun without respect: How you hold it, how you carry it, never point it at anyone, treat it like it’s loaded, but never have it loaded unless you’re ready to shoot. There was no other time when I was more cautious, more nervous, more mindful than when I was holding a rifle.
My father made his own ammunition to save money. Every gun we had in the house served a purpose. Our rifles were locked in a gun cabinet right next to my parent’s bed. There was one pistol in my dad’s closet, up high, that I believe was loaded. If I was ever found around my father’s closet would be the biggest punishment imaginable.
Guns were never ‘fun’ in my family. We didn’t go shooting for entertainment. It was a skill that a father wanted to pass to his son. My father had grown up poaching deer high in the Sierra mountains in order to keep his family fed in the post-depression California, after the loss of his father. A rifle was a means for providing for your family.
We weren’t gun nuts, but we were a pro-gun family, and against gun control. And everything I saw growing up supported those beliefs: The NRA was looking out for hunters. People with gun problems were just doing it wrong. Gun violence was a result of crime and people with bad upbringing.
Asserting my beliefs
1994. Stanford University. I can vividly picture an argument, when I was a resident assistant in an undergrad dorm. I was in one of the freshman quads, and in the room was beer, Sega hockey on the TV, some big comfy chairs, and about eight of us. As always, we exercised our mental muscle and loved a heated debate. Somehow guns came up, and the subject of gun control. One freshman, Joey, ridiculed the need for guns. Two of us leaned in, and the argument began. I found all the ‘education’ of my youth rushing forward. The logic I had been taught. The same lines used for the decades before, and the decades after.
- It’s irresponsible people that are the problem
- We need guns to make sure citizens have power and it’s not all centralized in the government (the militia argument).
- Big government is bad so gun laws are bad.
I have always prided myself on thoughtful, strongly held beliefs, but with a heavy openness to data and different opinions. But here I was, the same opinions surfaced, not questioning my thoughts, and regurgitating the same things I’d heard for 20 years. I walked away, without yielding ground, but inside, asking myself why I believed what I believed.
My childhood made me believe that ‘guns are safe.’ As I became an adult, I realized my childhood taught me ‘guns are the most dangerous thing my family owned.’ I am really lucky that my father is an incredibly responsible (and yes incredibly strict) dad.
The first question: Am I going to own guns?
Most of my family owned guns. I even had a great uncle who was a gun collector, and even had stories about ‘importing’ some guns that sounded a bit sketchy.
Though college and my first job, I lived in apartments, and didn’t own a home, and so my rifle stayed in the possession of my parents. Even when I bought my first house, I had no practical use for a rifle. I wasn’t going to hunt the deer in my back yard. When Dad passed away, he passed on one of his rifles to me. So this meant I owned two rifles. One was a special family heirloom. But I didn’t want guns in my life. There was no reason, no need, and the effort required to keep them safely was more hassle without any value. I passed them on to a family member gladly, who already owned guns and had the proper storage.
Personally, I didn’t want or need guns to be a part of my life. I didn’t see gun control as a necessary thing — in my life I had made ‘the right decisions’.
What’s in the trunk?
A couple of years before I left Austin, I think 2008, I had lunch with a friend, who was from out of town. At the end of lunch, he took me over to his car, and opened the trunk, and there was an assault rifle. And not a small one either. “They are going to be a lot more valuable because Obama is President and people are afraid they won’t be able to buy these.” I was stunned. Being a libertarian, I was torn apart. I believed in individual freedoms, but this gave me a glimpse of the reality of the world out there. It was easy to own a weapon whose primary purpose is to kill a lot of people. I promised myself I would learn more.
Three years later, in 2011, I moved to Australia. Part of your immigrations and customs work is very specific about what is not allowed to be imported in the country. And of course guns are part of that.
Side Note: I love that “Novelty erasers (Erasers resembling food in scent or appearance)” are still prohibited for import into Australia.
I learned more about the gun laws in Australia. I learned more about how after a massacre in Tasmania, the conservative prime minister quickly moved parliament to change Australian gun laws, provide a trade in program, and more. Australia has not had a mass shooting since. Yet I have Aussie mates who love to shoot sporting clays, and they take friends out on a regular basis. You can own a gun. You can own ammo. You can shoot your gun. I’ve met blokes from the Northern Territory who hunt camels (there are over a million in the Australian desert). People have the ability to own guns here, and use them.
Lock down drills
My last visit to my family, my niece casually mentioned over dinner that they had a lockdown drill at school today and it was a mess. My family launched into a debate about the proper approach to a lock down drill. I sat, confused about what this was, and then realized that students across my former country now periodically practice and rehearse what to do in the case a gunman is going through the school.
Is having every child in the US learn that they can be shot at any moment worth this? Is this what we think is the society we want? We can do something about this.
A few simple things I believe, from my reading and research (and yeah, life experience)
- The US can have a rational gun policy that allows gun ownership for hunting and even recreational use.
- Better gun policy can and does make a difference.
- It will be harder in the US than in other countries because we have let this go on for so long.
- The NRA actively supports efforts that go against the majority of opinions of the American people.
- The NRA actively blocks research around gun violence, because they know the truth it would tell. We don’t trust cigarette companies because we know they would peddle cancer in full knowledge of it’s impact. Yet millions think the NRA is protecting them, when it is actually putting them at risk.
- We can prevent suicides by simply making it hard to get quick access to a gun.
- We can greatly reduce the number of children who die in gun accidents.
- We can do all of this while still allowing gun ownership.
The goal is not to ban guns. The goal is to reduce shootings.
While I think the NY Times brings a lot of bias to some of it’s coverage, I did some digging of my own and this one holds up incredibly well. We need to change the discussion to be about reducing shootings:
We pay for our refusal to change _in blood_, every day
We can keep the right to own a rifle and reduce the worst of gun violence.
In the US:
- Teens/Children: 46 shot, 7 die every day (over 2,500 a year)
- Suicides: 58 die every day (over 21,000 a year)
- Mass shootings: the US now averages one per day.
- Shootings: 114,994 people are shot every year.
- Gun deaths: 33,880 every year.
The US is a laughing stock (pun intended) of the rest of the world in this matter. This problem has been solved, and without banning all guns. A rational approach to drastically reduce mass shootings, suicides, and gun accidents. That’s it.
If you continue to support the complete lack of responsibility around guns in the US, the blood is on your hands. Every child who dies, every student who is shot, every victim. We have to take responsibility for our political support and our voice.
I do. Until my mid-thirties, I voted for candidates supported by the NRA — not because they supported the NRA, but it didn’t repulse me then. I still pushed back against gun control and didn’t take the issue seriously. The thousands of people who died in the years I was a voter and did nothing — I take responsibility for them, and I am devastated on how much I did not understand, and how little I did. I apologize for my apathy and lack of action.
Now, I live in a country where we have a rational approach, and I am proud of my country (Australia) and the example they set. I am still a US citizen. I still care about the future of the US. And will use my right to vote accordingly.
The US can have the right to own, without the insanity of today
- There is middle ground between “no laws” and “no guns.”
- There is no part of my childhood picture that could not be a part of my life in Australia today, aside from my dad’s loaded and unlocked pistol on the closet shelf, which I honestly think was a bad idea. The limits on weapons, the limits on ammo, the approach to transporting, and gun safety all match with the way I was raised.
Stop the sale of assault rifles. Make gun ownership the equivalent of car ownership (registration, licensing, safety). It’s not difficult. And it would radically change the situation in the US. But politicians are preventing things from improving.
I will no longer vote for any candidate who accepts funds from the NRA
The NRA is not helping our country. They are not about rights, or freedom, or protecting any of us. They are an economic machine that buys candidates to subvert the will of the people. Surveys show the majority of Americans actually believe in more restrictive gun laws.
I made this decision two years ago, far too late. While the NRA’s power isn’t fully controlling, they exert enough influence to make non-compliance with NRA policy a risk many politicians will not take, and bend their voting record to the will of the NRA, not the will of the people.
You can look up candidates from: https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/recips.php?id=d000000082
Now, don’t get me started on campaign finance reform, which would actually eliminate even the need for me to worry about who they endorse…
Stop repeating what you hear and what you have said, read the research, and think about it. Challenge yourself to think for yourself. I promise I’ll listen to any argument about anything where you think I’m stuck in archaic thinking.