A friend of mine on Facebook recently wrote an open letter to “anyone on Facebook who is pro gun,” asking, “What does freedom mean to you?”
She went on to ask if freedom meant being able to buy any gun one wanted, at any time, regardless of mental health history or waiting period. Surprisingly, it was honestly written the day before the events at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando this weekend.
I am pro-gun. I believe members of a modern society have the right to arm themselves within reason. I don’t believe this because the Second Amendment says so, I believe this on a matter of principle. (To be perfectly frank, if I only supported one’s right to arm oneself because the Second Amendment said so, it would mean I believe more in words written down by old men centuries ago than I do in my right to arm myself.)
I am also very pro-gun control. And I’m writing this right now in an attempt to fight one of the most insidious things the NRA has accomplished, convincing us all that being pro-gun means being anti-gun control, and vice versa. The NRA has effectively cast the argument exactly the way they want it: all or nothing.
And only a Sith deals in absolutes.
I grew up around guns. There weren’t any in my suburban New Jersey home, but I learned how to use them and handled them in appropriate, educational contexts from a young age. In the Boy Scouts, I learned how to safely hold, care for, and fire a pistol and a shotgun, and at my family’s Ohio farm, I learned how to nail a clay pigeon out of the sky 8 out of 10 times (exhale completely, hold your breath, lead the disc, and fire just as it’s leaving its apex). I also learned my sister is apparently a descendent of Annie Oakley, because she even put my grandfather, an avid lifelong bird hunter, to shame.
But more importantly, I learned to respect guns for the tools that they are. Even more importantly, I learned that they are not and never will be toys.
Most importantly, I learned to fear guns
Guns are terrifying things, created expressly and solely for the purpose of destruction. They can, in the proper context, be a source of food or protection. They can, in other contexts, even be a source of bonding and camaraderie.
And they can, in horrible, unthinkable, and utterly inhuman contexts, be used to commit mass murder.
I don’t personally own a gun, nor do I intend to buy one at any time in the near or far future. Living in New York City, I do not believe that I need one to protect myself or to provide food. There are no animal populations nearby that are in need of seasonal management, and I personally prefer hiking and camping to hunting when it comes to taking in nature.
However, there are many people in my life that own guns. There are also many people in my life that support the NRA. In my personal experience, those two groups are almost mutually exclusive.
I have a number of close friends that seem to subscribe to the idea that President Obama and the Democratic Party are conspiring to take their guns away. Almost none of these people have touched a gun more than twice in their lives. Nearly every person in my life that does own guns, either for hunting, recreation, or protection, thinks the NRA is cynical, manipulative, and unforgivably opportunistic. Above all, they do not believe the NRA represents them as gun owners.
The NRA used to encourage a culture of education and respect for firearms. I remember going to gun ranges, taking classes, and reading up on marksmen and women’s incredible sporting and hunting achievements. That is not the NRA of 2016. The NRA of 2016 has nothing to do with protecting the rights of gun owners — the NRA of 2016 is a political force with a sole intent of winning political battles at all costs.
I don’t believe the NRA represents the wishes of gun owners because nearly every gun owner I’ve spoken to, from suburban New Jersey to the farmlands of Ohio to the mountain ranges of the southwest, believes in some kind of common sense gun control. They are embarrassed by the culture of gun fetishization and sickened by the lack of respect paid to the relationship between hunter and prey.
Guns. Kill. Living. Things. That is the primary purpose of owning a gun. There are many secondary purposes — intimidation in a life-threatening situation, sport, historic preservation, hobbyists — but guns are tools designed to do one thing exceptionally well.
Cars, too, can kill people, but are designed primarily to transport them, rather than end their lives. Of these two tools, both of which can feasibly empower people to end others’ lives, one of them requires anyone who wishes to possess one to:
- get educated,
- pass practical and written evaluations that are closely regulated by government bodies with significant transparency,
- prove they are of a fit physical and mental state to operate said tool,
- obtain licenses,
- continue to update and renew those licenses,
- and ensure the tools they are licensed to operate continue to meet evolving minimum safety requirements.
Should any of the preceding requirements go unmet, that individual may not operate this tool until they have met all the requirements again. The industry that produces this tool is also the subject of a massive amount of scrutiny, oversight, and testing.
Which tool would you say is the one subjected to this amount of regulation: the one that is designed to transport people and items, or the one designed solely for destruction?
I am pro-gun, and I am also staunchly and unapologetically pro-gun control
It is the only responsible position to take for anyone who believes in a citizen’s right to appropriately arm themselves for provision or protection in a modern society. Most gun owners in America are, too:
Surveys by Johns Hopkins and the Pew Research Center show that about 85 percent of gun owners favor universal background checks, an idea fiercely opposed by the gun lobby. — Washington Post, 10/9/2015
83 percent of gun owners nationally support criminal background checks on all sales of firearms, while only 14 percent of gun owners oppose them. — Center For American Progress, 11/17/2015
79 percent of gun owners nationally want to see their politicians take action on this issue and require more gun sellers to conduct criminal background checks before they sell guns. — Center For American Progress, 11/17/2015
When a gun dealer in Maryland announced he was going to start selling a “smart gun” — a gun that can only be fired when connected wirelessly to a specific smartwatch — so many people called and threatened to burn down his store that he cancelled his new product out of fear for his business and safety.
Guess which side of the fence those callers were on?
I understand why my Facebook friend asked her question the way she did. To answer her question, freedom to me means having the same opportunity for happiness as everyone else, so long as my happiness does not infringe on another’s right to the same opportunity for happiness. My right to own whatever gun I want does not and should not come before anyone else’s right to walk freely in society without fear of being gunned down.
The NRA and its various lobbying groups have effectively framed the debate as “people who believe a person has a right to punch back when being punched” vs “people who believe we should hug our problems away,” and we’re letting them get away with it.
The longer we let the NRA assume they speak for everyone who believes guns have a place in a modern society, the longer they will be able to prevent anyone from doing anything about the detestable scourge of gun violence in 2016’s America. Hell, we’re not even allowed to study gun violence. In what world does that make sense?
It’s important, now more than ever, for citizens who are pro-gun and pro-gun control to raise their voices and let the NRA know that they don’t speak for everyone, and that some of the staunchest advocates for gun control are the people who have actually wielded firearms. The pro-gun control contingent is not trying to take your guns away. They’re just trying to prevent people from dying.
If you agree, make your voice heard. Make it heard on Facebook, on Twitter, in person. Make sure your peers know that there are options other than “guns for everyone” and “guns for no one”. Write your own article, tweet something, or simply share this essay. Stop letting the NRA win.
If this issue resonates with you, please call your representatives and tell them where you stand. Make sure they hear from someone other than the NRA.
This article originally appeared at Medium and has been reprinted with permission.
Photo: Governor Tom Wolf/Creative Commons