The Gun Debate

As the nation reels from another mass shooting, renewed calls for gun reform rise. The question is, can we come together for change or is this another doomed dance?

We all know how it goes. The “Breaking News” banner appears. Journalists instantly begin relaying early information about the unfolding scene. Our televisions, computers, tablets, and phones are filled with images of terrified people fleeing a slaughter. Emergency personnel are seen rushing to help. The frightened family members begin to gather. Then, as a nation, we sit horrified and watch as the number of casualties and injuries pour in. Long before law enforcement can even make a statement, stories from inside the attack begin to emerge and a narrative is instantly born.

What happens next is always the same as well. We offer our thoughts, prayers and condolences to all involved. Then we watch as vigils, memorials and funerals take place. Along with all of this comes the debate. The gun debate.

Before the ink is even dry on the certificates of the dead, both sides of the issue are firing away at each other and nothing is ever done. Because both sides plant their feet and refuse to be moved. In the interest of full disclosure, I am no different. Like everyone in this country, I have an opinion and I will not be moved from it. However, this time is different and I want to tell you why. To do that, bear with me as I give a small backstory.

Growing up in a red state.

I was born and raised in the state of Idaho. A place that is easily 60% national park and is almost entirely Republican. The last time Idaho “went blue” was in 1964 and I have little doubt this was primarily due to the death of President Kennedy almost a year before. I’ve been around guns since the cradle. My family had three rules for guns. Guns are not toys, they are tools. If you shoot it, you eat it. If you point a gun at a person you better have a very good reason. I was taught to have a healthy respect for them. I do not have a problem with guns or people who own guns and I certainly don’t want to take away everyone’s guns.

That said, I was also raised in the age of mass shootings. The first one I remember is the Jonesboro shooting in 1998. I was roughly the same age as the perpetrators. Next came the one that changed the lives of every child in America, the Columbine shooting in 1999. Before that shooting, it was not uncommon in my area to see trucks in the parking lot of my school with gun racks filled or students walking around with hunting knives strapped to their belts. Not after that day.

After that day every child understood that in the blink of an eye, a school can become a battleground for survival. In the years since that day, I have adopted a pro-gun reform stance. And I would not be moved.

The body count rises.

It is almost impossible to obtain an accurate count of the number of mass shootings that have occurred in America. The reason is that almost every source has not only a bias but different criteria as an official one does not exist. The basic agreement seems to be that a mass shooting is when four or more people are indiscriminately killed or injured,not including the gunman.  What cannot be denied however is that the United States has more mass shootings than any other country in the world. Another undeniable fact is that a large portion of these shootings are carried out with semi-automatic rifles. A list of the twenty deadliest mass shootings shows that five were carried out exclusively by semi-automatic rifles. Five others included the use of semi-automatic rifles along with other weapons.

Here is where the problems begin though. I, like so many others, have remained ignorant to the valid points of those on the other side of the aisle and in doing so have made myself look a fool. Interestingly enough, this revelation came to me thanks to a video posted on Facebook.

In this video a man holds two guns. One is an “assault” rifle. The other appears to be your “run of the mill” rifle. After some ranting about how assault is a verb not a noun, he removes the ammunition clip from the “assault” rifle and attaches it to the other rifle with ease. He then points out they are the exact same gun. There only real difference is in appearance. Now at first I scoffed and dismissed the man. Then I got angry as the images of the tragedy in Parkland flashed through my mind. Then I got curious and when I get curious, I do research.

A deadly mistake.

My grandfather use to say that you never go into a battle without knowing your opponent better than they know themselves. Well, we didn’t and haven’t and because of that, we have never gotten anywhere. Most pro-reform citizens have remained woefully ignorant about guns. Criminally ignorant in some ways because this has led to many not taking calls for reform seriously.

While the AR-15 has become a, for lack of a better word, popular weapon used during such shootings and become a focal point of the gun reform platform, it is hardly the only one of its kind. People often point to the fact that the AR-15 and other similar military-style weapons were once banned by the Federal Assault Weapons Ban so there should be no issue in banning them again. The problem is that the ban did not include all semi-automatic rifles. The ban had absolutely nothing to do with with actually limiting access to guns that have the ability to harm a large number of people in a short period of time. It banned rifles with all of the following features; a folding or telescoping stock (allowing the guns to be more compact), a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor and grenade launcher.

Those features have nothing to do with the actual operation of the weapon. Semi-automatic rifles with the exact same or similar power were completely legal as long as they did not have more than two of the above named features. I should also point out, there is now little to no mention of semi-automatic handguns and shotguns. If we are going to talk about gun bans, we have to know what we are talking about. We have to know the logistics of the guns we are talking about.

To the Gun Reform Lobby.

Now if you do like I did and do some research, it gets easier to see why there are people out there who are afraid of all of their guns being taken away. It is here that the gun reform lobby needs to get creative and incredibly specific. Do you want to ban just tactical semi-automatic rifles or do you want to ban all semi-automatic rifles? Should there be a ban on certain caliber semi-automatic rifles? Do you want restrictions on barrel size which affect the muzzle velocity? What about semi-automatic handguns and shotguns? Should there be a limit on magazine clips?

These are questions that must be answered before an informed debate can begin. No longer can we hold up an AR-15 and call it good, we look foolish.

Regarding mental health restrictions, how do we plan on that being enforced? As the law stands now, no person found mentally incompetent or having been committed to a mental institution by the court can purchase a gun. This is able to be enforced because it appears on a person’s record. Barring that, how do we keep guns out of the hands of those who are mentally ill? Do we require a mental competency exam in order to own one? Do we automatically exclude anyone who has a mental illness or has ever been treated for one? How do we guarantee that the person is being honest? Do we require them to waive their right to privacy and take a glance at their medical records? I ask these things because they are questions, along with many others, that we must answer. No more being vague.

To the Pro-Gun Lobby.

Like it or not, there are guns in this world that no civilian has a need for. I understand want but there is no need. Arguing the Second Amendment automatically places you at a disadvantage.

First, one does have to consider the “arms” familiar to the founders at the time. Secondly, while the Supreme Court delivered a victory to gun owners in 2008, for the two hundred and thirty years prior to that individual gun ownership was not considered protected by the Constitution. In fact, a reading of the Federalist Papers shows that the founders believed that all white-male citizens should be part-time soldiers. Here, I concede this was because a standing army terrified the Founders. There was a real fear that the soldiers could turn on the citizens as they had just seen British soldiers turn on them. However please answer three questions for me.

How many of you actually participate in a “well-regulated militia”? How many of you have actual gun training? Lastly, how can you decry athletes kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful to our troops but believing you need an arsenal to protect yourself from those same troops isn’t?

Flustering over more extensive background checks and waiting periods makes you look foolish. If your argument is that you are a responsible gun owner, then why do you care if it takes longer? Isn’t the possibility of saving just one life more important than your need for instant gratification? There has been suggestions that the solution is more guns. How exactly will that help? Are we to begin requiring gun training for all gun purchasers? As I stated to the other side of the aisle, stop and think.

We can do better.

I love this country as much as the next person and I believe in our Constitution. However, the document is not perfect. It never has been. We have come together in the past to right those wrongs. So why can’t we now? Are we so polarized and defined by our political party and voting habits that we have lost sight of the fact that we are one nation?  No one can deny that there are no easy answers. Every answer we conceive seems to present another question. However, it is time for the gun debate to become real. It is time we sit down and figure out a way to keep our citizens, our children safe.

Will we be able to prevent every tragedy? No, of course not. But we can make it harder for it to happen.

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